Accessory is Successory
Written by TJ O’Brien

Here’s a quick shoutout along with some accessory work to address one of the most common CrossFit injuries: shoulder pain.

Alejandro has been working with me on his bar muscle-up for 5 weeks. We’ve progressed him from the very beginner stage, all the way to a “double thin purple-banded” muscle-up.

Today we had his fifth session, which would be his last because he starts up school (he’s a teacher) next week. I was thinking we’d probably be able to hit some reps with me spotting him, and I had outlined some time for him to make some attempts at the bar muscle-up. I wanted to put a big bow on our five sessions together with a successful muscle-up, duh!

Literally ANYONE would be thirsting for this moment, and I’ve had clients be in these exact shoes before who were so excited to “go for it” that they forget to rest and end up accumulating multiple failed reps.

Kipping Shoulder Pain
But when we got to the muscle-ups, Alejandro was feeling tight and had a pain in the front of his left shoulder.

“Aha, yes, the dreaded kipping shoulder pain.” I’ve seen it a million times before. Without enough time for the body to adapt, we can end up with pain when doing lots of kipping.

“Why don’t you grab a hyperice gun or ball, maybe we can get it warmed up and going and get to some attempts today. BUT, in the long run, you need more horizontal pulling and structural strength in the shoulder. I can show you some movements to do for accessory for this.”

And here’s the moment that made an impression. I gave him the “easy out, fight through it” option, and he said, “You know what, I care about longevity, why don’t you teach me the accessory movements and I’ll get started with them now.”

Music to my ears. We’re all CONSTANTLY learning this lesson, and re-learning it, and adjusting, and learning it one more time for good measure. The long road involves setbacks, time, and patience as much as it involves puppies and muscle-ups.

Shoulder Supplemental Work for Kipping Pain

I taught him two simple shoulder moves.

4-6 sets per week (may do 1-2 sets each day when he comes in)

PVC Y-Raise x 5 reps of 5 seconds each

Dumbbell External Rotations x 6-10 reps per side

The Y-Raise helps you learn to retract the right stuff when kipping and stay stable for overhead pressing movements or snatching. The rotations are a classic “rotator cuff” strengthener, and also teach you not to recruit the trap when it’s the lat and deeper shoulder rotators we’re after. 

Customize Your Training 
A big part of Invictus-style of coaching and programming is the level of agency and freedom to personalize that we encourage our members to have – maybe you’ve heard me talk about it before… “CUSTOMIZE YOUR WORKOUT”.

Customizing is essentially taking opportunities in group classes to individualize the training session to better align with what you need or want. If Invictus was Burger King, it’d be our way of saying “have it your way”.

I’ve given this advice to multiple people. 

Trade all push-ups for ring rows for 4-6 weeks. Often the culprit behind a lot of shoulder pain is a lack of horizontal pulling strength. We push horizontally (push-ups, bench) a lot, and that can lead to a tight “front” which pulls the blades up and forward into a sub-optimal position. Not to mention, half of your push-ups look like a shruggy mess, which only adds to the problem (truth hurts, holler at me if you want help with your push-ups).

Alejandro rocks. Consistency vs intensity will pay off in the long run. If you’re suffering with shoulder pain, talk to me about it and/or try some of the exercises I listed here. You only need a broomstick and heavy book to do them in your living room.

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