Tip: The End of Shoulder Pain

Here's an easy way to balance your training and avoid shoulder pain and injuries.

When focusing on upper-body size and strength, lifters usually gravitate toward two moves: the bench press and the shoulder press. But over time, shoulder issues – from annoying niggles to major injuries – can cause lifters to move away from the barbell shoulder press and focus more on bench work.

But it's not difficult to keep track of your shoulder training and avoid problems that may set you back. Check out this diagram:


Looking at this, we can easily see that if the muscles at the front of our shoulder (such as pecs, responsible for shoulder protraction) are overdeveloped from benching, your shoulder will end up in a compromised forward position.

This concept is often referred to as "joint centration" and is pertinent with the ball and socket joints of the shoulders and hips. If the humeral head isn't centered in the socket as it moves through different angles, it will start to push and pinch in ways that cause pain and discomfort.

Let's Break It Down

Think of your shoulder as the centered dot in a circle. To keep it happy all you need to do is make sure you're doing exercises which take your shoulder in all directions.

This doesn't have to become the basis of your entire workout program. Even a few banded retractions in your warm-ups and cooldowns could be enough to keep your shoulders centered.

Some examples of exercises you can use for each direction are:

Upwards (Push, Elevation, Traps/Delts):

  • Overhead Press
  • Shrugs

Downwards (Pull, Depression, Lats):

  • Pull-Ups
  • Lat Pulldown

Forward (Push, Protraction, Pecs):

  • Push-Ups
  • Bench Press

Backward (Pull, Retraction, Rhomboids):

  • Face-Pulls
  • Rows


  • Banded/Stick Dislocates
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Rotations
  • Skin-the-Cats

Frequently missing out on one or more of these directions (or overdoing a single direction) will gradually move the shoulders out of position. This leads to all those common things that lifters struggle with, like neck pain, elbow pain, tendonitis, shoulder pain etc.

Rotation is the easiest to throw into your warm-ups, yet the most frequently neglected. Get a thin resistance band and do some dislocates every day! This keeps you on top of your "mobility" but via strength training. So rather than having to do a ton of boring rehab/prehab drills, you're just using your regular training to keep your shoulders happy.

It's simple enough to remember. Even if you're following a specialized program that's heavy in bench pressing, you'll be able to easily program your assistance exercises and warm-ups by using the diagram.

Review your training for the past few weeks using the diagram and the exercise list above. See if you've missed anything. Keep it in mind for what you do in future. Provided you have all four directions and rotation in mind, the likelihood of you running into shoulder issues will be severely reduced.

Tom Morrison is a British weightlifting coach, martial artist, and CrossFit trainer and competitor. Tom works with athletes on prerequisite movement capabilities for optimal strength, performance, and reduced risk of injury.  Follow Tom Morrison on Facebook