Shoulder Pain at the Gym: 4 tips to train around the pain

If you’ve ever had a sore shoulder from doing weights you are not alone. Research shows a quarter to half of people training with weights have had shoulder pain. Read on to find out simple ways to keep training around shoulder pain!

It doesn’t matter if you’re just toning up, training for footy, hitting Crossfit hard, powerlifting, boot camping or bodybuilding for beach gainzz, the shoulder is the most commonly injured part of the body.

If your shoulder pain lasts more than 2 sessions in a row, it’s a very good idea to get a professional to check it out, to see if there’s anything serious you should be concerned about. In most cases you will be reassured to learn that your pain will be temporary and that you should continue strengthening your shoulder as much as possible.

A big part of shoulder rehab is tailoring your exercise program to allow the problem to settle, while strengthening the muscles to improve your ability to take load through your shoulder. We love helping you “train around your pain”.

There are two patterns of pain that we see quite a bit from lifting.

1. First is the extreme overhead pinching pattern. Often called “impingement” this can often happen in the older trainer, perhaps an ex-footy shoulder. Pain happens when the arm moves above horizontal to vertical doing things like pull-ups, chin-ups, overhead press or lateral raises.

2. The other pattern is the “surrender” position pain pattern, where pain is felt with the elbows moving at shoulder height behind your body. This is often equated with a loose shoulder, with a feeling of unease in the surrender position. Bench press is by far the biggest culprit here, with cable press and flys also an issue.

Here’s 4 suggestions to help keep you training while your shoulder settles down:

1. Ease off the body-part splits. This may be controversial, and some people may actually die as a result of this advice, but for a short period move away from body part splits in your training (“Bro” splits). Ditch arm day and chest day where you may do 30 sets of exercises for more than an hour, all loading up the one body part. Instead, spread that load over the week by doing a full-body split every training session. For instance do a squat, hip hinge, chest, arms and core exercise variant each session. Spread the love for your shoulder over the course of a week and let it recover better from cumulative loads. Try a full body split, 3-4 times a week for a month.

2. Check yourself. Get your technique checked by someone that knows what they are doing. This may, or may not, be the person who leads your group sessions. This applies for basic strength exercises as well as your functional stuff in group classes. Poor clean technique will annoy a shoulder as readily as dodgy bench press bar path.

3. Unload: instead of lifting near maximum weight, decrease the weight, work longer sets with slower lifts and increase training volume. This has the effect of stimulating muscle growth, or hypertrophy (brain gains!). You’re welcome.

4. Slow down. Try swapping out KB swings, kipping “pull ups” and battle ropes. Shoulders don’t like surprises when they’re angry, move to isometric or low velocity exercises for shoulder and upper back work. Save the high speed stuff for your lower limbs and work your cardio/conditioning from the waist down until your shoulder is settled.

In our next Blog post we’ll show you our favourite exercise hacks to help you train around a painful shoulder problem. Our main aim is to keep you in the gym because you can’t go wrong getting strong.