3 Tips for Working Out With Bad Shoulders

June 11, 2012

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For many athletes, constant hitting, throwing and pushing leads to shoulder injuries and chronic pain. If you’re dealing with shoulder issues, it’s important to take precautions while training. The last thing you want to do is aggravate an injury while you’re trying to get better for your sport.

If you’re dealing with bad shoulders, but you still want to make strength gains in the weight room, follow these three tips:

Change Your Grip

Don’t feel confined to the standard grip for your lifts. For example, the Barbell Shoulder Press, Barbell Bench Press, and Barbell Front Raise are all great exercises, but their standard grips can aggravate shoulder injuries. In each of these movements you rotate your shoulders internally, which can be risky if you suffer from rotator cuff issues, impingement syndrome or tendon and ligament damage. Applying a neutral grip using dumbbells (palms facing each other) can be a shoulder-saver, because it allows the head of the shoulder to roll back slightly, preventing abrasions within the joint.

Ditch the Bench Press

Bad shoulders do not mix well with the standard Barbell Bench Press. Even with proper back position and a tight arch, there’s still a high risk of injury if you take the Bench Press through the full range of motion. The standard hand position for the Barbell Bench Press simply does not do much to protect the shoulders. Opt for safer alternatives like the Dumbbell Floor Press, Dumbbell Decline Press or Football Bar Bench Press (with neutral-grip).

You can also feel free to ditch the Bench Press, because it’s one of the less functionally applicable "big" movements for power sports like football, basketball and hockey. Lying flat on your back while pushing weight away from you doesn't develop all the muscles you need to block, push or fight for position while standing on two feet.

Pull More Often

If you have a bad rotator cuff, the real issue most likely stems from the muscles surrounding the upper back and scapulae (shoulder blades). Add more back exercises to your workouts to strengthen these muscles and improve your shoulder health. Here are some good examples:

  • Face Pulls
  • Seated Rows
  • Inverted Rows
  • Dumbbell Rear Delt Raises
  • Pull-Ups
  • Trap 3 Raises
  • Lat Pulldowns

Make these pulling exercises staples in your program twice a week and watch your shoulder strength start to improve. For more tips on improving shoulder strength, check out this series on building strong and mobile shoulders.

Sports can make you athletic, but they won’t keep your muscles and joints healthy. With the right action plan, however, shoulder issues don’t have to be a disruption in the weight room.

Lee Boyce
- Lee Boyce is a strength coach based in Toronto who works with strength, sports performance and conditioning clients. He contributes to many major magazines, including...
Lee Boyce
- Lee Boyce is a strength coach based in Toronto who works with strength, sports performance and conditioning clients. He contributes to many major magazines, including...
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