Tips To Avoid Upper Body Overtraining How to make a routine that won't break your upper body joints

Unlike the lower body the upper joints are easy to overtrain. That’s why it’s important to know how to prevent overlapping of muscle groups when you are writing a bodybuilding routine. The main weak points are the elbows and the shoulders. Here are a few tips that will help you avoid overworking the upper body.

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1. The front deltoid is very easy to overtrain

Virtually every pushing exercise works the front deltoid. That’s why you have to be particularly careful when your are planning your upper body routine. A good routine will provide adequate rest for the muscle to recover. Proper exercise selection is also crucial.

An example of a poor upper body routine would be:

Day 1: Bench press; Chest flys; Dips {chest day}
Day 2: Rest/Legs;
Day 3: Overhead press; Front Raises; Hammer Strength Machine presses {shoulders day}
Day 4: Rest/Legs;
Day 5: Close grip bench press, Overhead triceps extension…{arm day}

In the above routine you would be working the front deltoid 3 days a week with compound exercises. Unless you’re conditioned to handle the volume, everything will result in overtraining of the shoulder joint. A more sensible routine would look like this:

Day 1: Bench press; Dips;

The chest flys are removed because they don’t represent an essential exercise.

Day 2: Rest/Legs;
Day 3: Rest/Back;
Day 4: Overhead press

The overhead press is left as the only shoulder exercise because that’s all you need. The close grip bench press is also removed. If you want to do it, you can do so on your chest day after your main bench press sets.

The second variation works the front deltoid hard, but only two times a week. Also, exercises such as chest flys, front raises…etc. are removed because they are not essential and do nothing but fatigue the area.

Note: The above is just an example. We don’t claim that it’s the best routine in the world.

Alternating exercises – Mark Rippetoe’s method

Another way to provide recovery for the shoulder is to alternate the bench press and the overhead press.

Week 1

Day 1: Bench; Day 2: Rest; Day 3: Overhead press; Day 4: Rest; Day 5: Bench press;

Week 2

Day 1: Overhead press; Day 2: Rest; Day 3: Bench press; Day 4: Rest; Day 5: Overhead press;

The first week you do the bench press two times a week and the overhead press just once. The next week you switch it up.

This method is effective because while the two exercises work the front deltoids they do so in a different fashion. Believe it or not when you’re doing the overhead press the front deltoid is actively resting from the bench press motion.

Back in the day somebody on a training forum wrote that one of the ways to avoid overtraining of the joints from running is to run on uneven terrain because that way different parts are worked instead of the same ones. There’s definitely some truth to it, although one could argue that you cannot isolate as much.

Once you have with a routine that allows your shoulder to recover effectively from the pushing exercises most of the hard work is done.

2. The back is indestructible but the elbows and wrists aren’t.

It’s almost impossible to overwork your lats and back. The blood supply of the area is great, the musculature is very tough and can take a lot of beating. However, the danger is hidden in overworking the elbow and wrist joints which are weak and easy to damage.

If you were to do a ton of pull-ups, your back can handle it but your elbows and armpits will be complaining. You need to keep that in mind when you are making a back routine.

3. Don’t try to do every exercise under the Sun in order to make the gurus happy

Number 1 reason why people overtrain is that they feel obligated to perform every exercise recommended to them by different ‘gurus’. That’s how you end up with those ridiculous bodybuilding routines that require you to spend 2 hours in the gym. Remove all stupid exercises and only focus on the essential ones. The day has only 24 hours and you can’t go to New York and Paris on the same day.

4. Restrict your volume

Even if you have good exercise selection and space between your workouts, doing an insane amount of volume will result in overtraining. For example, if you do 50 sets of pull-ups every day, you will overtrain even though you’re only doing one exercise. The body cannot count how many exercises you’re doing. It only knows how much work has been done. Eventually, you may be able to build your work capacity and get away with ridiculous volume, but initially that is not the case. You first need to adapt.

Below are examples of different routines and a commentary underneath. Since this post is specifically dedicated to the upper body, we’re not going to list any lower body exercises.

Ex. Routine 1:

Day 1: Bench press;
Day 2: Rest/Legs/Back;
Day 3: Bench press;
Day 4: Rest/Legs/Back;
Day 5: Bench press;
Day 6 & 7: Rest;

Believe it or not this routine could work, if you cycle the weight and the middle day is just a light day. However, sooner or later so much bench pressing will catch up with you mentally.

Ex. Routine 2:

Day 1: Bench press + dips
Day 2: Legs;
Day 3: Rest;
Day 4: Back;
Day 5: Overhead press
Day 6 & 7: Rest;

This routine provides a sensible approach and is unlikely to overtrain your front deltoids. There is enough spacing between the pushing days so that the muscles and joints can recover. Also, you are focusing on different exercises which allows active recovery to take place.

Ex. Routine 3:

Day 1: Bench press;
Day 2: Bench press;
Day 3: Bench press;
Day 4: Bench press;
Day 5: Bench press;
Day 6 & 7: Rest;

Believe it or not this routine could also work but only if you do 1 set far away from failure. Basically you have a volume of one workout spaced over 5 days. That’s the only way to handle bench pressing so often. The point is to illustrate that volume and the overall tonnage can make all the difference.

5. Exercise order is also important

Exercise order should be based on two things – priority and mechanics. If you want to excel at the bench press, it makes sense to do it first before any other pushing exercise. Performing a bunch of isolation exercises prior to the big movements is not recommended. If you, for example, perform 10 sets of chest flys prior to your bench press session, your shoulder joints would be tired, weak and unstable. You will either hurt yourself or just feel weak when you bench.


  1. jan

    Great article as usual.

    Do you think OHP and Dips are OK in one training if done once a week? No other pushing exercises.

      1. jan

        Because I’m looking for the best routine in terms of not overtraining, and those two exercises focus on front delts. Assuming I’m not training to failure and implement your advice, which plan is better? In general I’m looking for a nice bro split that will make my body beach ready ™

        -Weighted Dips 5 x 6
        -Squats 5 x 5
        -DL 5 x 5
        -Biceps Curls 3 x 8
        -Weighted Chin Ups 5 x 6
        -OHP 5 x 8


        -Weighted Dips 5 x 6
        -OHP 5 x 8
        -DL 5 x 5
        -Biceps Curls 3 x 8
        -Weighted Chin Ups 5 x 6
        -Squats 5 x 5

    1. Ron

      He’s probably moved on to other articles and hasn’t seen it. Have you tried emailing him? Proooooobably more likely to get a result.

    2. TeamNoMuscle

      If I do your routine I will choose the former because I can not maxing out on OHP after dips due to my fatigued triceps, traps and upper back.

      And, are you sure you gonna deadlift 5×5 every week? RDL seems more suitable if you are looking for a volume work.

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