Strength training offers a long list of health benefits like decreased risk for heart disease and osteoporosis, improved cholesterol, and decreased blood pressure, but just like most other active pursuits it doesn’t come without risk for injury.
Runners are known for beating up their knees, football players take extra care to protect their heads, and weight lifters… Well, studies show exercisers who spend time regularly lifting weights injure their shoulders more often than any other part of the body.
Weight lifters need not worry, though. If you have a passion for pumping iron, there are a few precautions you can take in order to prevent shoulder pain and avoid serious injury.
Avoid the “High-Five” Position
Exercises like the military press and behind-the-neck lat pull-downs require weight lifters to assume what the American College of Sports Medicine refers to as the “high-five” or “90/90” position where elbows are flexed at a 90-degree angle and fall directly in line with the shoulders. According to ACSM, this increases the risk for anterior shoulder instability (ASI).
Instead of nixing “high-five”-type exercises from your routine completely you can make a few simple modifications that will help reduce the risk for shoulder impingement. For example, while performing the military press ACSM suggests setting your arms slightly forward so they’re positioned in front of the ear line as opposed to directly in line with it (as depicted below). Additionally, performing the lat pull-down exercise by finishing the movement in front of instead of the behind the neck is another modification that can help weight lifters avoid injury to their shoulders.
Lower Your Lat Raises
When performing lateral deltoid raises, avoid lifting your arms above shoulder-level. According to ACSM, risk for rotator cuff impingement increases when the elbows are raised above 90 degrees while performing this exercise. Instead, limit the end range of the motion so your arms remain below shoulder height. In the photo below figure A depicts improper form and figure B demonstrates the correct way to perform the exercise.
Reinforce Your Rotator Cuff
Strengthening the rotator cuff muscles will help prevent shoulder injury (especially during overhead exercises) by stabilizing the humeral head of the shoulder. Performing standing shoulder external rotations with a resistance band or cable trainer (demonstrated in the photo below) is an excellent way to strengthen the muscles of the rotator cuff.