Back to Basics

I’ve been resting my left shoulder for the last two weeks after a sharp pain while attempting some moderate incline bench pressing. When my shoulder still felt odd after the first week, I manned up and went to an internist. Thankfully there was nothing seriously wrong: I had strained my rotator cuff and wouldn’t need more than additional rest and an anti-inflammatory gel. The doctor also advised that I carefully work my way back into pressing movements – light push-ups and dumbbell work, perhaps. Strained tendons, he said, occur in people who either don’t have any fitness experience or haven’t spent much time lately keeping the shoulders “warm”.

I fall into the latter category, and truth be told it’s something I’ve known and been bothered by for a while. I used to pride myself on having strong, flexible shoulders. I used to be able to bang out push-ups all day and go through ten sets of ten presses without losing the ability to raise my arms. As I began rebuilding the base I allowed to slip, I told myself I’d take it slow – but I was still pretty ambitious. I wanted my handstand push-up numbers back up. I wanted my jerks and push presses to get back to where they were. I wanted to feel like I could do it all again.

Thus, my training saw an increase of overhead movements. I began doing overhead squats up to thrice a week, and dedicated at least an hour every Sunday to training the jerk and its variations. Other days saw heavy kettlebell work – jerks, snatches, and presses were alternated with weighted pull-ups and added onto handstand push-ups. I also began benching heavy, something I’ve never really paid much attention to.

What I forgot was the carefully planned volume and support training I put in to develop that strength in the first place. Back in college, I’d put in up to twenty sets of ten push-ups throughout the course of a day. I’d spend thirty minutes training pike push-ups, getting the muscles and tendons used to the motion and volume. In fact, I was mainly a strength-endurance athlete for over a year before I started looking at increasing pure strength and power. Even once I started including heavy overhead presses and jerks to my training, assistance work (mainly in the form of lateral and front raises) along with continued bodyweight exercise kept my shoulders free of pain, if not soreness. Without the benefit of all that progression – or more accurately, having gone too long and too light without it – it was only a matter of time before problems appeared. I am in fact lucky that a strain is all I got.

When developing a training plan – and adjusting on the fly, as is always necessary – you need to be able to see how everything is connected and on what levels. Movement proficiency and endurance must always come before maximum effort, lest it cause the pedestal of sticks to collapse. This is why the concepts of foundations and a pyramid of fitness are so crucial: it is impossible to achieve peak capacity without a solid base.

So while seven minutes of going up and down a rep ladder of pike push-ups may feel grinding and lack the awe factor of a heavy jerk every minute for ten minutes, the former is far more beneficial from short to long term. Stability and proficiency are very basic aspects of fitness – and all the more important for it.


30x 4-way JJ

10x KB Swing @ 16/20/24/28/32kg

2×5 Jump Squat

2×5 Box Jump @ 24″


1 round per minute for 10min (i.e. 10 rounds) using 2x28kg KBs

2x Double KB Clean

1x KB Front Squat

3min rest


Max rounds in 7min

2x Double KB Clean @ 2x16kg + 2 reps per round (finished round of 12)

2x Feet-to-Hands + 2 reps per round (finished round of 12)

3min rest


Max rounds in 7min

3x KB Swing @ 32kg + 3 reps per round (finished round of 18)

3x Leg Grab + 3 reps per round (finished round of 18)

3min rest


Max rounds in 7min

4x KB Swing @ 24kg + 4 reps per round (finished round of 24)

4x Roll-up + 4 reps per round (time cut off with 8 reps left in round of 24, finished anyway)


  • I hate heavy double cleans. I’m also not entirely sure that the exercise is beneficial to power output; my main issue is the size and unwieldiness of the weights rather than the kilos being shifted. While this is one of the reasons kettlebells are considered by some to be superior to dumbbells and barbells, it’s a point that merits examination. 
  • The first AMRAP would have gone better if I had been paying attention to grip in the last few weeks. I think I would have had to start breaking up the FTH sets a lot had I gone any longer.
  • The final AMRAP missed in terms of what I wanted from it – I should have changed it to rounds of 4 without ascending reps to maintain a power endurance requirement. Instead, it turned into a slow grind after the round of 16. I can practically do roll-ups all day, so I should have left them low. Oh well. You live and learn.

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