Hypertrophying Hypermobile Shoulders: an ultimate guide

Any of my hypermobile brothers and sisters will understand that there are some nice things we just can’t have- like a shoulder pump. If you’re anything like me, you go into a shoulder session with only the best of intentions and two words ringing through your over-keen mind: “capped delts”. You start off with some military press, or maybe some side raises and dumbbell overhead. Warmup sets feel a bit rusty but that’s what they’re for- right? To clear the rust away? Wrong. You continue through your sets and find there is an insurmountable and impermeable build up of rust, the pain level rises to unbearable and you are left unable to train for days, perhaps weeks.

If you feel yourself resonate with this scenario, I am here to speak words of encouragement to you: life doesn’t have to be like this.

After years of trial and error (read: lots of pain) I have found a way. So in this blog I present to you the ultimate guide to Hypertrophying Hypermobile Shoulders (according to me)… now THAT has a ring to it. Accept nothing less than pain-free, my friends.

[Before we go on I need to make a quick disclaimer, this blog is not for you to use in place of physiotherapy and if you have injury or ongoing pain in your shoulders, you need to seek treatment. This blog is intended for people who struggle with conventional shoulder training, and all exercises should only be attempted conservatively and when in good health. This is not a prescription, and as such, I have written this blog purely from the standpoint of my own experience.]

How to use this guide

While shoulder training is a regular part of my routine, dedicated shoulder days are a thing of the past. No matter how careful you are, if the stabilisers fatigue you’re in for a bad time. So I would recommend using this guide as some ideas for exercises to add in ONE AT A TIME into your normal training days. Don’t overcommit with too many exercises at once, your shoulders have been waiting this long- they can wait a few more sessions until you find your limits.

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My favourite shoulder hypertrophy tip: find yourself some good lighting like we have here at Lifters League 😉

Now that’s out of the way, let’s hook into the good stuff. If you take only one thing from this article, always remember: every pain-free workout should start with a thorough warmup. Here’s my quick go-to shoulder warmup:

Shoulder Warmup

50 of these (no audio for technique see HERE):

50 of these (no audio for technique see HERE):

& a few sets of these (listen to audio for instructions):

 

And now for the Shoulder Workout Movements:

Exercise #1- Modified Bamboo Press (see audio for notes)

Alternatively, if you have an actual bamboo bar you can try that! Start with a manageable weight, often people can still get shoulder pain on this if they go too heavy too quickly.

Weight: This will be less than your military press weight- don’t go too heavy too quickly. Work with manageable weight. I use the bar + 2.5kg/side (25kg total) and this gives me a great workout. 

Reps & Sets: I love doing volume for these- 5-8 sets of 5 reps is my favourite. Never go to failure. 

Exercise #2: Stacked Kettlebell Press (no audio for this one only)

This one is more of a challenge than it looks. Chalk up so your hands don’t slip. You can do two hands at once, I only had access to the single kettle bell. Play around with grip positions to see what is most comfortable, and keep the weight in close to your body line. THIS IS HARD, only attempt if you are confident!!!

Weight: START LIGHT- do not over commit!!!

Reps & Sets: This one is so hard to do, I set goals to increase reps. Starting with the weakest side, I do as many as I can without dropping the kettlebell, then match it on the other arm. This is my rep range for the day, next workout I will try to beat the reps done. Alternatively, sometimes I set a “total rep” goal for the workout of 20 or 30 per workout. 

 

Exercise #3: Dumbbell Shoulder Press (see audio for notes)

Most will know how to perform a dumbbell shoulder press, this video explains the modification I make to the grip to avoid overloading the small rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder. I use this method for a lot of exercises, including lat pulldown, dumbbell bench press, rows, etc. I prefer seated, and love going heavy on this.

Weight, Sets & Reps: Avoid going to failure. Warmup thoroughly.

Exercise #4: Lateral Raise (see audio for notes)

This modification is great for unstable shoulders. When instability is present, the rotator cuff muscles can often become overworked. Supraspinatus is a common problem muscle with shifty shoulders, and is responsible for the initial abduction movement. Take it out of the picture with this modification.

Weight: I can actually go quite heavy with these, but always start light and build up. If I get some momentum going, I will push it close to a 5 rep max after a thorough warmup.

Sets and Reps: I prefer lower volume, higher weight for this one. See what you like though!

Exercise #5: Front Plate Raise (see audio for notes)

Having both hands on the plate helps to stabilise in what is usually a very uncomfortable position for me. Bracing through the body is key for this one.

Weight: I am lucky that I have 10kg, 15kg, 20kg and 25kg plates so will always be able to progress. If you only have 10kg and 20kg plates, just try to increase the reps or sets @10kg. 

Reps & Sets: I like doing heaps of these at the end of a workout. I pretty much go until my shoulders get fatigued or until I get any pain in the shoulders. 

Exercises 6 & 7: Rear Delt Training (see audio for notes)

The standard rear delt fly is hit and miss for me. Some days I can do it fine, others it hurts me. If I’m at a gym with a rear delt machine I often use that, however these are some modifications I use when training with free weights. A cue I often use is to “lead with the shoulder blades”- so the scapulae squeeze together and down to initiate the movement of the arms.

Weight: I never go heavy on these, especially the free-standing single arm modification. 

Sets & Reps: whatever I need to get a good pump!

#shouldspo for you- Julia Zaugolova benches 135kg x3 with those delts


Before you froth yourself into an overhead pressing frenzy, prepare yourself with the following guidelines:

The 5 Rules of Hypermobile Shoulder Training

  1. Stop if you feel pain
  2. Avoid any shoulder “clicking”
  3. Brace with abs, glutes and lats at all times
  4. Use the cue “tuck shoulder blades into opposite back pocket” at all times
  5. ROM is not the be-all-end-all of efficient training. Modify the ROM if you get pain, clicking or discomfort

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I leave you with the wise words of Arnold Schwarzenegger:

“If you analyze it, you look in the mirror and you say, okay, I need a bit more deltoids … so that the proportion’s right, and … you exercise and put those deltoids on.”

 

Now, go forth and presssper! [sorry]

 

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