Another reason why your Shoulders are jacked and not JACKED.

Last time I posted I gave two major reasons why your shoulders are Jacked and not JACKED.

If the way you live your life is dictated by the pace of which technology evolves (by that I mean you’re too impatient to read the previous article), here is the short version:

  1. Your technique is compromised.
  2. You ignore your mobility and tissue quality.

That is as far as I am going to expand upon these points. If you want more information, then just read the other article. HINT: Read the other article.

For the sake of efficiency, here is another reason why your shoulders are JACKED and not jacked.

Your program is wrong

Let me clarify this point: it is how your program is structured that is wrong. As a lecturer at a well-known Fitness Education Institution, it is a frequent topic of conversation to talk about programming imbalances. Upon speaking to my Strength and Conditioning colleagues (Cameron Burnside has some great insight into the Bench Press) it is not uncommon to see said imbalances pertaining to the upper body.

Upon closer inspection of most training programs (in particular with the body building community), it is not uncommon to see a disproportionate preponderance towards pushing exercises. As a result of such bro-culture inspired programming, many of these “bros” develop muscular imbalances. This includes overactive/stiff pecs and weak/inhibited upper back musculature, which then results in painful shoulders.

To counteract this, many fitness professionals will advocate more pulling based exercises compared to pushing based exercises – often in a ratio of 2:1 or even 3:1. In even simpler terms, they’ll try to “offset” their “bench debt” with two to three pulling exercises.

Whilst I have no quarrel, with this stance (it is definitely a step in the right direction – Anterior/Posterior Imbalances are vitally important to address) there is another less obvious and more insidious imbalance that needs addressing:

Superior/inferior imbalances.

What this means is that people aren’t giving credence to the imbalances between Upward and Downward Scapular Rotation.

At Ascension Performance Labs, we’re constantly seeing and treating more and more athletes (but also in the general public as well) with overly depressed shoulders. This is detrimental to our Olympic Weightlifters whose performance is utterly dependent on their ability to balance equal to or greater than two times their body weight overhead. If their downward rotators of the scapulae (Levator Scapulae, Rhomboids and especially Latissimus Dorsi) are overly active this will change the congruency and synergy between the scapulae, humeral head, glenoid fossa and acromion process for the worse.

This information isn’t just pertinent for athletes either. It is for the general public. We as Fitness Professionals have been drilling into our clients for years: “SHOULDERS BACK AND DOWN!” And having taught many of Australia’s Fitness Professionals (I am doing my best to clarify this cue) it is still being taught and used as the gold standard. If we perpetuate this locking of the shoulders back and down into this position we are training our shoulders into this depressed position.

In cases like this, it would be advisable to do some dedicated upper trap work. (Put your damn barbell down and stop doing shrugs. That’s not what I mean, unless it is relevant to your sport i.e. Olympic Weightlifting, then carry on).

Exercises such as wall slide or lat length raises (see some future blogs for ideas) would be more beneficial as they truly cue upward rotation of the scapula.

It might be worth reducing exercises like heavy farmer carries or deadlifts or anything that requires lengthy dumbbell holds as they increase scapula depression, and replace them with bottoms up kettlebell carries, Goblet squats or clean grip reverse lunges.

These are just some ideas on reducing the times spent in Scapular/Shoulder Depression.

However, changing your programming, may not guarantee your shoulders won’t be jacked (“Hang on, you’re telling me that my shoulders are jacked and not jacked but even if I change my program, my shoulder will still be jacked and not jacked? What the hell? You’re the worst coach in the world…), you may have to take a multi-faceted approach: There are many aspects that we consider when improving performance, some of them may not have anything to do with the shoulder:

  • Poor thoracic spine mobility
  • Faulty breathing patterns
  • Opposing hip and ankle restrictions

They can all have an affect on how jacked your shoulders are. But those ideas are a story for another day. (If you don’t like it, too bad. Just wait for the next article to come out).


Are your shoulders jacked or jacked? Part 1

We work with a lot of overhead athletes and high impact athletes here at Ascension Performance Labs – in particular Olympic Weightlifting, Boxing and Softball and there is no question about it; these athletes are strong. We watch these athletes Snatch over 100kg, throw a 5 kg ball at 90km/hr and spend hours pounding away at heavy bag. Some of these athletes can get complacent with their mobility training and as a result we often deal with a range of shoulder issues. Other times athletes come to us complaining of shoulder pain, thus we aim to deal with, address, work around and hopefully fix shoulders issues like acute AC joint issues and external/internal impingement to more serious issues like shoulder separation and post shoulder surgery situations.


I don’t want to suggest lumping all of these issues into the same category of shoulder problems. Obviously each shoulder condition is different and will require different amounts of care and time in order to facilitate the healing process. But there are some common themes when it comes to aggravating your shoulders.

Let’s take a look at how your shoulders are jacked and not jacked.

Your technique is compromised.

If your shoulders are in constant pain despite regular training, then there is a correlation between your pain and the way you move.

You may insert your plethora of excuses here (“I’ve been lifting weights since before you were born.” “I’ve competed in competition blah, blah blah.” “I’ve got a 200kg Bench Press”). This is not a question of your dedication or strength. This is a question of “how long have you got until it hurts too much?”.

Something a simple as a seated row can be a major contributor to your shoulder pain. Simply pay a visit to your local commercial gym for a demonstration. You will see:

  • Anterior Gleno-Humeral shear – You’re going to see a tendency for the head of the Humerus to pop forward when rowing. Especially when you there is an aggressive pull past the midline.
  • Arms are too close to the body – This works in conjunction with the previous point. With the arms close to the body there’s a tendency to move into extreme humeral extension without true scapular retraction. Consistently training in this pattern is going to give you a loose anterior capsule of your shoulder.
  • Forward head posture and trap elevation. Over active upper trapezius with forward head posture can give you the impression that you have completed the full range of motion on the row, but by placing yourself into this position you simply encourage more of the anterior Gleno-Humeral shear and as a result you’ll develop that loose anterior capsule, shoulder pain and jacked shoulders.

You ignore your mobility and tissue quality.

It annoys me to no end when people completely ignore their mobility. Many people who train at a high intensity and frequency consistently complain to me about pain in their shoulders or a decrease in their performance. The first question I ask them is; “Do they have a mobility plan?”, and the answer is often “I stretch.”. Upon further questioning it is soon revealed their definition of stretching is holding a 15 second static stretch once a week on Thursday.

Clearly this isn’t enough.

When discussing shoulder pain, the Pecs (both Pectoralis Major and Minor) come into the equation, but there’s more to the story. Grab yourself a foam roller and start rolling out your pecs, your mid upper back as well as your lats.

Investing your time into some self Myofascial release to help reduce scar tissue, adhesions and trigger points is going to have a huge effect on the state of your shoulders but you can’t make the mistake of only foam rolling. You need to lengthen and strengthen the muscles in the newfound length.

So stretch. Try foam rolling as part of your warm and as filler in between sets and add your stretching as a separate training session. Use your rest days and take 20 minutes to stretch and roll your shoulders. Whilst you’re there, roll and stretch your whole body.

As I mentioned before, this is not an attack on your strength or dedication. This is an attempt to critically evaluate the way you train and any aspects of your training that you may be ignoring. Take the time to invest in your technique and into your soft tissue. Drop your training weight by 30% and focus on correct position and take more than a warm up set to warm yourself up and stretch. Your shoulders will thank you and help transition them from Jacked to Jacked.