The Best Workouts to Try If You Have Bad Shoulders (and Some to Avoid)

bad shoulder workouts

Shoulder pain is a total bummer, but unless it’s really bad (in which case you should consult a doctor), it doesn't mean you have to skip the gym. When it comes to exercising with shoulder problems, it's all about swapping out movements that could worsen your pain for ones that strengthen the area without causing any additional harm. Here are four exercises ideal for those with bad shoulders, plus four to avoid.

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1. Instead of chest presses, try push-ups

Chest presses are great for working your pectoral muscles—unless you have shoulder issues. Instead, do push-ups (either regular or on your knees), which strengthen shoulder-stabilizing muscles and allow your shoulder blades to move freely (which they can’t in a bench-press position). The best way to improve your push-up is by gradually building up strength. Let your muscles get used to the movement until it begins to feel familiar. You don’t need a personal trainer or even a gym to get good at push-ups. All you need is a set of stairs and a few minutes each day. Here are more tips for improving your form.

2. Instead of overhead presses, try front raises

Pushing dumbbells over your head hurts. To tone your shoulders without pain, try front raises. Stand up straight with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing the floor, and slowly raise your arms until they’re at a 90-degree angle from your body. Reverse the move to lower the weights—in a slow and controlled manner—to the starting position; repeat for 12 reps.

3. Instead of boxing, try rowing

We love a good boxing sesh, but punching in different directions, plus the impact of hitting a bag, can hurt. For more shoulder-friendly cardio, hop onto an indoor rowing machine. While rowing, most of your power comes from your legs, so your shoulders aren’t overworked but they are engaged. Try alternating one minute of hard pushes with one minute of rest pushes (perfect form but less pressure) for 15 minutes.

4. Instead of triceps bench dips, try triceps push-ups

Bench dips put a ton of pressure on your shoulders and aren’t a great option regardless of shoulder pain. To better target your triceps, try triceps push-ups. Get into a normal push-up position (again, regular or modified), but keep your hands closer together as you lower your chest to the ground so your arms and elbows are zipped into your sides. Repeat for one minute.

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sarah stiefvater
Sarah Stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...
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