Shoulder pain is a common complaint among powerlifters, and for good reason: the shoulder joint is enormously complex, and it’s placed under a lot of stress during bench presses, low-bar squats, and even on deadlifts (to a lesser extent).
Since most lifters train at least one of these movements every time they go to the gym — not to mention any assistance work, like overhead pressing — the shoulder joint gets lots of work and very little rest. Oftentimes, this leads to overuse injuries, like tendinitis.
Now, if you have an injury, the only right answer is to see a doctor and get professional medical advice. There’s no substitute or shortcut there. But if your shoulders just feel a bit too sore, and they’re limiting your training but not your daily life, you’d be well-advised to make changes to your program or your technique to give them a rest.
The Talon Grip
One super quick and easy way to give your shoulders a rest is by reducing the stress they’re under during low-bar squats. Even though it’s a static contraction (you’re not moving the weight with your shoulders), holding the bar far down on the delts requires a lot of shoulder mobility. If you’re lacking in that area, you’re probably going to get pretty sore after squatting, especially if you’re going heavy.
To some extent, you can reduce the need for shoulder mobility by taking a wider grip on the bar. However, this will also make it more difficult to maintain upper-back tightness, which can make the weight feel heavier when you un-rack and can even lead to “folding over” in the hole, especially for smaller lifters. A better alternative, in my opinion, is the talon grip.
Author’s Note: The video below includes an example of a talon gripped squat. If you’re having trouble viewing on mobile, then click, here!
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Pec is feeling like a #millionbucks so I didn’t see any reason to hold back on squats. 600 for an easy 2×3 followed by a set of 5, exactly as planned. Nowhere near a #personalbest but I’m just enjoying the process and how the weights are moving smoothly. I’m pretty confident I could’ve hit 7 for a PR but there’s just no benefit to beating my body up (more) like that! BTW, I know my squats look #weirdaf from the front, which is why I included the side view of my second set if you swipe. Can’t wait to see what I do with the new #preworkouts dropping from @granitesupplements soon… 😬😳👀👀👀
Taking a talon grip is so simple you might not believe it works. Here’s how to do it:
- Take a false grip on the bar using your normal hand placement. (A false grip is one where the thumb is in line with the fingers, not wrapped around the bar).
- Drop your little finger under the bar.
That’s it! When you first try it, this grip might feel a little insecure, but I assure you that it’s just as reliable as a traditional grip (as long as you’re keeping a tight upper back).
The talon grip works because oftentimes, limitations in shoulder mobility come from tightness in the lats. The little finger is aligned with the bottom of your scapula, where the lat attaches, and so relaxing it, by dropping it under the bar, indirectly improves your shoulder mobility. (While this is a pretty limited application — I wouldn’t recommend trying it on a bench press, for example — you can “feel” the connection in action on movements like lat pulldowns. Try doing a pulldown squeezing the bar handle really hard with your index finger. Then do another rep, squeezing with your little finger. Feel the difference?)
Struggling to master the talon grip? You can see it in action in this squat tutorial I recorded with the Mind Pump team here:
Some Other Shoulder-Saving Squat Tips
- Make sure to warm up your shoulders before squatting. I recommend you try some YTWLs and band pull-aparts using light resistance, but anything that gets a little blood flow going is fine. You may also want to apply some liniment, like capsaicin, to help with the warming-up process.
- Try performing your early squat warmups with a very wide grip, and slowly bringing your grip in as you progress towards your working sets. This gradual progression will give your shoulders and rotator cuff muscles a chance to warm and loosen up before supporting very heavy weights.
- You can adjust your programming to put your most shoulder-intensive movements (typically bench and overhead press) on your squat days, in order to maximize rest time for those muscles.
- While they’re controversial, I personally prefer to use a very moderate dose of NSAIDs like ibuprofen or naproxen at the first sign of shoulder pain. I find that eliminating any inflammation at the start, before it becomes a real problem, is far easier than trying to do so after repeated irritation from subsequent training.
Have some shoulder-saving tips of your own? Share them in the comments!
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Feature image from Ben Pollack Instagram page.