An Upper-Body Workout for People With Shoulder Pain

Shoulder issues are unfortunately quite common. That’s because the shoulder joint is both very mobile and very unstable, says Corinne Croce, D.P.T., co-founder of Body Evolved in NYC. This means we can do a lot with our shoulders, but if we’re not making sure to strengthen and stabilize them, we can end up accidentally tweaking or seriously injuring the delicate area. It also doesn’t help that many people spend a long time sitting every day, with shoulders rounded forward, tightening the muscles. This not only leads to poor posture, but potentially pain over time as well.

To keep the shoulders in good shape, it’s important to train the muscles that support them, focusing on both strength and stability, without putting too much stress on the vulnerable joint. The upper-body workout below, created by Croce and her co-founder, trainer Dariusz Stankiewicz, C.S.C.S., does just that. It works the shoulders and the muscles surrounding them, including the lats, biceps, and triceps, so that you can get a full upper-body workout without worrying about your shoulders—and hopefully improving their function over time. (To maximize shoulder health, you'll also want to do specific exercises that target the rotator cuff muscles, the small muscles specifically responsible for stabilizing the shoulder joint.)

If your shoulders aren’t giving you any trouble, then doing this workout a few times a week can help bolster them. If you do have shoulder issues, it doesn't necessarily mean you can't do this workout, but it’s important to check in with your doctor first. “Shoulder pain can come from a number of dysfunctions,” Croce says. “It is important to have any type of shoulder pain assessed to avoid long-term injuries and determine the cause of the pain to truly correct any problems.”

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As you do this, or any upper-body workout, make sure to pay attention to where you feel “the burn,” Croce adds. Feeling a burning sensation in the muscles you’re actively working is totally fine, but any sharp pain or deep, dull joint pain isn’t, says Croce. If you feel that, try adjusting the range of motion (say, don’t bend your elbows as much), rep count, and load (use lighter weights), Croce suggests. If the exercise still causes a sharp or dull pain, stop doing it immediately and see a professional to sort things out.

If you are cleared to exercise and are looking to strengthen your upper body while being gentle on your shoulders, give the workout below a try. Before you get started, Croce suggests warming up with some foam rolling exercises, concentrating specifically on the back muscles.

Model Harlan Kellaway is a trans bodybuilder based in Queens, New York City.

The Workout

Exercises

  • Alternating Single-Arm Chest Press
  • Skull Crusher
  • Hammer Curl
  • Bent-Over Row
  • Incline Push-up
  • Plank Shoulder Tap

Instructions

  • Do 8-10 reps of each exercise.
  • Rest 30 seconds in between each exercise.
  • Do the entire circuit 4-5 times.

Use a moderate weight for all. You can slowly progress to heavier weights as you get stronger and feel ready.

Here's how to do each move

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