Pressing Question

The Military Press is a tremendous shoulder exercise for all levels of strength trainers. Because your elbows are flared out during the exercise, most of the work is done by the lateral head of the deltoids; the anterior deltoid works only at the beginning of the movement. The Military Press is also an excellent exercise for the serratus anterior because this muscle group pulls the scapulae upward. (By the way, if you do Pullovers to work your serratus anterior, you are wasting your time—Pullovers work the muscles antagonistic to this muscle group.)

One common story I hear from frustrated trainers is the reason they don't perform either the Military Press or the Behind-the-Neck Press is that it hurts their shoulders. The typical scenario is this: they start with the Behind-the-Neck Press, then when that exercise becomes too painful they switch to the Military Press, which in short order pinches so badly they try the Incline Press and finally the Bench Press. Eventually, even the Bench Press causes pain, and they are forced to regress to a geek routine of Lateral Raises. Let's take a closer look at the real cause of shoulder pain.

There are several reasons the shoulder can become injured from overhead presses like the Military Press. The first is lack of attention to training the external rotators of the humerus. These muscles need special attention to prevent injury. According to sportsmedicine guru Dr. Mike Leahy, a muscle imbalance between the prime movers of the shoulders and the external rotators is one of the major causes of shoulder injury. Although it means setting aside your ego and performing exercises that don't allow you to use heavy weights, a few minutes a week performing

"To achieve that melon-iike deltoid shape you need to develop each head of the shoulders equally."

Mohammed Makkaway iras one of the most symmetrical bodybuilders of the 1980s, largely because of his excellent shoulder development!

exercises for the external rotators will do wonders for preventing chronic shoulder problems. (For a complete selection of exercises for the external rotators, refer to Chapter 14.)

Another reason many bodybuilders develop problems from overhead presses is muscle imbalances. If bodybuilders don't perform enough work for their upper-back muscles, particularly those that help extend the spine, they develop a humpback appearance that is more appropriate for primates. According to Paul Chek, bodybuilders with this type of posture put considerable stress on the shoulder capsule when they perform Behind-the-Neck Presses, a stress that can eventually cause permanent instability in the joint. Chek says this stress can also strain the upper-back muscle called the levator scapulae that, when strained, is responsible for causing that chronic "crick" in your neck that makes it painful to turn your head. So it's not that the Behind-the-Neck Press is such a bad exercise, but more to the point, you have to have good posture to be able to perform it correctly!

Another problem with overhead pressing is that most trainers simply don't know what the hell they're doing! The most common technical fault is not performing the exercise throughout a full range of motion, preferring instead to lower the weight only to ear level. Although you will get considerable triceps training out of this practice, you will get very little in terms of shoulder development, and this may contribute to the development of postural problems that can eventually cause injury.

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