How to Avoid Shoulder Pain During a Press-up

How to Avoid Shoulder Pain During a Press-up (aka Push-up for our American friends).

One of the best things about boot camp fitness workouts is the fact that they often require very little equipment.

Whether you are in a class with a dozen other people or have put together your own makeshift boot camp workout at home, you can get a great training session in just by focusing on popular bodyweight exercises like squats and push-ups.

The key to seeing the best results from these exercises, though, is to make sure you are doing them properly. That way, you are engaging the right muscles and your injury risk goes down.

A press-up is an exercise that just about everyone is familiar with but not many people know how to do correctly. As a result, they may end up experiencing pain in their shoulders while doing them.

If you are part of this group, keep reading. Below are some expert tips that will help you prevent and minimise shoulder pain while performing a press-up.

Warm Up First

Before doing any kind of exercise, a good warm-up is essential. Many people include press-ups in their warm-up, but, if you are a press-up novice or tend to experience pain while performing them, it is important to prepare your muscles before jumping straight into the exercise.

To warm up for your press-ups, start by making sure your body temperature is slightly elevated. Do 5-10 minutes of walking to get your blood flowing and loosen up your muscles. Then, do some active/dynamic movements (also known as mobility) for your shoulders.

Although the research suggests that stretching prior to exercise confers no benefit, I know plenty of people who still stretch before exercising. Consequently, warm-up exercises can include:

  • Arm circles.
  • Back and forth arm swings.
  • Behind-the-back stretch with a towel or PVC pipe (hold the towel or pipe in front of you with both hands, then raise it up over your head and behind your back with your arms straight).
  • Downward facing dog to plank.

You may also want to do a few modified press-ups (more on those later) before you jump into regular press-ups.

Technique & Form

Perhaps the most common cause of shoulder pain while doing press-ups is incorrect technique and form. Many people make the mistake of letting their elbows flare out when they lower themselves down.

Instead of letting them splay out and create 90-degree angles, focus on sending them back and creating a 45-degree angle. Your shoulders should stay relaxed, too.

For most people, the best hand placement is right under the shoulders (or slightly more than shoulder width). This prevents shoulder being straight and helps activate the chest. When you are more advanced (or conditioned), you can play with different hand placements, but under the shoulders will work perfectly well for beginners.

Do not be Afraid to Modify

If you are new to press-ups, do not force yourself to try and do them on your toes. The chances of your technique and form being reduced are increased, and also increases your risk if injury.

There are lots of ways you can modify a press-up. The following are three great examples that will help you build the strength you need to do a standard press-up:

  1. Wall press-ups: Lean against the wall or a chair to practice the movement without straining the torso.
  2. Incline press-ups: Place your hands on a chair or bench while doing your press-ups; this is less intense than a regular press-up, but a step up from wall press-ups.
  3. Knee press-ups: You can also put your knees on the ground while doing press-ups. This takes some pressure off your upper body. Make sure your back stays flat so you do not put too much weight into your shoulders. The position of your knees is also important. The closer to your hips, the more bodyweight offset, and vice versa.

Wear a Shoulder Brace

If you are recovering from a shoulder injury, you may want to consider working out while wearing a shoulder brace.

A brace will help you maintain proper alignment and reduce your risk of putting too much stress on your injured shoulder. It can also provide gentle compression, which may help you recover faster after your workouts.

Look for one that’s easy to put on and take off and that does not hinder your range of motion.

Strengthen Your Rotator Cuffs

Finally, your shoulders might also hurt while doing press-ups because you have weak or damaged rotator cuffs. Your rotator cuff is a group of muscles that stabilises the shoulder joint.

If you think this is the cause of your shoulder pain, make strengthening your rotator cuffs a top priority.

Some good exercises to accomplish this include:

  • Doorway stretch.
  • External rotation with dumbbells.
  • Resistance band rows.
  • Banded pull-aparts.
  • Dumbbell reverse flyes.
  • Resistance band bent over rows.

You can do these exercises on your own or add them to your warm-up before you start practising press-ups.


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