Home Blog Turning off the Stupid…

Turning off the Stupid…

Written on July 8, 2009 at 8:49 pm, by Eric Cressey

Some of you probably already know that one of the reasons I became a “shoulder guy” was because my right shoulder is a piece of garbage thanks to my youth tennis career.  I was scheduled for a surgery back in 2003 for your classic internal impingement issues: partial thickness tear of my supraspinatus, bone spurs, and – while I never had an athrogram – presumably some labral fraying, too.

Anyway, long story short, I had six months before my surgery was scheduled, so I tinkered with my programming with a “what the heck” mindset, and wound up fixing up my shoulder to the point that I could cancel the surgery.  About the only things that I had to give up were:

1) the crazy kick serve I used to use on the tennis court (and, to be honest, tennis as a whole; powerlifting seemed more fun anyway)

2) overhead pressing

I haven’t picked up a tennis racket since 2003.  And, until last week, I hadn’t done any overhead pressing.  Can you tell where this is going?

Of course, I see intern Roger doing some push presses, so I figure I’ll give it a shot.  I did some easy sets of 5 at 155 last week, and it didn’t bother the ol’ tater.  I was pretty pleased.

So, idiocy coming out in full effect, I decide to overhead press with Tony the next week – and this time took it up to 200 pounds.  Aside from feeling hopelessly weak because I hadn’t trained the movement for about seven years, it felt reasonably good for the rest of the day on Monday.

If you’re any good at predicting the end of those “choose your own adventure” books, you can probably guess that my shoulder hated me on Tuesday – and still doesn’t feel too hot at 10:42PM on Wednesday night.

It’s “nothing to write home about” pain that I know will be gone in a day or two. Still, it really cracks me up.

If one of my athletes came to me with this injury history, he wouldn’t overhead press for another day in his career.  In fact, my overhead throwing athletes with no injury history don’t overhead press at all just because they are at a greater risk of this and I don’t want to take any chances.  Apparently, though, in the walnut sized brain that rattles around inside my skull, my shoulder is in some way “special.”

This brings me to my point of the day.  Beyond providing thorough assessments, good programming, constant motivation, and a positive training environment, our primary job as strength and conditioning coaches and personal trainers is, very simply, to help athletes turn off the stupid.

Sadly, the hardest person to coach is oneself.  I’m off to throw a bag of frozen green beans on this shoulder and chow down on some humble pie.

9 Responses to “Turning off the Stupid…”

  1. David Says:

    Interesting. In HS I separated my AC joint during the first game of junior year. I played the rest of the year with out letting it heal, and to this day I have still have shoulder issues (college ball didn’t help the issue much either).

    It seems my shoulder allows me to overhead press/push press/jerk and incline press, but flat bench is out of the question unless I’m using DBs. Is this typical of this type of shoulder injury, or am I an outlier and most individuals show the same symptoms as yourself? Granted we each have different injuries but same local area.

  2. JanisG Says:

    David, I am in similar situation. I have pain doing flat bench presses with barbell and upright rows. Decline barbell press is also sometimes uncomfortable, but incline press and overhead press is working fine.

  3. Dan Says:


    Have you seen this article before? http://journal.crossfit.com/2008/03/on-the-safety-and-efficacy-of.tpl

    It puts forth a case for the overhead press. I’m not trying to argue with you; I found it to be an interesting read.

    Also, that you can press over your bodyweight after not having pressed for years is pretty damn impressive!

  4. Jon Says:

    Gotta love Crossfit…Sometimes all we have to go by is anecdotal evidence because it might be unethical/impractical to test scientifically. Sometimes common sense and actually being a coach-fitting the program to the athletes, and not vice versa, as Eric says-is the best we can do.

  5. Mark Fenner Says:


    Quick note on what you have discussed regarding adolescent development in sports … namely, that early specialization is detrimental to long-term development. In Oliver Sacks book “Musicophilia” (page 295 or so) he details an odd condition call focal dystonia. It occurs in super-elite, prodigy level musicians. Eventually, they become unable to use some part of their body (say finger on a piano, lips on a flute, etc.) __while they are playing their specialized instrument__. Typically, they loose the ability gradually and they respond by upping their level of intensity and force. This backfires …

    because …

    what happens is the sensory cortex (yup, _sensory_ side, not motor) regions that control their ability becomes so enlarged (specialized) that they start overlapping (i.e., region for pinkie overlaps with region for ring finger) and … presto, the regions become undifferentiated and can no longer control the movements during performance. Absolutely wonderful display of adaptation leading to pathology.

    It isn’t always fixable, but they attempt to treat this with unlearning and then relearning. My wife (a neuroscientist) and I were discussing the value of cross-training: flute to guitar, or some such.

    Anyway, the parallels with sport development are pretty neat. My account is from a discussion of my wife’s reading: if you want the real scoop, check out the book.


  6. Mitch Rothbardt Says:

    This is great. I do a similar thing when I deadlift where I convince myself that I have one more rep when my form has deteriorated to a point that I wouldn’t allow my worst enemy to do another rep. My lower back doesn’t like that and I yell at myself for days for being an idiot as I limp around in pain. The line where you should stop pushing yourself is a very tricky one.

  7. Dan Says:


    I agree with what you’re saying, but the people who wrote that article do coach the press to a variety of people; they aren’t just internet warriors. However, I’m sure they exclude the press from some people’s programs for whatever reason.

    I’ve heard plenty of stories about overhead pressing benefiting someone’s shoulder health, but I’ve also heard plenty of stories to the contrary. I’m not trying to say one approach is right and the other approach is wrong, and I’m certainly not qualified to critique anyone’s coaching methods. I just linked the article because it was an interested read, and I think it brings up a good point about form.

  8. Jon Says:

    I completely agree Dan. I think that’s why it’s important to adjust to each individual within a program (another reason I’m not a huge fan of Crossfit). I think Eric’s point that most overhead throwing/serving athletes could be just as well served by doing more horizontal pushing and all sorts of pulling is a valid one though-regardless of whether or not there is a scientific study that shows overhead pressing is a risk factor for injury. I think he explained that most of the throwers have range of motion/labral issues that would compromise their ability to use the proper form without compensation.

    Good topic though…

  9. Benjamin Kusin Says:

    so are you “presses are evil” or are you “presses suck for people with certain activities like throwing and certain shoulder issues?”

    i loooove overhead pressing. In fact, it’s going to be a staple in my next cycle. There’s just something manly about a big overhead press.
    See Doug Hepburn

    Strict press!

  • Avoid the most common deadlifting mistakes
  • 9 - minute instructional video
  • 3 part follow up series