The 8 Most Dangerous Exercises for Your Shoulders | STACK

Become a Better Athlete. Sign Up for our FREE Newsletter.

The 8 Most Dangerous Exercises for Your Shoulders

August 14, 2014

You do an exercise, feel a twinge in your shoulder and power through the remaining reps because, well, you think you’re weak if you don’t. However, your shoulders simply are not designed to perform many common exercises. And grinding through a set in pain does more harm than good; it can eventually lead to an injury that takes you off the field.

We spoke with several elite experts on shoulder health to learn what exercises you should avoid to stay injury-free.

Behind-the-Neck Military Press

If you care about your shoulders, you should avoid this old-school bodybuilding lift. “It’s a really vulnerable position for the shoulder girdle, because the rotator cuff is at a mechanical disadvantage,” says Eric Cressey, co-founder of Cressey Performance (Hudson, Massachusetts). “Plus, it doesn’t afford any benefit over pressing from the front.” If you see this move in a workout program or a fellow gym-goer suggests it, always say "no."

Behind-the-Neck Lat Pulldowns or Pull-Ups

You don’t hold heavy weight overhead when performing these moves, but according to Dr. Ricardo Colberg of the renowned Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center, behind-the-neck variations are still dangerous. He says, “The exercises take your shoulders into full external rotation, which pushes the head of your humerus forward. This is the weakest point of the shoulder and has a high risk of dislocation, which may cause tears of the tendons, cartilage or ligaments, as well as a fracture of the bone.”

Again, traditional Lat Pulldown and Pull-Up variations provide more than enough challenge to effectively build back strength.

Anything Behind the Neck

Mike Boyle, one of the nation’s most respected strength coaches, reiterates that athletes should avoid any exercise that’s performed behind the neck. He says, “Extremes of abduction and external rotation can be really stressful on the shoulder joint.”

To make matters worse, many people have difficulty getting their arms overhead in the first place. As you raise your arms overhead, does your back arch and ribs flare out? If so, you fall into this group.

“Most people have difficulty getting their hands overhead without compensating,” says Boyle. “Combine this with a lack of external rotation and you have a recipe for disaster.”

RELATED: How to Determine if You Can Safely Perform Overhead Exercises

Kipping Pull-Ups

OK, CrossFit fans—don’t get upset. But according to Todd Durkin, owner of Fitness Quest 10, the man who helped rehab Drew Brees after his shoulder injury, the Kipping Pull-Up can cause serious shoulder damage.

“Even though kipping seems easier because you use your momentum, it’s actually a more dangerous movement on the shoulder joint,” he explains. “Many people don’t have the shoulder stability or strength to do this ballistic action. Therefore, they end up getting injured.”

Ideally, stay away from Kipping Pull-Ups altogether. But if you’re determined to perform the exercise, make sure to start slow. Durkin recommends mastering strict eccentric Pull-Ups and regular Pull-Ups before attempting the kipping variation. Also, try these Pull-Up variations if you need some variety in your workouts.

Bench and Weighted Dips

Dips are a popular exercise for increasing triceps strength. Conventional Dips are great. But things get a bit dicey when you start looking at the variations.

Tony Gentilcore, who along with Cressey trains many elite baseball players, says, “Bench Dips cause maximal internal rotation and glenohumeral extension, which is a recipe for disaster.” This is particularly problematic for athletes who have a history of shoulder problems or who play an overhead sport such as tennis or baseball.

Dr. Colberg adds that Weighted Dips present similar problems, because your arms ultimately travel behind your body. “This puts an incredible force through the ligaments in the anterior shoulder, and it pinches the rotator cuff and long head of the biceps tendon,” he says. “Doing this motion repetitively may lead to tears of the tendons or ligaments."

Olympic Lifts

Olympic lifts are not inherently dangerous if you use proper form. But if you’ve ever performed them without dropping the weights to the floor, you know that lowering the weight can be jarring. “The shoulders can take a beating from decelerating a heavy load as it’s brought down,” says Mark Roozen, owner of Coach Rozy Performance.

If you’re using heavy weight, Roozen suggests using bumper plates so you can simply drop the bar to the floor. If bumper plates are not available, bend your hips and knees as you lower the weight to absorb the impact—similar to what you do when you land from a jump.

RELATED: Increase Shoulder Strength with These 5 Bodyweight Exercises




Andy Haley
- Andy Haley is an Associate Content Director at STACK Media. A certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), he received his bachelor’s degree in exercise science...
Andy Haley
- Andy Haley is an Associate Content Director at STACK Media. A certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), he received his bachelor’s degree in exercise science...
More Cool Stuff You'll Like

Outsmart Injury With These 4 Predictive Tests

Every athlete wants to avoid injury . Prevention can be difficult when there is no crystal ball to tell us when, where, how and why the injury will...

The 8 Most Dangerous Exercises for Your Shoulders

The Future of Sports Injury Rehabilitation

How to Keep Your Feet Healthy On and Off the Field

Will Joel Embiid Be Able to Succeed in the NBA?

Bulletproof Your Body with 5 Easy Injury Prevention Exercises

3 Ways to Protect Your Knees and Prevent ACL Injuries

2 Ways to Fix Anterior Pelvic Tilt

The Best Exercises for Preventing a Groin Pull

4 Sports Massage Techniques to Relieve Tight Muscles

How to Bench Press With a Shoulder Injury

10 Ways to Fix Back Pain

Avoid Low-Back Pain With These 7 In-Season Exercises

What You Need to Know About Tiger Woods' Back Injury

How to Protect Yourself From Heat Stroke This Summer

6 Simple Tips to Prevent Knee Injuries

Pectoral Tendon Ruptures and Injury Prevention

Why a Sports Hernia Won't Ruin Jadeveon Clowney's Rookie Season

Prevent ACL Injuries With This Hamstring-Focused Workout

Achilles Tendon Ruptures: Prevention and Recovery

3 Causes of Recurring Hamstring Injuries

3 Ways to Prevent the Most Common Hockey Injury

4 Strategies to Prevent Tommy John Surgery

8 of the Most Ridiculous Off-Field Athlete Injuries of All Time

The Secret Weapon Powering Stephen Curry's Resurgence

Quarterbacks: 4 Tips to Keep Your Throwing Shoulder Healthy

Evan Gattis's Protection-Enhanced Catcher's Helmet

How to Prevent Injuries With 3 Yoga Poses

3 Reasons to Correct Your Weak Links to Prevent Common Injuries

Connective Tissue: The Key to Preventing ACL Injuries

5 Exercises to Prevent ACL Tears

Predicting the Impact of DeMarco Murray's Hand Injury

How to Fix Anterior Pelvic Tilt

Why Strengthening This Muscle May Fix Knee Pain

5 Bodyweight Exercises to Prevent Baseball Injuries

How Cristiano Ronaldo Can Defeat the Witch Doctor's Curse

Keys to Preventing Groin Injuries in Hockey

6 Ways to Prevent Common Sports Injuries

5 Tips to Intelligently Train Through Lower Back Pain

6 Steps for Recovering From a Season-Ending Injury

How to Avoid Softball Pitching Injuries

How to Prevent Baseball Injuries During the Off-Season

Tips for Working Out With a Hand or Arm Injury

Impressive Advances in ACL Rehab