PTTP Presses Stalling / Minor Injuries

freeflowme

Triple-Digit Post Count
Hey all,

Deadlifting on PTTP has been going well - gains in strength feel fairly obvious and consistent. I've been struggling with the press, though. I know that for a variety of reasons the press will make smaller gains and a far lower ceiling, and maybe my ratio of a 265DL to a 115OHP is about "right." However, any time I cycle up to 115lbs, I end up "tweaking" something in my right shoulder / upper back. The weight's not even heavy enough to really be moving slowly. I don't know the musculature of the shoulder girdle / scapula very well, but it feels like something that runs all the way from halfway up my neck, down my spine, underneath my scapula, and into the area of my lat spasms and takes days to work out. Maybe that's multiple muscles. Maybe it's one.

I've had problems with this shoulder for 10+ years - doing an over-under / "towel" shoulder stretch readily shows that I have great exterior rotation on that shoulder, but next to no internal rotational ability at all. I do mobility work before PTTP and stretches after every day to try to help. The shoulder pops and clicks and feels like it gets "stuck" when I come overhead in an arm circle and try to come down in front of my body. It's to the point where I'm considering going to a doctor and seeing if I can get a script to go get an MRI just out of curiosity to see what's going on in there.

I try to do band pull-aparts and face pulls as often as I remember throughout the day and on off days from PTTP, but I find that my right shoulder often still "floats" up. If I look into a mirror, I'll often notice my right shoulder hovering very noticeably higher than my left. During deadlifts, I really focus on "packing" that shoulder down and back and keeping my lat very, very tensed, and that's seemed to help strengthen the area, but it's obviously still weak.

So, I guess my question is:

1) Do you see anything wrong in my press that indicates a technical issue that I could improve to help avoid injury and progress past this 115lb plateau? I'll try to do a from-the-front view next session, as that might be more helpful for this particular question.

2) Has anyone experienced similar issues and how have you helped correct them? Keep in mind, I'm already doing daily mobility, stretching, and supposed shoulder-prehab/rehab band exercises, so I don't know what more I should be doing.

3) Are there good variations on the press that I can do to still improve my overhead strength without doing strict barbell presses every day? I tried behind-the-neck presses, and while I loved them for the strengthening in my medial delts, traps, and upper back, they caused a severe pinch in my right shoulder so I had to abandon them.

Thanks in advance.

115x5

105x5
 

Anna C

More than 5000 posts
Elite Certified Instructor
It's to the point where I'm considering going to a doctor and seeing if I can get a script to go get an MRI just out of curiosity to see what's going on in there.
Tempting... but ask yourself, would you do anything differently depending on what you found out? If the answer is no, then don't go looking :) Probably you just need to learn to work with it, and keep training. Note that I'm not trying to talk you out of a doctor visit; that could be beneficial. But the imaging may not be beneficial.

I try to do band pull-aparts and face pulls as often as I remember throughout the day and on off days from PTTP, but I find that my right shoulder often still "floats" up. If I look into a mirror, I'll often notice my right shoulder hovering very noticeably higher than my left. During deadlifts, I really focus on "packing" that shoulder down and back and keeping my lat very, very tensed, and that's seemed to help strengthen the area, but it's obviously still weak.
Mine always does this, too. It has gotten better through barbell strength training (squat, press, bench press, and deadlift). It did not get better with swings, get-ups, snatches, batwings, or physical therapy band exercises.

1) Do you see anything wrong in my press that indicates a technical issue that I could improve to help avoid injury and progress past this 115lb plateau? I'll try to do a from-the-front view next session, as that might be more helpful for this particular question.
No, it looks fine. I'd bring your elbows in towards your ribcage and forward a bit to where elbows are in front of the bar in your rack position, but other than that it looks great.

3) Are there good variations on the press that I can do to still improve my overhead strength without doing strict barbell presses every day? I tried behind-the-neck presses, and while I loved them for the strengthening in my medial delts, traps, and upper back, they caused a severe pinch in my right shoulder so I had to abandon them.
Handstands are my other favorite. Can add variations of handstand push-up. But I wouldn't add this in the context of running a program.

Good work, keep at it!
 

Philippe Geoffrion

More than 500 posts
The Press looks good from what I can tell. I've had many shoulder issues myself after a severe injury years ago but I just learned to live with it. Have you had shoulder issues before pressing? An injury in the past?

If you're right arm dominant, what are you doing throughout the day that may influence this pain? I find the upper trapezius of dominant arms tend to get tight. The upper traps may be pulling a bit harder than the lower/mid region affecting your shoulder centration. I'm no PT, I think an MRI may be wise. A view from behind for the camera may be better as we can see any discrepancies in the shoulder movement.

Note that the shoulder is also a single member of a long chain of joints going all the way down to the ankle and while it may be where the symptoms appear, it may not be the cause. Hips, lumbar spine, ankles, knees all support the shoulder. Leaning to one side, having more mobility in one ankle etc can all affect not just shoulder, but everything above said joints.

Also review your cycling. How far are you dropping back in weight before approaching this weight? Using step cycles may help, i.e. staying @ 105 for a few days before bumping to 110 and repeating, making sure you're pain free and the lift is smooth. Sometimes, we can really psych ourselves out with specific weights by saying "always at 115, so and so happens" and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Staying at a lower weight for a few more days, assuring yourself your technique is dead on and the weight really feels solid can help you believe that 115 is "only" 5 pounds more than 110. When 110 cruises up easily for a few rounds with solid technique and no issues, 115 may not seem like "the weight that does you in" anymore.
 

Antti

More than 2500 posts
I think I suffered from a similar predicament some years ago. Doing a front raise or a shoulder circle caused pain and a certain pop, for a lack of better words, at a certain position. I'm happy to say that it has got better, I haven't had the issue in a long time. Now, it's a good thing, but it also makes my recollection a bit hazy.

First thing that comes to mind is that rows helped me. Different types of rows. I think unilateral rows may be better in this case, at least if you get a better stretch and more range of motion that way. If you're doing PTTP, it may be better to try a variation that's not so heavy on your lower back.

Other than that, I have enjoyed face pulls for my shoulders a lot. The behind the neck press feels great for me as well, but it's not good for everyone. You've tried a really wide grip with it, yes?
 

mrdave100

Double-Digit Post Count
Freeflowme, do you experience the same pain when doing one arm dumbbell presses? You may want to consider giving those a try.
 

freeflowme

Triple-Digit Post Count
Tempting... but ask yourself, would you do anything differently depending on what you found out? If the answer is no, then don't go looking :) Probably you just need to learn to work with it, and keep training. Note that I'm not trying to talk you out of a doctor visit; that could be beneficial. But the imaging may not be beneficial.

Mine always does this, too. It has gotten better through barbell strength training (squat, press, bench press, and deadlift). It did not get better with swings, get-ups, snatches, batwings, or physical therapy band exercises.

No, it looks fine. I'd bring your elbows in towards your ribcage and forward a bit to where elbows are in front of the bar in your rack position, but other than that it looks great.

Handstands are my other favorite. Can add variations of handstand push-up. But I wouldn't add this in the context of running a program.

Good work, keep at it!
I might do something differently if I found that I have a rotator cuff problem that needs addressing before I do something seriously damaging to myself, or if I found out that I have an impingement or something that can be corrected with the right course of action. For the moment, given that I haven't exhausted all of my self-help options, though, I'm going to stick to those (y)

The Press looks good from what I can tell. I've had many shoulder issues myself after a severe injury years ago but I just learned to live with it. Have you had shoulder issues before pressing? An injury in the past?

If you're right arm dominant, what are you doing throughout the day that may influence this pain? I find the upper trapezius of dominant arms tend to get tight. The upper traps may be pulling a bit harder than the lower/mid region affecting your shoulder centration. I'm no PT, I think an MRI may be wise. A view from behind for the camera may be better as we can see any discrepancies in the shoulder movement.

Note that the shoulder is also a single member of a long chain of joints going all the way down to the ankle and while it may be where the symptoms appear, it may not be the cause. Hips, lumbar spine, ankles, knees all support the shoulder. Leaning to one side, having more mobility in one ankle etc can all affect not just shoulder, but everything above said joints.

Also review your cycling. How far are you dropping back in weight before approaching this weight? Using step cycles may help, i.e. staying @ 105 for a few days before bumping to 110 and repeating, making sure you're pain free and the lift is smooth. Sometimes, we can really psych ourselves out with specific weights by saying "always at 115, so and so happens" and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Staying at a lower weight for a few more days, assuring yourself your technique is dead on and the weight really feels solid can help you believe that 115 is "only" 5 pounds more than 110. When 110 cruises up easily for a few rounds with solid technique and no issues, 115 may not seem like "the weight that does you in" anymore.
As lame as a reason as it probably sounds like, I'm a violinist by trade, so I spend hours upon hours every day with my right arm elevated out in front / to the side of my body and moving back and forth through a particular range of motion. I honestly don't know how to do enough work to compensate for all the time spent that way every day.

As for previous injuries, I think this all started from falling out of a tree when I was ~12 and catching myself on that arm. It's popped, clicked, and gotten "stuck" ever since then. Throwing motions aggravate the issue tremendously, leading to my arm being almost useless for a few days, so I avoid those entirely.

As for cycling, I've tried dropping back to 85 multiple times, and then different climbing approaches - 1 day per 5 lb jump, 2 days per 5lb jump, and even a week at each 5lb increment with the thought that maybe I'll build up a real reserve of strength at a particular weight before moving up. That actually seemed to just fatigue me more than anything else, which in hindsight makes sense.

This is the 3rd or 4th time I've gotten up to 115 and "stalled," so I suppose a different approach - such as ladders - might be in order.

I think I suffered from a similar predicament some years ago. Doing a front raise or a shoulder circle caused pain and a certain pop, for a lack of better words, at a certain position. I'm happy to say that it has got better, I haven't had the issue in a long time. Now, it's a good thing, but it also makes my recollection a bit hazy.

First thing that comes to mind is that rows helped me. Different types of rows. I think unilateral rows may be better in this case, at least if you get a better stretch and more range of motion that way. If you're doing PTTP, it may be better to try a variation that's not so heavy on your lower back.

Other than that, I have enjoyed face pulls for my shoulders a lot. The behind the neck press feels great for me as well, but it's not good for everyone. You've tried a really wide grip with it, yes?
I actually really feel like my body needs rows for my upper back - I guess it's just an intuition. However, programing deadlifts and rows leaves the shoulders and triceps with no training and potentially overworks the back, so I haven't found a good way to go about incorporating rows at this point. Once I finish this current PTTP cycle, I'm debating doing the 40 Day Program, using deadlifts or squats, a light press, a relatively light row, swings, and janda sit ups. That'd allow me to get that row in for my upper back.
 

Philippe Geoffrion

More than 500 posts
I might do something differently if I found that I have a rotator cuff problem that needs addressing before I do something seriously damaging to myself, or if I found out that I have an impingement or something that can be corrected with the right course of action. For the moment, given that I haven't exhausted all of my self-help options, though, I'm going to stick to those (y)



As lame as a reason as it probably sounds like, I'm a violinist by trade, so I spend hours upon hours every day with my right arm elevated out in front / to the side of my body and moving back and forth through a particular range of motion. I honestly don't know how to do enough work to compensate for all the time spent that way every day.

As for previous injuries, I think this all started from falling out of a tree when I was ~12 and catching myself on that arm. It's popped, clicked, and gotten "stuck" ever since then. Throwing motions aggravate the issue tremendously, leading to my arm being almost useless for a few days, so I avoid those entirely.

As for cycling, I've tried dropping back to 85 multiple times, and then different climbing approaches - 1 day per 5 lb jump, 2 days per 5lb jump, and even a week at each 5lb increment with the thought that maybe I'll build up a real reserve of strength at a particular weight before moving up. That actually seemed to just fatigue me more than anything else, which in hindsight makes sense.

This is the 3rd or 4th time I've gotten up to 115 and "stalled," so I suppose a different approach - such as ladders - might be in order.



I actually really feel like my body needs rows for my upper back - I guess it's just an intuition. However, programing deadlifts and rows leaves the shoulders and triceps with no training and potentially overworks the back, so I haven't found a good way to go about incorporating rows at this point. Once I finish this current PTTP cycle, I'm debating doing the 40 Day Program, using deadlifts or squats, a light press, a relatively light row, swings, and janda sit ups. That'd allow me to get that row in for my upper back.
Aww yes I recall you mentioning being a musician! @Steve Freides is also a guitarist and I myself play flamenco quite regularly! Nothing lame about it! It does create a small bit of asymmetry however. Rows can be incorporated easily. Just by a band. It's cheap, light, takes up very little space and will not intrude on your heavy lifting at all. The muscles of the back are more akin to posture and are very slow twitch. They do not need much load. High rep pump work with face pulls, y's and rows will give it a nice pump. You can do these everyday. They will have no averse effects on your heavy lifting if you don't overdo it. light pump is just right.
 

freeflowme

Triple-Digit Post Count
Freeflowme, do you experience the same pain when doing one arm dumbbell presses? You may want to consider giving those a try.
Hmm... when I used to do a lot of seated dumbbell presses, I never had any problem. In fact, they were one of my favorite / strongest exercises.

I haven't pressed a heavy kettlebell in a while, though I plan to purchase a 24kg kettlebell to take on our car trips this summer, so we'll see how that goes.

The comparison between presses with the support of a bench vs. freestanding presses makes me wonder if part of the problem isn't in my lack of spinal mobility and core strength, though.

Aww yes I recall you mentioning being a musician! @Steve Freides is also a guitarist and I myself play flamenco quite regularly! Nothing lame about it! It does create a small bit of asymmetry however. Rows can be incorporated easily. Just by a band. It's cheap, light, takes up very little space and will not intrude on your heavy lifting at all. The muscles of the back are more akin to posture and are very slow twitch. They do not need much load. High rep pump work with face pulls, y's and rows will give it a nice pump. You can do these everyday. They will have no averse effects on your heavy lifting if you don't overdo it. light pump is just right.
I'll try to be more consistent in doing something like 3 light sets of 20 face pulls / band pull aparts either after my working sets or throughout the day and see if that leads to any improvement.
 

mrdave100

Double-Digit Post Count
Hmm... when I used to do a lot of seated dumbbell presses, I never had any problem. In fact, they were one of my favorite / strongest exercises.
I'd recommend that you stand while doing your presses. Several decades ago, I used to press while seated, then one day I tried standing dumbbell presses. I struggled with 30lbs, because my lower back was so weak. Lesson learned, press while standing.
 

freeflowme

Triple-Digit Post Count
Here's sets from today, recorded from the back. The weight is a little lower today, as I'm starting a new wave in my cycle.

105x5

95x5
 

Antti

More than 2500 posts
The best camera angle would be between the ones you've posted. Neither one of these is that good.

It looks like you should push your head under the bar more aggressively.
 

freeflowme

Triple-Digit Post Count
The best camera angle would be between the ones you've posted. Neither one of these is that good.

It looks like you should push your head under the bar more aggressively.
Mk. I'll take a rear 45-degree angle tomorrow.
 

Anna C

More than 5000 posts
Elite Certified Instructor
Given your shoulder issues, have you tried a big shrug at the top of the press as taught by Starting Strength? Have a look a this video. I'm fairly convinced that shoulders vary anatomically and some people need to shrug at the top of the press to avoid impingement, where others may not.
 

Philippe Geoffrion

More than 500 posts
Yes as @Anna C said a shrug may help. It almost looks like your left side shrugs and the right side doesn't. Also, your grip is pretty narrow. I think adjusting it just a tad bit wider may help. There is a good way to find the best grip. Pretend to press without the bar. Pinch your upper back tight and spread your arms outwards into your lats. Wherever you feel strongest and tightest, is your grip. Your chest must be up. I'm not sure if you're keeping the chest up from this angle, but you need a strong upper back shelf to do so. Also, though it is not the SFL way, a false grip has been a lifesaver for me in all pressing with barbells. I use it for Bench and Pressing and I've yet to drop a bar, even when I can't make the rep (knock on wood). The false grip allows a bit more shoulder rotation freedom as your thumb doesn't internally screw your shoulder in. Play around with grip with empty bar, maybe false grip if you're comfortable with it and get that upper back up to par. From what I can tell, the bar is a little in front of your C.O.G. Arching your back properly will help it get closer to your C.O.G and will put your shoulders in a stronger press position.
 

Geoff Chafe

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
Given your shoulder issues, have you tried a big shrug at the top of the press as taught by Starting Strength? Have a look a this video. I'm fairly convinced that shoulders vary anatomically and some people need to shrug at the top of the press to avoid impingement, where others may not.
Do you repack the shoulders for the eccentric?

When I lose tension in my upper back through fatigue, or loss of focus, I always check and reset my tension for the negative. Especially important for rep sets.
 

Anna C

More than 5000 posts
Elite Certified Instructor
Do you repack the shoulders for the eccentric?
Yes, the bottom position could be considered packed shoulders in the method described above, though SS doesn't describe it that way. "Chest up, lats tight" in the rack position.

The StrongFirst method has the lifter lower the bar (between reps) farther than what's show in the Starting Strength video. I'm sure either way is OK for general lifting, but to me it feels much harder to maintain tension if lowering the bar past where elbows stay in front of it in the rack position.

Also relevant to the rack position (as has been discussed in other threads) that hip motion is taught with the SS method but not at StrongFirst's SFL. Whether employing this or not, maintaining tension in the rack position is super important.
 

Brett Jones

StrongFirst Director of Education
Master Certified Instructor
Beast Tamer
I would recommend working with a Healthcare Provider to get your shoulder evaluated.

As a professional musician you will want to prioritize the health and longevity of your playing and there are Healthcare Providers that work with musicians or have experience working with musicians.
I don't know the symphony or group you play with but the director or someone associated may know of a local person that works with musicians.

One or two sessions with a professional could save you months of frustration IMO
 

Steve Freides

Forum Administrator
Senior Certified Instructor
To add to what Brett said, after a doctor or other health care pro, a movement screen would be a good idea, too.

There are some interesting things in the postures we use when we play our instrument. I recall watching a video, if memory serves, of Gray Cook working with Michelle Wie. He was having having her do medicine ball throws to both sides, and he mentioned that he wasn't looking to try to get them to be the same, just to make sure they weren't completely out of balance in terms of what she could do. (Apologies if I've misremembered or misstated.)

I've had a number of double bass players thank me for what seems like an incredibly simple suggestion - switch hands, and pretend to play. Just the act of putting the _other_ hand up at ear height and rotating your t-spine in the _other_ direction feels really good if you haven't tried it.

Maybe it's a thing to play with on your instrument, too - do I recall correctly that you play violin? That's a fine example of something can get you sort of twisted up in one direction.

-S-
 

freeflowme

Triple-Digit Post Count
Given your shoulder issues, have you tried a big shrug at the top of the press as taught by Starting Strength? Have a look a this video. I'm fairly convinced that shoulders vary anatomically and some people need to shrug at the top of the press to avoid impingement, where others may not.
I've tried both keeping my shoulders packed at the top of the movement and letting them rise. I'm not sure I've actively "shrugged," though. I'll watch the video and try practicing that tomorrow and report back.

Yes as @Anna C said a shrug may help. It almost looks like your left side shrugs and the right side doesn't. Also, your grip is pretty narrow. I think adjusting it just a tad bit wider may help. There is a good way to find the best grip. Pretend to press without the bar. Pinch your upper back tight and spread your arms outwards into your lats. Wherever you feel strongest and tightest, is your grip. Your chest must be up. I'm not sure if you're keeping the chest up from this angle, but you need a strong upper back shelf to do so. Also, though it is not the SFL way, a false grip has been a lifesaver for me in all pressing with barbells. I use it for Bench and Pressing and I've yet to drop a bar, even when I can't make the rep (knock on wood). The false grip allows a bit more shoulder rotation freedom as your thumb doesn't internally screw your shoulder in. Play around with grip with empty bar, maybe false grip if you're comfortable with it and get that upper back up to par. From what I can tell, the bar is a little in front of your C.O.G. Arching your back properly will help it get closer to your C.O.G and will put your shoulders in a stronger press position.
I tried your suggestions for finding my grip today and ended up with a grip about 2 inches wider with each hand than I had been previously taking. The pressing movement itself ended up feeling "smoother," although I felt weaker in this new groove. I imagine that's just due to lack of practice, though, and would correct.

I would recommend working with a Healthcare Provider to get your shoulder evaluated.

As a professional musician you will want to prioritize the health and longevity of your playing and there are Healthcare Providers that work with musicians or have experience working with musicians.
I don't know the symphony or group you play with but the director or someone associated may know of a local person that works with musicians.

One or two sessions with a professional could save you months of frustration IMO
Yes, that is the balance for me - wanting to get stronger while always needing to walk a fine line with health and avoiding injury. I literally can't afford to get hurt ;).

There's a doctor at a local university who's known for their work with symphony string players. This summer may be a good time to seek her out. She does Alexander Technique work along with other things (if anyone is familiar with that).

To add to what Brett said, after a doctor or other health care pro, a movement screen would be a good idea, too.

There are some interesting things in the postures we use when we play our instrument. I recall watching a video, if memory serves, of Gray Cook working with Michelle Wie. He was having having her do medicine ball throws to both sides, and he mentioned that he wasn't looking to try to get them to be the same, just to make sure they weren't completely out of balance in terms of what she could do. (Apologies if I've misremembered or misstated.)

I've had a number of double bass players thank me for what seems like an incredibly simple suggestion - switch hands, and pretend to play. Just the act of putting the _other_ hand up at ear height and rotating your t-spine in the _other_ direction feels really good if you haven't tried it.

Maybe it's a thing to play with on your instrument, too - do I recall correctly that you play violin? That's a fine example of something can get you sort of twisted up in one direction.

-S-
I wonder if I wouldn't be better off doing more one-arm exercises. I keep asking myself how to offset spending many, many hours a day in an inherently imbalanced position. Perhaps making sure that I'm developing strength through ranges of motion equally with both sides of my body is at least part of the solution to that.

And yes, the violin is particularly prone to producing injury in it's players. I was taught from a young age to set my instrument up far off to the left of center of my body, and to look far to the left down the strings. An x-ray a few years ago showed that a lot of my cervical vertebrae are misaligned - rotated and twisted - to the left, and when I look down at my torso it is visibly twisted toward the left as compared to my pelvis.
 

Brett Jones

StrongFirst Director of Education
Master Certified Instructor
Beast Tamer
freeflowme
Prioritize your health and work with the Dr. you mentioned (the Alexander technique can be great).
Work with a fitness professional (hopefully one that work with musicians) to find ways of building strength and fitness that work for you.
 
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