shoulder injury barbell training

How I Fixed My Shoulder

Many people hurt their shoulders at some point while barbell training. Starting Strength Coach Grant Broggi explains exactly how he rehabbed his shoulder and got back to lifting heavy again.

Pain and Lifting

If you have lifted for any amount of time then you know your body hurts from time to time. No matter how good your form is, or how consistent you have been in your training, sometimes you get hurt.

That's part of lifting and, as Mark Rippetoe likes to say, "Accumulating injuries are the price we pay for the thrill of not having sat around on our asses.”

Meaning, if you actually train to get strong you will get strong, and as a result you will get "injured" from time to time. Notice that he italicized "injuries." 

I have hurt myself in the gym numerous times over the last decade. In fact, there was a period of time where I seemed to tweak my back every six months like clockwork (although I've since seemed to have fixed that issue... knock on wood). 

So yes, I've dealt with pain in the gym by tweaking my back, giving myself elbow tendinitis, making my knees angry, and dealt with groin pain. Not to mention the hundreds of people I have coached through injuries over the years.  

With that said, the majority of the time the solution is always the same. Train anyway. Adjust as necessary and keep going. Sometimes it's as simple as a reduction in load (weight on the bar) or volume (total reps) or range of motion (altering the exercise). 

99% of the time I have found these strategies to work. Until they did not for me. 

Shoulder Injury

Some time in early April of this year, I started experiencing pain in my shoulder when squatting. It was nothing unbearable but it was noticeable.  I played with my grip, adjusted my width, double checked bar placement, I tried everything I know to do and just kept training. 

Then one day while pressing it flared up. Now the pain was super noticeable - p articularly out of the bottom position of the press.  But, I'm a Marine so I just kept training anyway.

I tried to work through it for several months. Then on the  weekend of my wedding anniversary, while training at a Crossfit gym in Myrtle Beach, SC, I found myself hardly able to squat 245lbs.

The shoulder pain was excruciating, and it affected me at all points of the day. Grabbing my phone off of the bedside table in the morning hurt, trying to put on a backpack hurt, or even a buttoning my shirt. All these movements seemed to make it throb. 

I did the ibuprofen protocol (800mg a day for 4 days), I tried some physical therapy movements and I reduced my press to tempo reps with nothing but the bar. All strategies that had worked for me in the past. 


That's exactly where my mind went. I thought, "it's been months, you've been trying all the things that work and it is not going away. It is actually getting worse."I thought of the abuse it has taken over 10 years in the Marine Corps, plus all the lifting  -maybe I finally tore something? 

As I considered an MRI, I remembered  my good friend and coach Paul Horn had torn his shoulder some years back and had surgery. So I called him up to discuss.

He asked me a bunch of questions to try to identify the issue and then basically told me, "you want to avoid surgery at all costs." I explained to him all the methods I'd been doing and he asked me if I had removed everything that is annoying it. 

I said "well no, I have reduced the load, volume, range of motion but I have not done any elimination." As we talked, I realized that I could bench with a modified grip (closer) pain free, that I could use a Safety Squat Bar and deadlift pain free. 

Rehab Protocol

I realized that the back squat (low or high bar) and the press were the two culprits that really aggravated my shoulder so I stopped doing them completely.  I only squatted with the Marrs Bar, I did close grip bench press and I strapped my deadlift (the hook grip seemed to aggravate my hurt shoulder).


In addition, I also started taking my pre lift warmups more seriously (as recommended by Paul).  I hung from the pull up bars to open up the shoulder, used the rack to stretch, and increased my empty bar sets on the bench press before loading. 

I began taking a Cosamin-D joint supplement everyday. Not sure if that helped but I did it. 

Lastly, I started doing 100 pushups every single day. I had noticed a little bit before eliminating everything that I could do pushups completely pain free.  As a matter of fact, when my shoulder hurt all the time I actually found they alleviated the pain after a set of 25-30. I figured motion is the lotion so I did those very diligently. 


Within weeks I was squatting in the 400s again (with my Marrs Bar), I was benching in the 300s and I could grab my phone off the night stand pain free.

Last week, I pressed 205 x 5 x 3 which was the heaviest I've done in months. Two weeks ago, I bench pressed with a normal grip just 5 lbs less than my all time best. 

Just as Captain John Paul Jones said  "I have not yet begun to fight," I too have not yet begun to low bar.  But I am going to very soon. 

Is The Low Bar Bad For You?

Reading this you may be coming to the conclusion that the low bar squat is what caused the injury.  I have already been getting asked, Grant, are you done low bar squatting forever? Absolutely not. 

Here is what I'd like you to take away from my experiences.

1. You must first ALWAYS try to train through it.

Just because something hurts does not mean that you cannot train. You need to try first. Keeping more exercises that do not make the pain worse in your toolbox is bette than elimination. 

2. You must not ALWAYS and FOREVER try to train through it.

If you've tried all the techniques and you are still dealing with pain then it is time to change something. I do think that you have to try to train through something for an extended amount of time but if you have and it is still aggravated, then do not be a hard head. Figure out what movements you can do and focus on them. 

3. Reintroduce movements slowly. 

I close gripped bench pressed for a few months before attempting my normal grip. Even then I reduced the load. I then slowly began to add back in the overhead press. I did not rush anything or try to get back to previous numbers quickly. 

On top of all that, after four weeks of pain free lifting I am just now going to begin low bar squatting this week, but I am not going to rush that either in terms of volume and load. But I will reintroduce it. 

I think my long term plan for squats is to do volume with the Marrs Bar and Lord willing and the creek don't rise intensity with low bar. After all, once you squat with a Marrs Bar you realize that squatting is not supposed to be that comfortable. 

I outlined my journey in the video below. Hope you find it helpful.

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