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Hello, I am a 167cm, 55kg woman and I don't know my body fat % but I know it's too much.

I have just started training with a bodybuilder (small group 5 of us 1 trainer). I have previously 2 ruptured discs in my neck and extensive nerve & muscle damage in my shoulders, the trainer knows this.

Due to the above, my upper body is very weak which is my own fault. I have increased strength in this area before but it is a long process.

My lower body strength is very good, and he seems to think I am very fit person, I have a sedentary job and due to pain a pretty sedentary life style.

Our last upper body session left me in an incredible amount of pain, fair enough, however I am still very sore, and physically restricted in the back of my upper arms (if I put my hand on my shoulder I can not lift my arm above shoulder height) it is a burning pain, somewhat like you get when stretching, but it is too painful to do a traditional stretch. It has been 2 1/2 weeks since I did this, and I haven't been back to the gym since then. We were doing 3 x 15 sets of various exercises.

Most I could not do more than 2 actual lifts without needing a break, yet he insisted on completing the entire 3/15.

Q 1. Is it right to do a set of 15 lifts (and then 3 rep) when you can only actually do 2 of the first 15 correctly (I do push my self hard on the lower body, but I know I am not re-aggravating an injury)?

Q 2. Do you have any idea what this pain is in the back of my upper arms, I have never experienced this before and have weight trained off & on for 15 yrs?

 Q 3. How do I tactfully tell this guy that I am unable to do what he asks without him thinking I am being slack?
Thank you for your time and any insight you can offer...

Answered by:
Jason Spencer, CSCS

Jason Spencer Online Personal Training

Jason Spencer CSCS


First of all, it is definitely not ever right to try to force a set of whatever amount of reps if you cannot keep the correct form and technique.

If you can't do the lift the right way it can be because of a variety of reasons, but in your case the fact that your upper body is weaker likely means that by the time you get to the third set your muscles are too fatigued to hold and move your body effectively enough to safely perform the exercise.

To answer your second question... What you are experiencing with the shoulder pain sounds very much like a shoulder impingement.

This is when the muscles and joint structures in the shoulder are out of balance in a way that when you place your hand on the shoulder and raise the arm, certain structures (commonly nerves) become pinched under the position changes of the muscles and ligaments caused by that movement...

The fact that you describe the pain as "burning" tells me further that is could very well be a pinching of the nerves in that shoulder...

Lastly, to tell him that you are not able to do well with your shoulder and upper body just simply let him know that these sensations you are having are not just a simple matter of muscle fatigue. You are getting sharp pains that indicate nerve irritation and you are risking actual injury by continuing to strain yourself and doing lifts that put the shoulder joint in such a sensitive and irritating position.
Kim i hope this was helpful to you and i would actually be very interested in learning more about your neck injury and symptoms. If you check me out on my site you can read all about me and my expertise in regards to anything further i may offer you in terms of working around your shoulder struggles to still get you to your fitness goals.

I'm curious to even find out if i can advise on some corrective techniques to strengthen that shoulder the right way and possibly ease that irritation. Would love to find out. 

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