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Tips to avoid shoulder pain at the gym

Tips to avoid shoulder pain at the gym

Paul Kochoa, PT, DPT, OCS, CKTP, CGFI


I’ve written about shoulder exercises and pain before, but going to the gym and working out with weights can still cause injury and pain to the shoulder joint.  Weight training or resistance training is an important component to an exercise routine and has several benefits to overall health and functional ability.  It shouldn’t cause injury, but how can you avoid putting undue stress on a joint?  Follow these simple tips to avoid getting your shoulders in trouble.

Don’t neglect the rotator cuff muscles.  The deep muscles in the back of the shoulder that externally rotate the shoulder back and down are key muscles in stabilizing the arm for any movement or lift, especially when the lift is done overhead.  Your arm is more stable in an externally rotated position.

Keep your grip narrow and your elbows in.  During the bench press or overhead press, avoid going too wide in your grip.  A wider grip will place more stress on your shoulder joint and may even force your shoulders to go into an internally rotated position.  As mentioned above, that internally rotated position robs you of stability and power in your exercises.

Stay balanced in your push/pull exercise ratio.  Don’t fall into the dreaded “delta alpha bro” male pattern, when you only work on the muscles you see in the mirror.  Take an inventory of the amount of exercises and resistance you use with your pushing and pulling exercises.  Make sure that the ratio is even or biased towards the pulling exercises.  Stay balanced.

Don’t do dips or upright rows.  The dip and the upright row can easily place your shoulder in an internally rotated position.  Add that to the amount of weight that oftentimes is seen with these two exercise and you have a recipe for shoulder disaster.

Avoid behind the neck exercises.  When doing behind the neck pulldowns or overhead presses, there’s more stress on the shoulder joint and again, you’re more likely to get into an internally rotated position.  There’s alternatives to behind the neck exercises that can accomplish the same effect with less problems.

Don’t lower the bar to your chest when doing the bench press.  The bench press is not a friend to the shoulder.  Reduce the amount of stress on the shoulder by following the above tips and avoiding lowering the bar all the way to your chest.  Keep at least a 3-4 inch space between your chest and the bar at the bottom of the movement.

These are only some tips that you can try in the gym to save your shoulder.  For more information, talk to your local physiotherapist. If you would like more information, please call Professional Physical Therapy and Training at 973-270-7417.  Our offices are located within the YMCA locations in Madison and Summit, NJ.  You do not need to be a member of the YMCA to visit with us.


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