Shoulder Pain When Lifting

What is causing the pain and how to deal with it


The Shoulder is a vulnerable joint due to few components combined: Its structure, its high range of motion, its frequent usage, and weight carrying.

Many people experience shoulder or elbow pain when lifting weight over their shoulder height. This post will go through two possible reasons for that pain and one efficient solution to reduce or even eliminate this problem.


Shoulder impingement syndrome

The shoulder impingement syndrome is a common shoulder issue that we often see in trainees that lift weight frequently.

Let’s examine three popular exercises where shoulder impingement can occur.


Example no.1: Lateral Raises

When we perform shoulder abduction, the subacromial space narrows.

A common tendency is to impinge the tendon (or bursa) and cause an inflammatory response that leads to pain, stiffness, mobility loss, and weakness.

The classical sign of supraspinatus tendonitis is the painful arc in restricted abduction between 60 and 120 degrees.

What can you do to make it better?

External rotation allows the greater tubercle to pass posteriorly to the Acromion, avoiding potential impingement.

Keep your arm in a slightly externally rotated position, which means the dumbbell should be horizontally turned up to reduce the potential shoulder problem.

Without the external rotation – a risk to impinge the tendon (or bursa),

With external rotation- the subacromial space widens.

Example no.2: Front Raises

During the front raises exercise, the shoulder rotates internally, an action that can cause shoulder impingement.
During internal rotation, the acromion can run against or impinge the tendons or bursa within this space.
This impingement can cause shoulder weakness, numbness, and pain.


The American Council on Exercise recommends turning your thumbs upward at the top of the front raise movement

to reduce the risk of impingement and create more space in the joint. 

Example no.3: Shoulder Press


Do you have shoulder or elbow pain during shoulder press? Or during hands overhead? You’re not alone. 

When lifting weight in internal rotation, the tendon can become trapped and repeatedly scrape against the bone above.

External rotation, however, is a stable position for the shoulder joint.


So when you lift weight over your shoulder height, externally rotate both your arms from the shoulders so that your whole right arm turns clockwise and your whole left arm turns counterclockwise. 

Think about it as if you were trying to “break the bar,” and as you do this, keep a firm grip.


If you coach someone, the moment the trainee tries to break the bar, you will see his elbows rotate toward you.

In other words, their shoulders will automatically perform external rotation and get into a more stable position.

Use this principle of “breaking the bar” in all exercises that require lifting weights over the head.

This will reduce the risk of damage to the tendon or injury.

Shoulder pain is a warning sign that shouldn’t be ignored, as it can worsen and become a shoulder injury that causes pain, rigidity, range of motion loss, and weakness.

The good news is that small changes in your lifting technique can make a significant difference and eliminate the pain and its cause.

Learning and understanding anatomy and the right technique of each exercise you train or coach will quickly lead to better results, less burnout and injuries, and gain trust in yourself and within your trainees.

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