5 Worst Shoulder Exercises You Shouldn't Do for Shoulder Safety

Jun 19


Jane Scaplen

Jane Scaplen

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Discover the top 5 exercises that can harm your shoulder engagement and learn safer alternatives to protect your shoulder health. Avoid common pitfalls and ensure optimal fitness with these expert tips.

The shoulders are among the most complex and versatile joints in the human body,5 Worst Shoulder Exercises You Shouldn't Do for Shoulder Safety Articles enabling a wide range of movements and bearing significant loads during various exercises. However, not all exercises are beneficial for shoulder health and engagement. Some exercises can strain the shoulder muscles, joints, and ligaments, leading to injuries or reduced effectiveness. Understanding the worst exercises for shoulder engagement can help you avoid common pitfalls and maintain shoulder health.

Top 5 Worst Shoulder Exercises to Avoid

1. Behind-the-Neck Press

Why It's Bad: The behind-the-neck press involves pressing a barbell or dumbbells overhead while keeping the weights behind your head. This exercise places undue stress on the rotator cuff and shoulder joints, increasing the risk of impingement and injury. The unnatural position can also lead to poor posture and spinal alignment issues.

Alternative: Opt for the standard overhead press with the barbell or dumbbells in front of your head. This variation is safer and allows for better shoulder engagement without compromising joint health.

2. Upright Rows

Why It's Bad: The upright row, especially when performed with a close grip and lifted high, can cause shoulder impingement. The movement compresses the rotator cuff tendons against the acromion, leading to pain and potential injury over time.

Alternative: Consider lateral raises or front raises for safer shoulder engagement. These exercises target the deltoids without the risk of impingement associated with upright rows.

3. Dips

Why It's Bad: While dips are excellent for triceps development, they can be harsh on the shoulders, particularly when performed with poor form or excessive depth. The deep stretch at the bottom of the dip can stress the anterior shoulder capsule, leading to instability and potential injury.

Alternative: Bench dips or tricep pushdowns can offer similar benefits for the triceps without compromising shoulder health. Ensure to maintain a controlled range of motion to avoid excessive strain on the shoulders.

4. Behind-the-Neck Lat Pulldowns

Why It's Bad: Similar to the behind-the-neck press, behind-the-neck lat pulldowns place the shoulders in an awkward and unnatural position. This can lead to shoulder impingement, rotator cuff injuries, and neck strain.

Alternative: Perform front lat pulldowns instead. This variation allows for a natural shoulder alignment and effectively targets the latissimus dorsi without unnecessary risk.

5. Heavy Overhead Lifts with Poor Form

Why It's Bad: Exercises like the heavy overhead press or push press can be detrimental if performed with poor form. Excessive weight, improper alignment, or lack of core stability can lead to shoulder injuries, including rotator cuff tears and joint dislocations.

Alternative: Focus on mastering proper form with lighter weights before progressing to heavier lifts. Incorporate shoulder mobility and stability exercises to strengthen the supporting muscles and improve technique.

FAQs about Shoulder Engagement in Exercises

What are the signs of poor shoulder engagement during exercise?

Signs of poor shoulder engagement include shoulder pain during or after exercise, limited range of motion, muscle imbalances, and poor posture. If you experience any of these symptoms, it's important to reassess your exercise form and potentially seek advice from a fitness professional or physical therapist.

Can poor shoulder engagement lead to long-term injuries?

Yes, consistently performing exercises with poor shoulder engagement can lead to long-term injuries such as rotator cuff tears, shoulder impingement, tendinitis, and joint instability. Proper form and exercise selection are crucial for maintaining shoulder health.

How can I improve shoulder engagement in my workouts?

To improve shoulder engagement, focus on exercises that promote shoulder stability and mobility. Include movements like shoulder presses, lateral raises, and face pulls. Ensure proper form, avoid excessive weight, and incorporate a balanced workout routine that targets all shoulder muscles.

Are there any shoulder exercises that should be avoided altogether?

While not all exercises need to be avoided completely, some should be approached with caution or modified. Exercises like behind-the-neck presses, upright rows, and deep dips can be problematic for shoulder health. It's important to listen to your body and opt for safer alternatives when necessary.

What role does shoulder mobility play in exercise performance?

Shoulder mobility is crucial for safe and effective exercise performance. Good mobility ensures a full range of motion, proper muscle activation, and reduced risk of injury. Incorporating shoulder mobility drills and stretches can enhance overall shoulder function and exercise performance.


Maintaining shoulder health is essential for a well-rounded fitness routine. Avoiding exercises that place undue stress on the shoulder joints and muscles can prevent injuries and ensure long-term shoulder function. Always prioritize proper form, gradual progression, and balanced workout routines to achieve optimal shoulder engagement and overall fitness success.