How to Work Out When You Have Sore Shoulders

These two workouts will allow you to stay in the gym even if your shoulders are a little banged up

Don't let tight or achy shoulders derail your in-season or offseason weight training.

This article provides tips for working around shoulder pain and stiffness without disrupting an upper- or lower-body conditioning program and provides additional suggestions for preventing shoulder issues. Two sample full-body workouts are also included.

RELATED: How to Bench Press With a Shoulder Injury

First and foremost, let's address some of the common causes of shoulder pain.

  • Repetitive internal shoulder rotation from using a pronated (overhand) grip during various exercises such as the Bench and Overhead Presses, Push-Ups, Pull-Ups, Power Cleans, Upright and Bent-Over Rows, Barbell Front and Behind Neck Squats.
  • Constant throwing during baseball and football practices and games.
  • Repeated overhead volleyball and tennis serves.
  • Shoulder inflexibility or tightness.
  • Imbalanced upper-body muscles, including overdeveloped anterior shoulder or chest muscles and weak posterior rear deltoid and upper back muscles.
  • Scar tissue from a previous shoulder injury.
  • Poor technique or using excess resistance when performing upper-body exercises (Bench or Overhead Presses, Power Cleans).

Here are some strategies to train around shoulder pain and prevent it from happening in the first place.

RELATED: Prevent Shoulder Injuries With 5 TRX Shoulder Exercises

Periodically Change or Alternate Grips

Substituting supinated (underhand) or neutral (palms facing each other) grips for a pronated grip usually allows continuing upper-body movements while simultaneously strengthening shoulders and overcoming shoulder discomfort. Also, alternating grips for different exercises each workout works shoulder muscles from various angles, promoting muscle balance and definition and preventing over-pronating shoulder joints.

Use Lighter Resistance/Higher Reps for Certain Exercises

Doing high reps with light weight is less taxing on shoulder joints and muscles when performing pronated-grip Lateral, Front, Rear Deltoid Raises and Bench and Overhead Presses with a barbell, dumbbells or cable handles.

Use Heavier Resistance with a Neutral or Supinated Grip for Dumbbell Shrugs

The Dumbbell Shrug is generally a safer shoulder-strengthening and size-building exercise without overtaxing the shoulder joints, enabling the use of heavier resistance compared to performing riskier overhead, lateral or forward shoulder exercises with heavy weights.

RELATED: 3 Tips for Working Out With Bad Shoulders

Do Upper-Body Dynamic Warm-Up Movements

Getting blood flowing to shoulder joints and muscles before intense practices, games and workouts is essential for shoulder injury prevention. Make sure to include productive dynamic warm-up movements (e.g., Clockwise and Counterclockwise Arm Circles; Alternating Single-Arm Lateral and Front Raises).

Finish Workouts and Sports Activities with Static Cooldown Shoulder Stretches and Massage

Enhance shoulder flexibility and range of motion, and eliminate tight muscles and joints with static cooldown stretches, or use a foam roller, tennis ball or lacrosse ball to self-massage shoulder areas following weight training, practices and games.

Use the Cross-Transfer Principle

If one shoulder hurts, exercising the healthy shoulder with single-arm overhead, lateral or front shoulder movements—for example, with a dumbbell, cable or kettlebell—prevents the non-exercised achy shoulder muscles from atrophying and stimulates healing.

Do Partial Reps in the Strongest Range of Motion

Periodically performing partial-rep Barbell Bench, Incline, Decline and Overhead Presses in the strongest range (top range) of motion using heavy resistance places less stress on shoulder joints. Why? You're not lowering the barbell to the bottom of your chest (weaker, low range of the rep) during Bench Presses or lowering the barbell to your shoulders (weak, low range) during Overhead Presses. Directions: Use a Power Rack with the barbell placed atop safety pins. Bring a portable adjustable bench into the Rack and set the pins a few inches higher so your arms are partially extended at the start of Bench and Overhead Presses and you're not lowering the barbell too low during each rep to overstress your shoulder joints.

Here are two sample shoulder-friendly workouts:

Workout 1


  • Sets/Reps: 3x10.
  • Rest: 30 seconds between sets; 60 seconds between exercises.
  • Do the workout on non-consecutive days for adequate recovery.
  • Hydrate before, during and after workouts.
  • Do upper- and lower-body dynamic warm-up exercises (e.g., Arm Circles and Lunges).
  • Finish with upper- and lower-body static cooldown stretches for greater range of motion and flexibility.


  • Power Rack.
  • Portable adjustable bench.
  • Moderately-heavy barbell and two dumbbells (70-80% RM).
  • Water bottle.
  • Timer (optional).


Neutral-Grip Squats

  • Holding the dumbbells at shoulder level with a neutral grip instead of with your arms extended at your sides during Squats simultaneously builds leg, hip, core, and arm strength and size and makes the Squats more challenging.

Seated Partial-Rep Pronated-Grip Overhead Presses

  • Set the barbell atop the Power Rack safety pins just over your head when seated on the adjustable bench (your arms must be partially extended at the start of each rep when you raise the bar overhead).

Supinated-Grip Inverted Rows

  • Set the barbell on Power Rack safety pins at waist level.
  • Go under the barbell (it should be even with your chest).
  • Grasp the barbell with a shoulder-width underhand grip, arms and legs extended, and rest on your heels.
  • Pull yourself up to the barbell, squeeze your shoulder blades together and slowly lower to start position. Repeat nine more reps.

Dumbbell Neutral-Grip Shrugs

  • Hold the dumbbells with a neutral grip with your arms extended at your sides while performing Shrugs.

Partial-Rep Pronated-Grip Bench Presses

  • Set Power Rack safety pins several inches above your chest and place the barbell atop the pins so your arms are partially bent at the start of each rep.

Workout 2


  • Sets/Reps: 2x15-20.
  • Rest: 30 seconds between sets; 60 seconds between exercises.
  • Follow the remaining guidelines for Workout 1.


  • Cable machine.
  • Two light dumbbells and cables (40-50% RM).
  • Water bottle.
  • Timer (optional).


Pronated-Grip Dumbbell Upright Rows & Walking Lunges

  • Hold the dumbbells with a pronated shoulder-width grip and your arms extended near your legs.
  • Pull the dumbbells up between waist and chest level while simultaneously lunging forward with your left foot.
  • Lower the dumbbells to start position and raise them while lunging with your right foot.
  • Continue alternating Rows and Lunges for 15-20 reps.
  • An excellent upper- and lower-body strength and size-building combo.

Neutral-Grip Dumbbell Push-Ups

  • Assume a Push-Up position and hold the dumbbell handles with a neutral grip at shoulder-width.
  • Perform 15-20 Push-Ups.

Supinated-Grip Cable Machine Pulldowns & Squats

  • Set the cable load pin above your head and assume an athletic stance facing the machine.
  • Grasp the cable handles with an underhand grip.
  • Simultaneously do a Squat while pulling the handles down toward your chest and squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  • Return to start position and continue.
  • Another ideal upper/lower-body mass-builder.

Partial-Rep Neutral-Grip Alternating Dumbbell Lateral and Front Raises

  • A terrific shoulder-building combo.
  • Assume an athletic stance holding the dumbbells with a neutral grip and your arms slightly bent at your sides.
  • Raise the dumbbells laterally halfway and lower back to start position.
  • Without rest, raise them forward (still with a neutral grip) halfway and return to start. Continue alternating the Lateral and Front Raises.