The Best Exercises For Crossfit Shoulder Health

As we all know, shoulder health is paramount in crossfit.  From personal experience I’ve found that shoulders tend to be one of the most commonly injured and painful joints...

crossfit-injuries-1As we all know, shoulder health is paramount in crossfit.  From personal experience I’ve found that shoulders tend to be one of the most commonly injured and painful joints in crossfit.  I believe one of the major reasons for this is that Crossfit contains a large amount of shoulder intensive exercises.   To reinforce the point, here are some of the most common crossfit exercises:

  • Barbell / dumbbell / kettlebell overhead press, push press, thrusters, push/split jerk
  • Pushups, handstand pushups, handstand walking, dips, burpees
  • Pull-ups, kipping pull-ups, toes to bar
  • Barbell Snatches, dumbbell and kettlebell snatches, overhead squats

It’s a large list of tough exercises.   Another thing to keep in mind is that our shoulders are not weight bearing joints.  What this means is that they weren’t designed to take the stress of weightbearing every day like our ankles, knees and hips.  Our knees and hips can generally take more of a beating on a more frequent basis.

However, the exercise selection crossfit uses is part of why crossfit is so much fun.  The above listed exercises are also just great exercises.  Instead of knocking crossfit for their exercise selection, let’s figure out how we can promote shoulder health in the sport.

A few things that need to be optimized for success in crossfit:

  • Full range of motion in the shoulder joint and thoracic spine
  • Scapular stability and motor control to create and maintain proper shoulder position
  • Strength and endurance of the rotator cuff to maintain joint integrity throughout all crossfit exercises

With the advent of shoulder injury prevention programs like Crossover Symmetry the idea of prevention is getting more and more widely accepted.  What I’ve done is compile a list of my favorite shoulder health exercises that is specifically catered toward the crossfit athlete.  I’ve put the exercises into a nicely packaged video that you can see below.

I recommend adding some of these exercises into your warm-up or just adding these exercises into your program 1-2 times per week for general shoulder health.  Keep in mind that exercise technique and shoulder health exercises are only part of the equation.  For a complete solution for shoulder health, a proper crossfit program needs to be in place.  For more information about how I program for crossfit and a done for you monthly program for crossfit performance you can click HERE:

Don’t mind the stain on my shirt in the video,

Dan Pope DPT, CSCS

P.S. If you enjoyed this article then sign up for the newsletter to receive the FREE guide – 10 Idiot Proof Principles to Crossfit Performance and Injury Prevention as well as to keep up to date with new information as it comes out via weekly emails.

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5 Comments on this post.
  • Danny Matta
    5 February 2014 at 10:26
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    Nice post! Shoulder issues are a very common problem in CrossFit athletes. Have you noticed much success with the Crossover Symmetry stuff? It honestly looks no different than doing that same stuff with a TRX or theraband. I’ve gotten away from having my clients do I’s, Y’s and T’s.
    Thanks Dan,

    Danny Matta

    • djpope
      5 February 2014 at 10:26
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      Thanks Danny,

      I like the crossover symmetry stuff but I agree with you. A lot of that can be reproduced with theraband or TRX. My thing with crossover symmetry is that it was designed to be convenient and specific towards baseball athletes. If we can be a bit more specific toward another sport then why not be more specific to the demands of that given sport? I think it’s a step in the correct direction. I have a colleague who really likes it with crossfit athletes and several crossfit athletes swear by it but I haven’t applied it much to anyone besides myself.

  • Tommy
    10 February 2014 at 10:26
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    Awesome article Dan! I am going to repost it tomorrow.

    Regarding the crossover symmetry, I put one in the gym 2 months ago. I really bought it for myself, but I figured I could use a bunch of us as test subjects.

    Now I know it is a catch all system as it just throws a blanket of 7 exercises at each person so it will have varying degrees of success based on each persons issues, but it has been amazing for me. I went from having dead smoked shoulders by the third straight day of workouts every week, to being able to do 3 workouts in a day at a competition without any shoulder aches or pains.

    I think it is only part of the puzzle because I also have made huge strides in my mobility over this time, but it definitely seems to target an underutilized area on most crossfitters because out of the 30 or so that are using it everyday in the gym, we have seen a huge improvement in performance and decrease in aches and pains.

    • djpope
      11 February 2014 at 10:26
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      Thank you Tommy, how have the shoulders been? Sounds like they’re getting better. I’ve heard a lot of positive things about crossover symmetry. I shadowed a therapist who was a contributor for their exercise selection who works with a lot of crossfit athletes. He uses the system quite a bit and has been getting a lot of really positive feedback. I know a few gyms and athletes that have implemented it with great results so far. I definitely think it helps build a strong foundation for the shoulders. It kind of reminds me of the injury prevention literature where generic strength and conditioning time and time again is shown to help reduce the risk of overuse injuries. It makes sense that if you’re conditioning a joint to better handle the stresses of your sport then you’ll be safer. I think the crossover symmetry exercises also reinforce the motor control needed to do things like catch a snatch in the right position. All I’ve done is pick exercises that are a bit more specific to the demands of crossfit and put them together in a video. I usually put these into my warm-ups but I don’t follow the crossover-symmetry protocol for before/after. Definitely a better warm-up for most then rolling around on a roller in my opinion.

  • Crossfit Shoulder Exercise
    26 June 2015 at 10:26
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    […] The Best Exercises For Crossfit Shoulder Health | FITNESS … – As we all know, shoulder health is paramount in crossfit. From personal experience I’ve found that shoulders tend to be one of the most commonly injured and painful … […]

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