Training With Shoulder Pain

Training With Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain is the most common complaint I treat in the CrossFitters, Olympic lifters, and powerlifters that I treat in my physical therapy clinic. Often these athletes have completed stop training shoulder based movements due to their pain, but the following exercises are my go-to movements for training with shoulder pain.

For more complete assistance in helping you improving shoulder performance and health, be sure to check out “Shoulder Performance for the Fitness Athlete“, now available in The Barbell Physio Shop!

Rows, Rows, Rows

Rows very seldom irritate shoulder pain but very often are neglected in athlete’s training programs leading to muscular imbalances that may have lead to their shoulder pain. From dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, and cables, there are tons of variations of rows to try, so even if one doesn’t feel quite right with your shoulder, there is also always a row variation that will work for you.

Landmine Press

This overhead press variation often lets athletes training above 90 degrees of shoulder elevation without pain. It is a go-to movement for me when getting athletes back to heavier overhead pressing and training with shoulder pain.

landmine press

Bottoms Up Carries

By placing a kettlebell upside down, the entire shoulder complex has to work to stabilize the weight. This makes bottoms up kettlebell carries a wonderful set of exercises to improve shoulder health and performance. Carry with the arm in front & elbow bent or with the arm held overhead and walk. Keep your elbow fully extended to keep for of the stability work being placed on the shoulder complex.


Pushups are one of the best exercises an athlete can for shoulder health. They help develop the strength of the serratus anterior, one of the most important muscles for scapular control. This movement also one of the best exercises you can do for upper body pushing development. Bodyweight, weighted, with band resistance, on suspension trainers…it doesn’t matter. Just start cranking some reps out!

Triceps specific work

Westside Barbell has become known worldwide as the best powerlifting gym in the world. And if you look at their programming for bench strength, you’ll notice they focus on increasing triceps strength…something far too often neglected in favor of chest & biceps by many athletes. In the world of Olympic weightlifting, the Chinese (currently tops in the world) often perform triceps specific strength work to improve their lockout power. If these two programs are focusing on triceps, you should too!

Take advantage of your shoulder pain “downtime” to spend some extra time building those triceps up! Years ago when I had a small pec tear and couldn’t bench for two months I focused solely on triceps strength…and made a 10# PR within 3 weeks of returning to bench press!