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How men over 40 should use the half-kneeling shoulder press

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Writer, fitness model and trainer Kirk Charles, NASM-CPT CES, knows that life can get more complicated as you age. But that shouldn’t stop you from being at the top of your game. He’ll help you answer the tough training questions that come with age so that you too can live to be over 40.

After more than a decade of training, I’ve heard many complaints about the military press in the gym (the most common name for a standing shoulder press with a barbell or dumbbells). Most men want strong shoulders – but when shoulder flexibility and mobility decrease with age, it can be difficult to run the military press without compensation. The most common compensation I’ve seen is when people lean their torso back to push the barbell over their heads, which can result in lower back pain and injury. The key to avoiding these problems is knowing if you should even try the exercise.

I use two tests to determine if customers should even do the military press. First is the 90/90 shoulder test. Start by squatting against the wall so your back is pressed against the surface from your tailbone to your shoulder blades. (If you are unable to do a wall squat, you can lean each test against a wall from a standing position. As you raise your arms, make sure your tailbone and shoulder blades are firmly pressed against the wall to perform the tests right.) Raise your arms sideways with palms down to shoulder level and bend your elbows 90 degrees. Imagine that your forearms and palms are on a table top. From this position, rotate your forearms and hands up to touch the back of your hand against the wall. Ideally, you should be able to do this. If not, you fail.

Second is the lat flexibility test. Do a wall squat again. Raise both arms straight in front of you with your palms facing each other. Continue to raise your arms above your head without bending your elbows until your thumbs touch the wall. If you can’t do this, you won’t pass.

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If you fail the 90/90 shoulder test or the lat test, you likely don’t have enough range or flexibility in your shoulders and rotator cuff to do a military press – and that’s fine. Personally, since I failed both the 90/90 shoulder test and the lat test, I never do the military press in my training. My clients rarely pass both tests, so I never recommend the exercise to them. As an alternative, I would recommend the half-kneeling shoulder press with a dumbbell (exercise bands in your home gym can be just as effective).

Get into a half-kneeling position with your right knee on the floor. Anchor one end of your resistance band under your right knee. Hold the other end in your right hand and imagine a straight line from your right knee through your right hip and straight through your right shoulder. Raise your right hand to shoulder level with your right elbow pointing towards your body at a 45 degree angle. This is your starting position. Lock your core, look straight ahead and push up with your right arm, fully extending your elbow, then slowly returning to the starting position. There should be no lower body movement and your spine should stay straight. Start with a band of light and then achieve more resistance as you master the position.

I’ve found this alternative to be a much safer option for the shoulders as it protects your lower back and rotator cuffs. I’ve never had a client complaining of back or shoulder pain, unlike the numerous complaints I’ve heard through the military press. I would recommend 4 to 5 sets of 10 reps to get started and build those shoulders.

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