If you’re looking for dysfunction and pain in the shoulder region, you can find it with an over head press. This is due to the externally rotated position. I did not say not to do them; I said there is a huge risk! I promise you great shoulders were not achieved with overhead presses. The most common exercises that lead to Shoulder Impingement Syndrome (SIS) are; military press, seated straight bar or dumbbells, and of course the upright row. I will not talk about behind the neck presses, they are just dysfunctional. Shoulder presses generally train the anterior shoulder girdle muscles (Front delts) a professional trainer asks, what is the goal? Some other exercises that have also have lead to impingement can be corrected if the proper path and range of motion are changed. These would be the flat barbell bench press, and lateral raise from the side with dumbbells. Now the tech talk: Impingement syndrome is defined as a compromise of the space between the head of the humerus and the acromial arch. In simple terms: the top of your upper arm bone is too high and close to your acromion (part of the shoulder blade-scapula) and your clavicle (collarbone). This decrease in space can come from either a structural problem (usually bone) or a functional problem (usually muscular). Since a structural problem would likely show up as soon as someone begins lifting weights, we’ll focus on functional causes of impingement. This is most likely the culprit in the gym. When you raise your arm, a complex chain of events takes place. A group of muscles called scapular stabilizers (serratus, trapezius, levator scapulae, rhomboids, and teres major) function in a very precise manner to ensure that the scapula is in the right place at the right time. At the same time, the rotator cuff muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis) finely coordinate the movement of the humerus to ensure proper alignment in relation to the scapula. If these muscles do not coordinate this movement perfectly, the head of the humerus is likely to rise up and forward and bump into the bottom of the acromion. To feel the top of your acromion, slide your fingers from the middle of your collarbone outward toward your deltoid. Just before getting to your deltoid you will feel the top of your acromion sticking up a bit. When this impingement occurs, the supraspinatus muscle and tendon, as well as the subacromial bursa, are trapped between the humerus and the acromion. When two soft structures are trapped between two bony structures, you can guess who loses. This results in swelling and tenderness of this bursa (bursitis) and the supraspinatus muscle and tendon (tendonitis). If you need more to make your self-diagnosis, try this orthopedic test. Raise your arm in front of you to an overhead position while keeping your pinky up and thumb down. If that movement hurts or is impossible due to pain, then you likely have some degree of shoulder impingement. Some think it is macho to just train through pain. That again is based on sensation and someone’s own perception of how an exercise feels. Please as a certified professional on the latter to qualified always remember there are many ways to train the anterior shoulder girdle muscles with greater benefits. Just to name a better way to perform the overhead press would be the following: This is for those whose goal is hypertrophy. (Muscle building) If it’s for function (carry over to daily activities remember we don’t put anything over our heads in a typical shoulder press position. We put things overhead in a scapular plane 30 degrees from abduction. We reach up on a diagonal; this is our bio-mechanical strong position. For the people who want the proper stimulus try this: On a slight incline 65 degrees, using dumbbells have your arms in a scapular plane. i.e. This environment will give you scapula anchoring for the goal of muscular hypertrophy. If you follow the elbows they are one to two inches outside your hips. Another way to figure out this position is to stand up and get in an anatomical position. Let your arms hang naturally along your sides- with palms up. Take your hands and slowly bend the elbow simulating a bicep curl stop at top range and turn your hands facing towards each other.
This is the position will stimulate like a volume knob the anterior shoulder girdle muscles. This will also decrease the risk of SIS by 40%! Seated is far superior then standing for the goal of muscle building. However if you stand there will be core and functional value and less stimulus in the shoulder region. The reason for this is that there are more internal forces. The load has to start in the hands and travel to the feet, and then back up the chain. This is simply called ‘enter-exit” principles. We choose the environment and exercise based on the goal. We choose all movements and positions based on the engineering of the body. It all comes down to goal needs, and levels of control.
I find it amazing that program like The beast, P90X, the daily burn, and other on line workout program show the over head press to anyone and everyone! Remember I didn’t say don’t do the overhead shoulder press, I just don’t want yo to do it in an externally rotated position.