Avoid Injury With Safe Alternatives to 3 Common Exercises

Get safe alternatives to the Barbell Overhead Press, Overhead Shoulder Press and Chest Fly—plus additional injury prevention tips from STACK Expert Z Altug.

Overhead Press

For every action, there is the possibility of either a positive or negative reaction, even in the weight room. Certain exercises can help you surpass your performance goals, but if they are performed improperly, they can slow you down. (See Four Weight Room Exercises to Avoid.)

Certain weight training exercises place young athletes at a greater risk for injury. Stay strong and safe with the following safe alternatives for common exercises. (See Work Out Like A Champion With Three Simple Weight Room Rules.)

Overhead Pull-Down 

Problem: Bringing the bar behind your head during an Overhead Pull-Down may stress or injure the front of your shoulder (anterior capsule) and place your neck in an awkward position (forward head posture) (1).

Safe Alternative: Perform the Overhead Pull-Down exercise in the front of the body. A wide-grip Overhead Pull-Down to the front of the body with palms facing forward produces even more muscle activity in the latissimus dorsi muscle (2).

Overhead Shoulder Press

Problem: Bringing the bar behind your head during an Overhead Shoulder Press may stress or injure the front of your shoulder (anterior capsule) and place your neck in an awkward position (forward head posture) (1).

Safe Alternative: Perform the Overhead Shoulder Press exercise from the front of the body.

Chest Flies

Problem: If you bring your hands below shoulder level when performing Supine Dumbbell Bench Chest Flies, you can overstretch the front of your shoulder (anterior capsule), which can lead to shoulder instability and injury (1).

Safe Alternative: Avoid lowering dumbbells below shoulder level, especially if you already have a shoulder problem.

Additional ways to prevent injury during weight training:

  • Work with a certified strength and conditioning professional to learn proper weight lifting technique.
  • Always use proper form with each exercise.
  • Always warm up adequately before lifting.
  • Don't try to show off by trying to lift more weight than you can handle.
  • Make sure you have good spotters.
  • Use a weight lifting belt when you are performing max or near max lifts. (See Ask the Experts: Should I Wear a Weightlifting Belt?)
  • Use proper breathing technique.
  • Consider using weight lifting gloves or chalk to get a better grip.
  • Work out with a good training partner for safety and motivation.
  • Avoid overtraining; always make sure to rest and recover after each workout.
  • Rehabilitate injuries adequately before resuming your regular weight training routine.
  • Don't train when you are ill or are not feeling well. To lift weights safely, you need full concentration for each exercise. If you're under the weather but feel like you have to do something active, go for a walk or stretch lightly.


(1) Kolber MJ, Beekhuizen KS, Cheng MS, et al. "Shoulder injuries attributed to resistance training: a brief review." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2010;24(6):1696-1704.

(2) Signorile JE, Zink AJ, Szwed SP. "A comparative electromyographical investigation of muscle utilization patterns using various hand positions during the lat pull-down." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2002;16(4):539-546.

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