Asymmetrical Training Fitness

Beating Shoulder Pain with Asymmetrical Training

October 12, 2020

In this post, Jan Libourel discusses how asymmetrical training is helping him cope with the osteoarthritis and bone spurs in his left shoulder.


By Jan Libourel

In my July 19 entry in this blog, I discussed coping with the problems raised by a recent diagnosis of osteoarthritis and bone spurs in my left shoulder. I was determined to not let this handicap materially hinder my training with both macebells and kettlebells, and this is an update on how I am coping with this through asymmetrical training. By far my two favorite items of exercise equipment are the macebell and kettlebell, and my two principal routines consist of one day of macebell training followed by a kettlebell workout the following day.


macebells for shoulder pain

Soon after my diagnosis, I contracted my macebell workout down to four cycles of five exercises: 360s or 10-2s, gravediggers, barbarian squats, uppercuts and tire slams. The two exercises that noticeably affected my left shoulder were gravediggers and uppercuts. I started by using my 20-pound macebell for these two exercises. These proved to be at the upper limit of my tolerance with my left arm--a bit painful but endurable--but performing the same exercises with my right arm was not very challenging.

Back when I started resistance training in earnest, over 56 years ago, I used nothing but dumbbells, and the idea of favoring one arm over the other would have been inconceivable to me. Until very recently, I never noticed any appreciable difference in strength between my dominant (right) arm and my non-dominant left. However, it didn't take much cogitation to conclude that I would rather have one strong arm and one not-so-strong arm than two not-so-strong arms! As a result, I am now using the 20-pound macebell for my left handed gravediggers and my 30-pounder for performing the same exercise with my right arm. I do the same for uppercuts but use the 25-pound macebell for my right-handed work. The moral to all this is that it pays to have the full spectrum of SET FOR SET macebells. Since I'll be turning 79 this winter, I doubt that I'll ever be able to perform 360s with my 30-pounder; nonetheless, it is earning its keep!

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For the record, my current macebell routine is as follows:

Cycle 1

100 360s, 10# mace
12 gravediggers (approx.), each side, 20 pounds left, 30 pounds right
20 barbarian squats (approx.), 15# mace
10 uppercuts (approx.), each side, 20 pounds left, 25 pounds right
100 tire slams, 10# mace

Cycle 2

Same as Cycle 1 except that I perform 100 10-2s with the 10 pounder.

Cycles 3 and 4

Same as the foregoing except that I use the 15# mace for 360s and 10-2s (approx, 50-60 reps).

This workout takes the better part of an hour and is the most demanding workout I perform.


Kettlebells for shoulder pain

I began training with kettlebells a few years before I took up macebells, and I now think both are great workout tools. However, for most of my upper body work I have substituted SET FOR SET resistance bands for the kettlebells as being less jarring to my shoulder. Actually, even before my diagnosis I had been experimenting with asymmetrical exercises using kettlebells  simply because my heaviest kettlebell (75 pounds) did not provide adequate resistance for some exercises like Romanian deadlifts. Formerly, when performing asymmetrical lifts, I would shift the weights between hands in different cycles so that both sides of my body did their fair share of the work. These days, the lighter bell is always is held by my left hand.

My present kettlebell workout consists of three cycles of the following exercises:

High repetition cleans and presses with my right hand with a 36-pound bell. I then do some left-handed work "pressing" the SET FOR SET yellow resistance band overhead.

Next comes a series of three upper body exercises performed with the black SET FOR SET band: upright rows, curls and reverse curls.

These are followed by high repetition (20-30 reps) goblet squats and Russian swings with a medium-weight (53-pound) bell for cardio and general body toning.

Then I perform two low-repetition (approx. 8 reps) heavier exercises: sumo squats with my 62- and 53-pound bells, one in each hand,  and Romanian dead lifts with 75 and 62 pounds. (I have the feeling I could use a bit more weight on this last one, but one sometimes has to make do with what one has!)

The total time for this workout, all three cycles, is a little over a half-hour.

Before leaving the topic of kettlebells, I should mention that SET FOR SET has a line of kettlebells that should be available soon. Kettlebells are in short supply these days, and so you may be tempted to grab the first ones you can find, but if the SET FOR SET kettlebells are as good as the sample illustrated, they should be well worth waiting for. After all, a kettlebell is a forever purchase if anything is...and so is a macebell.

Related: Benefits of Kettlebell Training

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Well, El Shaddai has finally seen fit to take Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg from our midst. Since her demise she has been praised and eulogized for her work as jurist. I will refrain from comment on that, but she certainly was a true fitness personality. Although she bore scant resemblance to the buffed and toned beauties that typically grace the pages of fitness magazines or star in exercise videos, she was very dedicated to exercise and pursued a rigorous regimen of physical training, including a lot of resistance work, until near the very end of her long life. She was one tough old lady! Whether we agreed with her philosophies of jurisprudence or not, I think all of us in the fitness community should salute her passing as a kindred spirit and a real fitness icon. 

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