Exercises you should avoid to prevent shoulder pain

“No pain, no gain”. Although this phase is common in almost every gym, is it true?  Shoulder pain caused by weight-training is well documented in the literature and a given amongst experienced weight lifters. However why is that and is there a way to avoid shoulder pain and still workout? A recent study says that certain exercises may contribute to shoulder pain.

The study, published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research examined just how common shoulder pain is in recreational weight lifters and if there was a relationship between exercise selection and shoulder pain.  One hundred and ten men who participated in weight training for at least 10 weeks and that trained at least twice a week were recruited. The participants completed a questionnaire that asked for training frequency and duration , the presence of shoulder pain during weight lifting in the past 3-days, 6-months, and 1-year and finally they were asked if the preformed any “high risk” exercises.

61% of the participants reported shoulder pain within the past year, 49% within the past 6 months and 33% have had shoulder pain in the past 3 days or is currently having pain. 

The study also found a good relationship between those that included either the behind the neck lat pull-down or the military press in their training regimen and shoulder pain.  The behind the neck lat pull down is not only bad for your shoulders but places the neck and spine in a vulnerable position. By pulling the weight in front of your body, not only is it safer, but you will be able to do more weight/reps.

Another possible reason for such a larger number of men experiencing shoulder pain is muscle imbalance. Overusing or over working certain muscles can lead to muscle imbalances that affect posture and body positions.

 It is common to walk into any commercial gym and see countless more pressing machines than pulling machines.  Machines to work the chest, the upper chest, the shoulders (one for each front, middle and rear deltoid).  These machines focus on the “mirror muscles”, or the muscle in front of the body.  A lot of guys want to build their chest, shoulders and arms and can sometimes forget to balance the workout with an equal amount of pulling exercises.  This can lead to a muscle imbalance that can cause shoulder pain.


Examine your workout program and see if there are more pushing exercises like bench presses, pushups, dips and flyes and compare that to the pulling exercises like cable rows, pull-ups and lat pull downs.

If you notice an imbalance then rewrite the program and included an uneven amount of pulling exercises. A 1:2 ratio of pushing to pulling and even a 1:3 depending on how significant the imbalance is. Just balancing out the program won’t do much, by overdoing the pulling exercise it will fix the imbalance much faster. Another option is to lay off the bench presses, but let’s be honest, that isn’t going to happen.

 It is important to perform the exercise correctly, if you do the exercise wrong and use the wrong muscles, even though the workout program may be balanced; because of the incorrect exercise execution an imbalance can still happen. 

Having a balanced workout program and avoiding high risk exercises are two great ways to help avoid shoulder pain.


Corrao, M., Kolber, M. J., & Hanney, W. J. (2011). The relationship between exercise selection and reported shoulder pain during weight training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25, S58.

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