First, let me start by saying that I had rotator cuff impingement in both shoulders diagnosed by a doctor, and I suggest you do the same, to ensure it isn’t a tear or something else before you try anything in this article.
Setting that aside, I spent decades feuding with the muscles and tendons in my body. I never had great genetics, but I plowed through regardless, beating my body to a pulp in the pursuit of being bigger and stronger. My shoulders, in particular, bore a tremendous burden. For years I was pressing 125lb dumbbells, squatting over 400 pounds, deadlifting and shrugging over 500. In other words, my shoulders took a pretty routine thrashing, so when I started to have shoulder problems in my late 30’s, I just chalked it up to paying the price for beating my body to death. I figured I’d have issues in my 50s and maybe 60s, but I didn’t anticipate them coming on so soon before I even hit 40. It got to the point where I could barely lift my arms, and could no longer do any shoulder pressing motion, or even bench pressing movements without extreme discomfort. Anything that elevated my arms parallel to my shoulder was basically out of the question. For a while, I just assumed I was done, and readers of my book know how I struggled with depression as a result. Here I was, 41 years old, and a body beat to death from decades of heavy lifting, so I just assumed my lifting days were over. I tried a lot of things, cortisone shots, stretching, light weight rehab, and I was just about resigned to having surgery.
Basically, impingement happens when the tendon doesn’t have enough room between the shoulder and arm, and gets pinched, causing inflammation and pain. I was just about to have an MRI on both shoulders, but due to an insurance snafu, I had to put it off, and I’m glad I did. One more round of research on the internet and I came across an obscure video with not a lot of views, which I can’t even find now (here’s a substitute https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i\_osoNJK1HQ) that said to free hang from a bar to fix shoulder impingement. Now, this sounded counterproductive since I had such pain in that position, but the video made a pretty convincing argument based around anatomical similarities to monkeys and how they swing around so effortlessly. So I decided what the heck, I’ve tried everything else, let’s do it.
Boy, was I in for some pain. When I started doing these, it hurt so badly that I thought I was going to tear my rotator cuffs out and shred my shoulders, but as usual, I just plowed through regardless. The idea of the therapy is that the free hang would create some distance between the arm and shoulder, removing the impingement of the tendon. Week after week went by, and I started to notice it didn’t hurt much any longer, and I was able to hang in different positions and for longer durations. Around the same time, I learned a technique I wrote about in my book, Forging the Iron Mind, called trigger point massage. So, in addition to doing these hangs, I was using a ball between my back and the wall to roll out knots and massage out my back and shoulder muscles. As time went on, I started to notice my range of motion was getting quite good on my shoulders, so I added another highly recommended movement: dislocators. I started doing them with a band, and as time went on eventually progressed to a stick, like a broom handle for a more fixed position. This was yet another movement that hurt like hell and took weeks to be able to do effectively.
After several weeks of all of this, I decided to try a pressing motion in the gym using 20 lb weights, a far cry from the ginormous weights of my youth, but this illustrates how bad my shoulders had gotten: I could not even press small weights. The 20’s went up pretty effortlessly, and I kind of went, “huh, interesting.” No pain, none. So I grabbed 30’s, again, not a lot, but I pressed them easily. I will tell you; I hadn’t been this excited in the gym in YEARS. Seriously, I almost cried. Just the other day, I pressed 55lb dumbbells, and frankly probably could have done more. I can now bench with dumbbells once again, and although my shoulders aren’t perfect as they were in my prime, they are orders of magnitude better than they were even six months ago. I also got the point where I could do pull-ups and dips, which I was sure were never going to happen again.
In closing, I hope this helps someone because I was confident I was done lifting and had resigned myself to never being able to lift again, which would be easy for some people, but not me because I love to do it. I might not be able to power lift like I used to, but damn does it feel good to have some mobility back and be able to exercise like I want to again. Remember, always consult with a doctor, but do your homework, they aren’t infallible, and they don’t know it all, so be sure to look around and listen to more experts before giving up. Have you had issues like these before that you fixed with some unconventional means? Let me know!
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