But over the last few months I have figured some things out that have helped me enough that I can now press semi heavy twice a week.
Before I start talking about warming up on pressing days I want to address the shoulder and elbow problems that veteran lifters deal with. I will address some of the problems behind those pains and how I have worked around them to keep getting bigger and stronger.
I also hope younger lifters or guys new to lifting pay attention here and don't take this lightly.
Skull crushers - This used to be my most favorite exercise for triceps. Now if I think about doing them my elbows hurt. Some time back Matt Kroc tore his tricep doing them, and I've know several other guys that tore their triceps doing them.
Skullies put your elbows in a very precarious angle. So when you have to overcome to inertia from the bottom, the stress is transferred directly to the joint, and that stress is also shared by the tendons of course. You may be able to do these for years without pain, but for the majority of people they will eventually lead to elbow problems. I used to scoff at "old guys" who told me this. I feel like a fool now for doing so. I could have saved a lot of wear and tear on my elbows by heeding that advice and dropping skulls in favor of more elbow friendly movements. But I was young and knew more than they did, so I didn't. And I paid for it, just like they said I would.
Wide Grip Benching - The fastest and best way to make sure you eventually wreck your shoulders is to keep on doing your benches wide. I don't even mean ultra wide either. I separated my shoulder in football twice, and now have permanent AC joint separation that cannot be fixed. However even before then just a few years of benching with a wide grip kept my shoulders sore and hurting almost constantly. I knew tons of other guys that had the same complaint. Yet we kept on doing it. It wasn't until a few years ago, that my bench crept back up to 400+ constantly and my shoulder pain went away. The reason why is because I switched to a close grip and quit benching wide. Now my shoulders never bother me, and I've had no pec issues either. Because the pecs don't get overstretched with close grips, the chances of injuring or tearing the pectoral is also significantly reduced. And just personal preference I am not as impressed with some guy gripping the bar out damn near the collars to do a belly bench as I am with someone like Konstantinov's who does a clean close grip with 50 pounds less.
Yes you will bench less at first, and you may not have the same ceiling for strength that you had if you stay wide grip. But it's better to shave 10 pounds off your bench, and be able to bench injury free on a consistent basis, than bench more every once in a while but struggle to stay healthy.
Biceps - One thing I've never understood about some powerlifters is the complete neglecting of biceps work. The secondary function of the biceps is to help stabilize the elbow and shoulder when you press. That seems pretty important. I hate training biceps, and always have. I neglected training them because of that, not because I didn't think they weren't important. I believe that the lack of training for my biceps probably played a part in my elbow issues as well. Remember that you always need balance, and if you are always pressing heavy, that elbow extension needs some elbow flexion to balance everything back out.
Warming up for benching and pressing of various types -
The first thing I do when I walk into the gym for a bench or pressing session, is make my way to the dumbbell rack and pick up a light pair of DB's like the 20's and start doing supinated db curls. I make sure to really turn my pinkie over as far as possible. This will help to stretch out the forearm and get everything warmed up in there.
After that I sit down, and do palms up wrist curls with my wrists on my knees. The important factor I learned here is, you want to go very slow and deliberate on the negative portion of the movement. After a set of 12-15, I turn my hands over and do palms down wrist curls. Again, I make sure to go very slow on the negative. This was the difference in my elbow pain getting better. I had been doing all sorts of forearm work to help my elbow problems, but it did not get better until I was told by a PT to go slow on the negative. This made a dramatic difference in just a few weeks.
After this I will grab a 5 pound plate and do regular ol l-flyes for my cuff. Usually 20-30 reps per side. Then I will go over to the pushdown machine and get a rope and do 20 or so reps with it to get my elbows warm.
I repeat this 3 or 4 times before I do my first set of empty bar benching or inclines. I used to have to do a lot of rotator cuff stretching before I benched or inclined but since I bench with a close grip only now, I have been able to eliminate that and have had no shoulder pain.
Before I bench or incline I do a lot of reps with the empty bar (even tho this isn't always noted in my training log because it looks boring). But several sets of 20-50 are done to get everything lubed up (heh).
So the routine now generally looks like this -
Db Supinated Curls - 3x15-20
L-Flyes - 3x20-30
Palms down wrist curls - 3x12-15
Palms up wrist curls - 3 x12-15
Rope Pushdowns - 3x15-20
Empty Bar Pressing - 3-4 x 20-50
A quick overview of warming up, and staying injury free are.....
- Move your grip in for pressing. This will save your shoulders and pecs.
- Do bicep and forearm work and be serious about it. Your elbows will thank you for it.
- Do cuff work but keep it light and deliberate.