Top 5 Worst Shoulder Exercises

Andrew “Drew’ Heideman MPT, ATC, PES and Ehren Allen, DPT, COMT

Shoulder Press and Other Shoulder Exercises to Avoid?

In Physical Therapy, we often treat athletes and weightlifters for injuries related to doing exercises at home.  It is not always the exercise itself which causes injuries.  It can often be the poor form or technique which makes the exercise bad.  We want to help you by explaining what to avoid or correct when you are working out your shoulders. 

The 5 Worst Shoulder Exercises are:

  1. Lateral raises with Palm Down or Thumb Down
  2. Behind the Head Shoulder Press
  3. Shoulder Upright Rows
  4. Triceps Bench Dips
  5. Single Arm Rows

Here are the Top 5 Worst Shoulder Exercises To Avoid.

1.Lateral Dumbbell Raises with palms down or thumbs down

This position may increase the compression of the rotator cuff muscles against the bony surface in the shoulder. Try to maintain a “thumbs up” position to decrease the risk of this compression in the shoulder. 

Improper Lateral Raise Wrong lateral raise formThumbs down lateral raise - Don't do this

2. Behind the Head Shoulder Press

This exercise position can compress the rotator cuff muscles against bony surfaces in the shoulder. If you perform overhead presses, keeping the bar in front of the body allows for a more natural movement and may limit the rotator cuff muscles' compression. If there is a pain in the shoulder at the top of the press movement, discontinue the exercise, and consider alternate shoulder strengthening exercises.  

Improper shoulder press wrong shoulder press formBehind Head Shoulder Press
3. Shoulder Upright rows

The position of an upright row can compress the rotator cuff against the bony arch (acromion) and cause excessive wear and tear.

Upright row wrong form improper form with kettle bell

Woman doing improper upright row

Never perform an upright row with a kettle bell. It will cause you to use improper form.

Triceps bench dips

This exercise places the patient in a position of internal rotation at the shoulder and can apply abnormal amounts of stress to the biceps and rotator cuff muscles and tendons.  Consider alternative triceps exercises.

Dips on bench press. Wrong dip form or improper formwoman doing triceps bench dips - Don't Do This

5. Single-arm rows

In general, this exercise is not bad, but it is easy to perform it incorrectly.  If you perform this exercise, initiate movement from the shoulder blade and use a weight to control the entire movement.  Often in the gym, people use too much weight on this exercise which creates injuries. 

woman doing single arm row with poor shoulder blade or scapula positionwoman doing single arm row with poor shoulder blade or scapula position - Don't do this

Is the Rowing Machine Bad for the Rotator Cuff?

The quick answer is that rowing exercises are typically good for the shoulder because they increase strength around the shoulder blade, which helps stabilize the shoulder. It is important to keep the elbows down near your side when performing rows to avoid pinching the rotator cuff. Also, maintain an erect posture while using the rowing machine to avoid irritating the back and shoulders. 

Rowing is one of the shoulder tendonitis exercises. They increase strength around the shoulder blade, which helps stabilize the shoulder. Rowing is one of the shoulder pain exercises that are safeRowing exercises can increase the strength in your shoulder

Are Push-Ups A Bad Exercise for Shoulders?

If the shoulders are healthy, then push-ups are not bad for the shoulder. They must be performed correctly. Keep the elbows near the body. This can help to avoid pinching the rotator cuff muscles against the bones in the shoulder. If there is pain, try changing the arm position or angle a little. If the pain persists, it is best to discontinue and consult a physician or physical therapist about the pain.

Is Shoulder Press or Military Press Bad For the Shoulders?

Shoulder press or military press is typically OK for the shoulders if it is done correctly.  If you use a barbell, make sure you lower it in front of your body to your chest.  Do not lower it behind the neck. This can cause abnormal forces on the shoulders and neck.  With higher loads, military press behind the neck can lead to injury.

How Do I improve Shoulder Press Form?

A dumbbell shoulder press is a good option to improve shoulder position and keep the weight even from right to left. 

If you have rotator cuff issues or have had a rotator cuff repair, overhead press exercises are typically no recommended.

What are Codman's Exercises or Pendulum Exercises?

The quick answer is they are gentle mobility exercises to get the shoulder to move and relax. They can also decrease pain in the shoulder.  Pendulum exercises are commonly used after shoulder surgery to get the shoulder joint moving and help manage pain.  

Lean forward and allow the painful arm/shoulder to hang. Then gentle rock your hips and body side to side and front to back and allow the arm to sway with the momentum of the body.  Continue 2 to 3 minutes.  Be gentle.

Codman's exercises or pendulum exercises are a great way to help decrease stiffness and pain in the shoulder.Codman's Exercises or Pendulum Exercises

What are the Best Shoulder Exercises to Avoid Shoulder Tendonitis or Rotator Cuff Issues?

Exercises that strengthen the muscles around the shoulder blade and do not pinch the rotator cuff help decrease the risk of injuring the shoulder. Rows and front Lat pulldowns are helpful for the shoulder blade. Shoulder exercises that keep the “thumbs up position” help strengthen and protect the shoulder. If there is pain with any exercise, stop immediately, and consult a professional.

Is Yoga Good for the Rotator Cuff?

Rotator Cuff strength exercises are vital for a healthy shoulder.  Yoga can be beneficial but there are positions that require caution. Any stretch that forcefully flexes the shoulder overhead to the end of the range can lead to rotator cuff issues. Yoga poses that stretch across the body is generally safe for the rotator cuff muscles. 

What if My Shoulder Will Not Stop Hurting?

If the shoulder is hurting, even after modifying the exercise position, it is time to seek medical advice. The Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute has a team of experts to help. JOI & JOI Rehab offers world-class care from board-certified orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine physicians, and physical therapists.  Come see us!  Whether you're a Jacksonville Jaguar or an Average Joe... We’ll treat you like a Pro!

Watch this VIDEO on why Shoulder Pain Can't Wait. JOI can help you get on the road to recovery.  If you would like to learn more about how to do the bench press, please read this ARTICLE.

Also if you have recently had a shoulder surgery watch our video on How to Properly Put on an UltraSling 4 or Dressing the Upper Body After an Injury or Surgery

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