Hey guys, I love lifting heavy stuff as much as the next meat head but let’s make sure we aren’t destroying our shoulders in the process right? Here are 5 popular exercises I see being done quite often that can really wreak havoc on the shoulders.
1. Upright Rows – These can be a rotator cuff tear waiting to happen. The nature of this exercise places the shoulder into internal rotation and can jam up the greater tuberosity of the humerus into the coraco-acromial arch.
Whoa, What the hell does that mean?
Well, your shoulder is a ball and socket joint. The ball is the end of your humerus, the bone in your upper arm. The socket is part of your shoulder blade. The rotator cuff muscles normally do the job of pulling the ball into the socket, stabilizing the joint through movement and all is well.
If you’re rotator cuff is weak, or if your larger shoulder muscles (the deltoid) are overpowering the rotator cuff muscles, then the rotator cuff muscles can’t keep your shoulder joint stable. Now your humeral head is free to move upward willy nilly where it can crash into some structures (the afore mentioned coraco-acromial ligament). Now some important stuff gets damaged in this process, most notably your good old rotator cuff muscle, the supraspinatus. Not good. This is your ticket to surgery city.
The position upright rows put you in really increases the risk of this happening. If I was trying to damage someone’s rotator cuff, this is one of the exercises I would pick. That’s how bad it can be. You could substitute another exercise in for this or modify some.
Modified variation – Cable Upright Row with a cable pressdown rope, here’s why:
2. Empty Can – This exercise is very similar to the upright rows described above. The only difference between these two exercises is that the elbows are bent in upright rows. The shoulders are in the exact same position in these two exercises. This position can really wreak some havoc on the rotator cuff.
The empty can was originally thought to be an effective way to strengthen the supraspinatus portion of the rotator cuff, a super important muscle in stabilizing the shoulder. Now its been proven that you can switch up your hand position, get the shoulder in a much safer position and strengthen the rotator cuff just as well, without the shoulder pain. This variation is called the “full can”
3. Bench Dips – This is like the regular dip’s evil little brother. Now, this exercise requires an extreme amount of flexibility to pull off. Most people just won’t have the flexibility to pull this off safely. So now just getting into position for this exercise forces your shoulders into an abnormal position. Now we’re loading up your joint and asking it to stay strong when its in an extremely precarious position. This is a recipe for disaster!
Ya! Destroy those shoulders!
Better variation – regular dips – leaning forward
Notice how far he’s leaning forward. This places less stress on the shoulders. Some exercise technique nazi’s may have you believe that dips are meant to be done completely upright in order to perfect technique. This puts uber stress on the shoulder as shown by the large amount of shoulder flexibility needed to stay upright seen in this picture below.
4. Flyes, presses and pushups done very deep or with a big stretch in the bottom position. This really describes any exercise done in extreme ranges of motion. People should have a prerequisite amount of flexibility to do certain exercises!
Think of it this way. Many people do not have the flexibility to put their arms completely overhead. Now if we ask those people to perform any overhead exercise (military press, push press, pullup) we are requiring the person to press a weight overhead into a range of motion they don’t even have normally. So now we’re asking the shoulders to stay strong and support a heavy weight overhead in an abnormal position that is in no way safe for the shoulder. This is just a recipe for disaster.
The same thing goes for very deep dumbbell presses, flyes and pushups. We’re using weight to really crank that shoulder joint into a stretch position. Your shoulders are incredibly vulnerable here! Again, this is a ticket to surgery city.
Alternate Exercises- Learn to Bench Press with your shoulders tucked, Floor Presses, Board Presses, really any pressing exercise where you limit the range of motion.
5. Any exercise done with poor technique. Your body has an uncanny ability to perform what we ask of it to perform. This can mean that when you are doing something like bench press you might wriggle like a worm to get the weight up! I’ve seen a lot of goofy positions and tactics people will employ in order to lift more weight. Its not worth it! In the long run you’ll lift more weight and stay safer when practicing perfect technique every time. Slow it down, decrease the weight and make sure all movements are controlled and your technique is spot on before progressing. Save your shoulders!
The Ultimate Guide to Getting Out of Shoulder Pain and Back to Bench Press, Overhead Press and Olympic Lifts
Complete Guide to Rotator Cuff Tears, Tendinopathy and Subacromial Impingement Syndrome:
How Shoulder Injuries Occur During Kipping Pull-ups and Muscle-ups
Causes of Pain in the Front of the Shoulder When Pressing and How to Fix It
The 4 Pillars of Building Overhead Strength
What is The Best Overhead Position in the Snatch?
How to Vary Bench Press Implements for Healthy Pressing
Breaking Down the Dip (Mobility, Performance, Shoulder Pain)