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injury prevention

Common Injury Sites and Clever Workarounds: Part I – The Upper Body

By Eric Bach and Travis Pollen

Peruse many an online fitness publication, and you’re likely to encounter a whole lot of one-size-fits-all training programs.

We get it: when writing for the masses, it’s just easier to deal in terms of absolutes and generalizations.

You need to squat wide, with your feet externally rotated to maximum glute engagement, minimize range of motion, and get the most weight on the bar. 

Plus, you better deadlift. From the floor. Every damn time. No excuses. 

Sound familiar?

The thing is, by attempting to appeal to everyone, these cookie-cutter are a blind shot in the dark, failing to optimally apply to anyone.

The reason?

We’re all unique, with anatomical differences that require an individual approach to training. For example, Travis and I can’t blindly train with the same squat technique, that opens a pandoras box of issues ready to kick both of us square in the teeth. 

When we blindly train with cookie-cutter techniques, then needless injuries, aches, and pains creep in.

Maybe it’s an old football injury that acts up when you bench or SI joint pain when you deadlift. Whatever it is, we can relate: Just about everyone battles chronic aches and pains.

Personal Trainers Have limitations


As personal trainers, diagnosing and treating pain is outside of our scope of practice. But that doesn’t mean we can’t train our clients. It just means we have to get creative to work around problem areas.

The good news is that often simply by getting stronger and stabler in non-provocative movements, we often find issues resolving themselves.

In this two-part series, we’re breaking down ten common injuries sites, exercises that tend to provoke pain, and our go-to workarounds. Just remember, there are no absolutes in fitness. What works for one person might not work for another, so don’t be afraid to get a little clever.

[FYI: Travis recently released a new e-book, 50 Fit Tips (available for free HERE), in which he advocates for creative problem-solving and individualized fitness in order to help readers look, feel, and move better.]

50 fitness tips travis pollen

Let’s begin with Part I – The Upper Body. Eric’s answers are in black, whereas Travis’ are all listed in blue. 

Pain Site: Hand

Provocative: Heavy dumbbell row

Replace with: Straps

Whether you smashed a finger between dumbbells or sliced your finger cleaning a razor (guilty as charged), hand pain is brutal to work around. Without a full-strength grip, you’ll be severely limited in pulling strength on exercises like deadlifts, rows, and chin-ups.

I’m rarely a fan of straps, but in the case of hand injury, the trade-off is worth a pair of lifting straps.



Provocative: Lat pull-down

Replace with: Ab sling pull-down

Just about everyone has jammed a finger at least once or twice. The black and blue and swelling is not fun. What’s more, it can take an awfully long time to heal fully.

During the healing process, gripping can be a big problem — especially when the jammed finger is your middle one, and it looks like you’re giving people the finger whenever you pick something up!

As such, finger pain (or pain anywhere else in the hand) can be a serious barrier to training. Nobody wants to do legs all the time, but when you can’t grab onto anything without searing pain shooting up your finger, how many options does that leave in the gym?

As it turns out, there are actually quite a few ways to train the upper body that don’t involve grabbing onto anything at all. One example is the ab sling pull-down, in which you place your elbows inside ab slings attached to a pulley system overhead for lat pull-downs, thereby eliminating the need to grip anything.

Pain Site: Shoulder

Provocative: Bench press

Replace with: Floor press

You’d be hard-pressed to find an ex-athlete or lifter without some degree of shoulder dysfunction and pain. Most athletes flare their elbows in pressing movements, fixing the humerus into internal rotation. To accommodate this position the scapula rotates up and out, forcing scapular stabilizers to work overtime while rubbing on the supraspinatus ligament.

This creates a marked decrease in sub-acromial space which can increase impingement in the shoulder. The floor press reduces the range of motion of the shoulder and subsequent injury risk while still training a massive press.

Credit to Bret Contreras for this overview:


Provocative: Overhead press

Replace with: Lateral raises

“Pinching” pain in the front of the shoulder is ubiquitous among older trainees. Many will push through it for a while — until it becomes so excruciating that they can no longer lift their arm overhead and they’re forced to take time off.

The good news is that there’s a safer way to work the deltoids that doesn’t involve going overhead. You might even be familiar with it already. It’s called the lateral raise.

Sure, lateral raises are an old-school bodybuilder move and thus slightly less “functional” than the overhead press. But if your shoulder is bothering you on a given day, it’s best to steer clear of going overhead until the pain subsides.

In the lateral raise, the shoulder still moves into abduction, which will strengthen the front and middle delts just like the overhead press, only without provoking the problem range of motion (above 90° of abduction).


Pain Site: Elbow

Provocative: Repetitive heavy elbow flexion and extension. Push press, split jerk, big bad biceps curls in the squat rack. 

Replace with: De-loaded pulling movements and fat Gripz

Elbows are one of the most common injury sites, especially in men. More often than not, explosive exercises like the push press and split jerk coupled with a heavy dose of chin ups and curls aggravate the elbows and cause chronic pain. This answer isn’t sexy, but rest from repetitive flexion and explosive movements is important for recovery. De-load pulling movements and use Fat Gripz. Fat Gripz will introduce your grip strength as the limiting factor in provocative exercises, preventing you from over-doing it.  

Provocative: Skull crushers

Replace with: Close-grip bench press, push-ups with elbows in

Strong triceps are an integral component of lifting big weight in the bench press and overhead press. Moreover, they’re the key to filling out the sleeves of a t-shirt when you’ve maxed out on bicep development.

One of the best ways to work the triceps is with skull crushers. Unfortunately, as any lifter who’s been in the game for long enough knows, isolation exercises like skull crushers can wreak havoc on the elbows if they’re performed too frequently or with too much weight.

If your elbows are talking back from too many sets of heavy skull crushers, redirect your focus to compound exercises that emphasize the triceps such as close-grip bench press and push-ups with the elbows tracking in towards the sides.

Although these exercises are classically for the chest, the position of the hands and elbows places the pecs at a mechanical disadvantage and forces the front delts and triceps to bear the brunt of the load, which is exactly what we’re looking for.


Pain Site: Wrist

Provocative: Bench press (lack of rigidity through wrist)

Replace with: Better technique

The wrist is a complex joint. Should there be any wonder that wrist pain is common on the bench press?

The wrist is composed of the distal ends of the radius and ulna, 8 carpal bones, and the proximal portions of the 5 metacarpal bones.

With this many joint articulations, it’s essential the joint is kept rigid and supported during bench presses. Instead of letting the wrist cock backward, imagine the straight alignment of the wrist when throwing a punch. If you’ve ever thrown a punch without proper alignment, you’ve surely felt the repercussions later on.

The same thing happens on your pressing exercise, albeit to a lesser extent.  Sit bar in the heel of your hand, rather than high up. 


Photo credit: Stronglifts.com

This position allows a more rigid wrist, decreasing joint pain and keeping the forearm and wrist rigid for better pressing power.

Provocative: Conventional Push-ups

Replace with: Neutral grip push-ups on hexagonal dumbbells

Wrist pain is another one of those nagging upper body injuries. Land on your wrist hard just once, and you’re toast every time you go to bend it for the next month.

As an amputee, I fall on an outstretched hand more regularly than I’d like to admit, so I know exactly how annoying this pain can be. Whenever it happens, regular push-ups with a bent back wrist are a big no-no.

Luckily — since I love push-ups — there’s a simple fix: neutral grip push-ups atop hexagonal (flat-edged) dumbbells, which allow you to maintain a strong, stacked wrist position.


Pain Site: Upper back, posterior shoulder

Provocative: Overhead press

Replace with: Half-kneeling landmine press

The overhead press can be an excellent exercise, but due to poor thoracic mobility, trunk stability, and differing types of bony shoulder anatomy, it’s an exercise some of us should avoid.

Before writing this suggestion off as sacrilege, let’s dive into the anatomy. The glenohumeral joint of the shoulder acts as a ball-and-socket joint, giving it the most range of motion of any joint in the body. This also makes it much less stable, especially when coupled with our chronically internally rotated, caveman posture.Psst, check your posture ;).  

Now, when you raise your arm, the humeral head can crash into the acromion space, compressing the area of bones, and ligaments within the socket. If you’ve had the feeling someone is stabbing your shoulder with an icepick, this could be why. 
When this happens with heavy weight overhead, the muscles of the rotator cuff become irritated, leading further impingement.

To avoid this, I move clients with poor overhead mobility to half-kneeling landmine presses. The half-kneeling position trains the trunk to prevent flexion, while the landmine allows you to press at an angle to minimize crowding in the acromion process, while still overloading your deltoids and triceps.
Botta bing, botta boom. Landmines are the way to go.

Video Credit to the shoulder god himself Eric Cressey:

Provocative: Back squat

Replace with: Safety bar squat

The back squat. The king of all exercises. Everyone must do it, right? Not so fast. Sure, the back squat is great and all, but not if it causes pain.

The amount of thoracic spine extension and shoulder external rotation required to perform a good back squat isn’t always within everyone’s wheelhouse. To avoid going into painful ranges of motion at the shoulder and spine when squatting, simply opt for the safety bar squat instead.

The lower body stimulus the safety bar squat provides is nearly indistinguishable from that of the back squat, only it does so without contorting the upper body into a sometimes uncomfortable or even painful position. Instead, the bar rests around the shoulders and upper traps with the handles neutrally aligned in front of the body.

Be sure to check back with Eric and Travis next week for the link to Common Injury Sites and Clever Workarounds: Part II – The LOWER Body.

And Don’t Forget….

 Travis recently released a new e-book, 50 Fit Tips, FO FREE. In this ebook, he’ll show you how to individualize your training with his custom problem-solving strategies to look, feel, and move better. Get it here before it’s gone forever!]

50 fitness tips travis pollen


About the Guest Co-author

Travis Pollen is an NPTI certified personal trainer and American record-holding Paralympic swimmer. He recently completed his master’s degree in Biomechanics and Movement Science at the University of Delaware. He maintains his own blog and is always posting fitness tips and videos of his “feats of strength” on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Copyright: lightwise / 123RF Stock Photo

Four Ways To Train Longer and Harder

Online Personal Trainer


Flash back to two years ago at 4:30 A.M. I rolled out of bed and took a few ginger steps. My knees that used to crackle are stiff and achy.    

My shoulder? Same Deal.

And early morning training?

Well, I used to be able to wake up, run to the gym, and just start hoisting weights. I knew it was dumb, but I did it anyway.

Sound familiar?

16513751_mNow, I don’t want seem like a whiny little bitch.

I realize my age and list of aches pales in comparison to many of you. But, I  hear friends, clients, and members of the Bach Performance Community talking about “the good old” days in the gym when they could lift non-stop, party, and still hit the gym with reckless abandon the next day, and set PR’s.

Now, it’s as if they’re a shell of their previous selves, washed up, done, and retired. Here’s what I hear:

“My knee is always sore. I’m done squatting. “ 

“My back is jacked up from deadlifts, I’ll just take the week off…you know, from all physical activity. “ 

“Man, I can’t get this tendonitis in my elbow to go away. I’m just going to skip the gym altogether. “

Use Old Lessons as a Stepping Stone

The way I see it, the “good old days” aren’t a thing of the past.  They are a stepping stone to more intelligent training. Rather than accepting mediocrity, every training issue is an opportunity to find a new route to the same destination of a high-performance body.

Working with a number of ex-athletes over the years (and becoming one myself), I’ve re-evaluated my approach to training to optimize performance and physique for the long-term.

After all, with age comes the chance to combine experience with wisdom to optimize the most important factor for long-term success:

Consistent, focused training.

With some tweaks to my coaching, I’ve been able to help clients get over their aches and pains to improve performance on their own terms, regardless of age.

Whether you’re new to the iron game, a seasoned vet, or somewhere in-between these tips will accelerate your high-performance gains while preserving your body for the future.

1.There Are Absolutely No Absolutes

That said:

  • You must do the big three, deadlift, squat, and bench, bro.
  • If you don’t squat ass to grass, you’re a chicken-legged chump and have no shot at getting big, and strong.
  • You must drink a post-workout shake or your workout will be wasted.

Sound familiar? I grew up reading “absolutes.” While much of all this was good advice, life is far too chaotic for absolute advice to be absolutely true.           

You might not be able to squat ass to grass due to a pre-existing knee injury. Or different bony hip anatomy. Or you lose core integrity below parallel, forcing your spine to flex and round, potentially causing severe injury.

See what I mean?

There is no absolute best way for everyone—you have to find what works for you and get awesome at it. 

2. Focus on Posture and Proper Biomechanics

Despite our efforts in the gym, the sad truth is most of us have poor posture  due to extensive times sitting, punching endless keys on our iPhones, and scanning email.

Shortened, tight hips, rounded shoulders and forward head position all open the door for imbalances and issues throughout the entire body that are exacerbated by unbalanced training.

As it pertains to your training, tight hips make hip extension nearly impossible, with lumbar extension during sprinting and hinge movements. Or, poor thoracic mobility makes it impossible to lift overhead without feeling like there’s an ice-pick in your shoulder.

As Greg Rospkopf, Founder of Muscle Activation Techniques (M.A.T.)  says  “joint position dictates muscle function.”

Focus on putting your body in the best anatomy positions and let your muscles do the job they’re meant to do, rather than excessively loading tissues for functions they’re not designed to handle.

3. Spend More time Working on Speed-Strength

I love lifting heavy as much as the next guy. Bbut years of heavy loading takes its toll on your body. Even more, heavy, near maximal loading is extremely taxing on the central nervous system.

Now, think about what happens after a period of heavy lifting and  overreaching. It’s similar to the average, middle-aged professional:

  • You’re mentally stale (you need four 4 cups of coffee to get back to equilibrium)
  • You don’t sleep well, hence the extra coffee
  • Increase in cortisol, decrease in testosterone, making you irritable and low energy, and by all means, weaker.
  • Depressed immune system, making you more likely to get sick.

See what I mean?

Keep the heavy days few and far between, and do most of your work between 65-85% 1-RM. Move the bar as fast as possible instead of 80-95%+ 1-RM. Going for a new max is fine, but realize the similarities between your stressful lifestyle, hard training, and learn to balance them out.

4 Explosive Exercises to Make You a BeastInstead of going for a new max all the time like a super-charged 18-year-old, stay submaximal and explosive for most of your training.

You’ll stay strong, minimize joint stress, and keep your mind and body sharp rather than beaten down and lethargic.

4. Bodyweight Training 

Like any other mode of training, you need progressive overload on basic movements. Unfortunately, most lifters dismiss bodyweight training after learning what I bench press is… and see other dudes curling in the squat rack.

Plus, once you’re able to knock out sets of 30 push-ups and 10+ chin-ups things get boring, right?

Well, you’re right. In their basic form, simple bodyweight exercises won’t provide enough tension to create overload in the muscles for further adaptation… unless you advance their variations.

Instead of a chin-up, add a weight vest or dip belt. Hell, start progressing towards a one-arm pull-up, a truly impressive feat of strength.

Add weight to your push-ups, start doing suspended push-ups, or start busting out one arm push-ups like Rocky.

Ab wheel rollouts, sprints, jumps, pistol squats, front levers, natural glute ham raises, single leg hip thrusts, and their variations are all high-performance exercises that can be done nearly anywhere, anytime, and in most cases, pain-free compared to spending more time underneath the bar.

Advance your training variations and use bodyweight training for strength, rather than endless high-rep sets. If you’re not already working on a few of these exercises add them in today and work towards the hardest progression possible.

High Tensile Strength

As I mentioned above, you can continue to train safely and make progress for decades to come… if you take the right steps. And while pain is an unavoidable part of the iron game, dysfunction and decreased training quality isn’t the inevitable badge of honor most meatheads play it off as.

The first thing you need to do is realize there are no absolutes in training. Find out what works best for you. Lifting lighter and more explosively with bodyweight exercise is a great option.

If you need to get more specific, my friend and colleague Dean Somerset has just released his brand new High Tensile Strength.

It’s  six months of programming, customizable based off a handful as self-assessments. You’ll build strength and improve usable mobility to build and reinforce strong and stable movement patterns to reduce injury and feel amazing. Even better, the portable program gives you the flexibility to take your training from the gym and everywhere in-between.

high tensile strength, 4 Ways To Train Longer and Harder

How much do I like this? So much that I’m doing what I’ve almost never done before: offering an enthusiastic personal endorsement. Why?

Dean’s one of the good guys in the fitness industry who pours his heart and soul into helping people. And it shows.

This customizable program, designed for both men AND women, is on sale at 50% the regular price until December 1, 2015 only. 

For more information, check out High Tensile Strength Here

Fat Gripz Review

Lifting Tempo, Fat Gripz Review

Fat Gripz are a fat, rubberized attachment for dumbbells and barbells to increase the diameter of the bar, thus mimicking the feel of a fat bar for a fraction of the price. This increase in diameter posts a significant challenge to the forearms and biceps as they must work much harder to grip, and stabilize the barbell or dumbbell being used. I have used my grips for the past 9 months and noticed a significantly stronger grip while also adding size to my forearms and helping me break the 500lb mark in my deadlift.

Fat Gripz Pros:

  • Fat Gripz take stress off of your body, specifically at the elbow, wrist, and shoulder joint. This occurs because the wider grip more evenly spreads the weight across the body. This is the biggest difference I have noticed, as my shoulder pain and wrist pain has dissipated significantly.


  • Fat Gripz increase muscle stimulation across the upper body. Don’t believe me? Make a fist and squeeze as hard as you can, your back, chest, arms, and shoulders will all be firing. The same thing happens when you challenge your grip with Fat Gripz.


  • Because of the increased muscle activation and grip challenge, muscle imbalances will be challenged and in time, eliminated. The body consistently fights to keep growth in proportion as much as it can. When a weak leak is evident, such as the grip, growth of other tissues can be impeded. Stagnant upper body growth? Hit your forearms with a high frequency for a few weeks. Jump starting your forearm training and grip strength will lead to growth in other areas.


  • Fat Gripz are a high quality rubber and very easy to use. Simply slip on the Fat Gripz on your dumbbells or barbells (open side facing you for pulls, away from you for pushes) and get to work. I have had mine for 9 months and they look brand new, minus chalk marks on them. They are durable, easy to clean with soap and water, and take 10 seconds to put on.

Fat Gripz Cons:

  • First and foremost, the workout that Fat Gripz gives you is shit. It’s your typical body part split with super high volume on your arms. You will get a superior pump using this workout, but most likely lack luster results and translation to increased strength in your compound, which is the key to muscle growth.
  • At first, Fat Gripz will make you incredibly sore in the forearms, which can limit your next few workouts. Start slow with usage, maybe 2-3 sets of one exercise the first week while slowly adding volume.
  • You will use less weight, at first at least. Especially in pulling exercises such as dumbbell rows, the weight you use will significantly decrease. This won’t last long, so suck it up and work through your frustrations.

Fat Gripz Review

Fat Gripz are a wonderful addition to any fitness enthusiasts’ workout. Fat Gripz provide a unique muscle stimulation that can only be matched by fat bars, but for a fraction of the price.  They can be found here at Elitefts.net. Fat Gripz will eliminate weak points, protect joints, increase muscle activation, and build a bone crushing grip. Stay away from the Fat Gripz workout and stick to compound exercises. I don’t use my Gripz when performing near maximum attempts, but include them on nearly all my assistance exercises. Fat Gripz can be an essential tool

Stay away from the Fat Gripz workout and stick to compound exercises. I don’t use my Gripz when performing near maximum attempts, but include them on nearly all my assistance exercises. Fat Gripz can be an essential tool to all athletes, but especially Mixed Martial Artists, Wrestlers, and other combative atheletes.

Fight through the initial ego struggle of using less weight and stay the course, it will pay dividends faster than you think! I highly recommend Fat Gripz for anyone looking to provide a unique challenge to their workouts with this durable, effective, and cost-effective alternative to fat bar training.

P.S. Looking for a Program to Build Mass? Here’s one of my go-to programs, 100% Free

Get Your 12 Week HFT Mass Program Today

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