Coach Caleb’s Corner – Build Internal Body Armor for your Shoulders

Coach Caleb’s Corner Build Internal Body Armor for your Shoulders

Shoulder injuries, can’t live with ’em… pass the beer nuts. (Norm… you know from Cheers… anyone? Moving on.) A recent article from Functional Movement Systems reminds us that “more than 1 in 3 people who participate in resistance training sustain a shoulder injury.” If you could get those kind of 1 in 3 odds at a table in Vegas you’d stop reading this and get to the casino toute suite. Unfortunately, these shoulder odds aren’t in our favor.

This topic is near and not so dear to me personally as I’ve been working on rehabbing a possible labrum tear shoulder problem for the better part of the past year. With most of the healing and corrective work done and an SFG II recert coming up soon, I was finally ready to get back into KB Military Pressing shape. I wasn’t anxious to risk another shoulder set back though. Before the injury, I was strong enough to press the KB that is one size bigger than my half bodyweight press requirement for SFG level II on both sides (40KG). After a long recovery form injury, I was still only able to get a 32KG overhead in a laborious, “struggle-y” fashion, on a good day.


Taking an impartial look at my situation, I was a student of strength with the following parameters:


  1. Increase upper body strength to be able to confidently perform a strict KB military press on both sides with the KB closest to one half bodyweight or heavier

  2. Maintain a favorable body composition (otherwise the weight requirement changes for the objective listed above!)

  3. Maintain conditioning standards to be able to perform 100 KB snatches in under five minutes with a 24KG (also a requirement for instructor recertification)


  1. Recently recovered from a shoulder injury

  2. Demanding work schedule

  3. Physically demanding job

This profile likely has a familiar ring to it. The athlete would like to be stronger and stay well conditioned with a favorable body composition, but doesn’t have time to be training all day, everyday, and certainly doesn’t want to risk re-injury. Seems like a common but fairly challenging programming puzzle, doesn’t it? Fortunately, the StrongFirst approach to programming for this situation is simple, direct, and uses scientific research as to the effective training of the body’s energy systems. Consider the following quote from the Strong Endurance training manual:

“A training session should contain no more than three training modalities (usually one dominant, the second one compatible with the main purpose and the third one a modality of technique/tactic improvement or restoration.) Approximately 65%-70% of total training time of the developing workout should be devoted to one or two training modalities.” (Issurin, 2008) (Strong Endurance)


So let’s solve the programming puzzle. Two main modalities… A strength grind; the KB military press (obviously) with a periodized progression to hit the first objective, and a KB ballistic, preferably in heavy bursts and for reasonably high volume to cover the conditioning requirement. The third modality; to “grease the groove” with skills that don’t compete with the other two and serve to increase the body’s resilience to injury; low volume pull ups, corrective exercises, etc.. With just three training sessions per week (that magic number 3 again) a tight schedule is accounted for; one heavy and low volume session (primary), one lighter and higher volume (secondary) and one to support the work being done in the other two (tertiary). Voila! An ultra-minimalist formula for success. So did it succeed?

A resounding “Yes!”

By the fourth week of the program I was able to press the 36KG kettlebell for several singles on both sides, maintained a bodyweight of 147lbs and felt well conditioned. The seventh and final week is coming up and I’m anticipating even bigger results. Although the obvious heroes of this program are the two days of military presses and heavy swings, I have to attribute much of the success to the somewhat unsung third day. As with the rest of the program, I kept this mysterious third day shockingly minimalistic. So what special exercises were included on day three? Turkish Get Ups. That’s it!

“The TGU promotes the shoulder’s stability, mobility and resilience. When performed with high volume, it promotes shoulder and upper back hypertrophy…” (StrongFirst Girya)


There is perhaps no better complement to an upper body strength program. Given that shoulder injuries are so common, and that most of us are still going to do heavy upper body pushing and pulling exercises in our resistance training, the Turkish Get Up should be a much more common addition to many training programs. The get up requires that one shoulder stabilizes the weight overhead while the other shoulder helps to stabilize the body holding the weight, and promotes an awful lot of learning in those stabilizing muscles as the load is taken from laying supine to standing upright.  In upper body pushing exercises, these stabilizing muscles need to be smart and fast (not just strong) in order to safely steer the load up and down. Practicing lots of get ups yields the skill, speed and strength required to stabilize even the most herculean of presses.

So how many get ups and with what weight? How much rest is needed between reps? Strong Endurance principles for anti-glycolytic training provided all the necessary answers for my programming. In this case, I found that practicing one TGU per minute with a weight about 40% of my single rep max (20KG), for 40-60 minutes each week yielded excellent results. Consider the following:

“Repetition of the same stimuli is the main condition for triggering adaptive reactions.” (Vashlyaev, 2007) (Strong Endurance)

“Medium Loads (40%-60% of volume of the work done to pronounced fatigue) are best used for maintenance and solving particular training goals.” (Strong Endurance)

“Ordinary Rest Interval – By its end the work capacity approaches the level before the previous exercise bout to the point where neither the quality nor the quantity suffer.” (Strong Endurance)


This form of long, slow, endurance practice with Turkish Get Ups just might be the secret weapon for armoring shoulders against injuries, but it takes serious discipline. Executing 40 plus focused get ups without compromising technique is quite a moving meditation challenge, but if you want a big bang for your buck exercise to go with your ultra minimalist two day strength and endurance program, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Happier shoulders will likely be bestowed on those who tread this path, so enjoy the journey. Shoulder injuries… don’t have to live with ’em, pass the kettlebell!

Cheers!  Caleb

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