Is Shoulder Pain Common With The Overhead Press?

Is Shoulder Pain Common With The Overhead Press?

When you experience shoulder pain during overhead pressing, it can result from different factors. Some may feel discomfort at the top of the range of motion, while others may report pain during the beginning of the movement from the front rack position. It’s important to understand that various presentations of pain require different approaches to rehabilitation. If you want to effectively treat shoulder pain during overhead pressing exercises, you need to focus on the exact area that hurts.

In this blog, let’s take a look at the different methods you can use if you are dealing with shoulder pain with the overhead press.

First, Is Shoulder Pain Common With The Overhead Press?

Shoulder pain when you lift your arms overhead is pretty common, often stemming from improper scapular movement and overworked rotator cuff muscles. In other words, it can be because your shoulder blades might not be moving right, and your rotator cuff muscles (those around your shoulder) can get tired and irritated. This pain usually shows up at the front or outside of your shoulder, making it hard for you to perform well, and it might even disturb your sleep. It’s often linked to problems in the muscles or tendons around your shoulder, which can make some movements weaker.

If the pain is strong enough to hinder your workouts, it’s important for you to seek physiotherapy treatment as soon as possible. Additionally, consulting with a personal trainer can help identify any underlying issues in your exercise routine that might contribute to the discomfort. Incorporating online zoom classes, guided by a knowledgeable instructor, can further assist in refining your movement patterns and strengthening the necessary muscles to alleviate shoulder pain during overhead activities. Addressing these aspects holistically can contribute to improved performance, better shoulder mobility, and a more comfortable overall experience.

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Assessing Shoulder Mobility

1. Check Mobility Before Pressing:

Before you turn your overhead press into a strength showdown, you need to ensure that your shoulders are primed with the right mobility. It’s the key to unlocking a powerful and injury-free overhead press. Full shoulder flexion, scapular upward rotation, and decent thoracic extension are the three mobility components that you must have. 

2. Quick Mobility Check:

In order to check your mobility, lie on your back, then bend your legs and flatten your spine. Now, grab a stick matching the grip width you’d use for the overhead press. Slowly move it overhead. There shouldn’t be any pain!

If you manage this without any discomfort, you’ve got the mobility – the ability to reach that overhead lockout position. So, if shoulder pain during overhead presses is bothering you, but you can ace this test, it’s likely not a mobility issue.

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Mobility Drills For Overhead Press

If you’re grappling with shoulder pain during overhead presses and have identified a shoulder mobility limitation, give the drills below a shot. They might just be the key to unlocking a smoother and more comfortable overhead press.

1. Supine Wand Flexion Exercise

  • Attach a 5lb weight to a stick, matching your overhead press grip width.
  • Slowly raise the stick overhead, ensuring a pain-free, stretch-like sensation.
  • Hold the top position for 10-15 seconds, performing 3-4 sets daily.

2. Foam Roller Wall Slide

  • Stand up for this one, gaining the added benefit of thoracic extension.
  • As the foam roller passes your head, push your torso and head under to encourage end-range shoulder flexion.
  • Opt for higher reps with a shorter hold time, around 10-15 reps with a 5-second hold.

3. Wall Sit Backs

  • Stand with your hands on a wall.
  • Push your buttocks backwards until you feel a stretch in your shoulders and upper back.

4. Standing Shoulder Internal Rotation

  • Stand upright with one arm bent at a 90-degree angle, fist facing forward.
  • Rotate your forearm across your body, turning your fist in the opposite direction.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat the movement.
  • Ensure your elbow stays close to your side, maintaining good posture throughout the exercise.

5. Bottoms Up KB Hold

  • Grab a kettlebell and turn it upside down.
  • Hold the kettlebell handle with a tight grip.
  • Keep your wrist straight and lift the kettlebell with your elbow bent.
  • Maintain a controlled hold for the specified time.

6. 90/90 Eccentric Shoulder External Rotation

  • Sit or stand with your shoulder and elbow, forming 90-degree angles.
  • Keep your forearm parallel to the ground.
  • Slowly rotate your arm outward so that it is away from your body.
  • Focus on a controlled and deliberate movement.
  • Perform the movement for the recommended number of repetitions.
  • Pay attention to maintaining the 90/90 angles in your shoulder and elbow throughout the exercise.

7. Thoracic Spine Rotation with Resistance

  • Begin in a kneeling position on one leg.
  • Hold a resistance band at shoulder height.
  • Secure the band to an anchor point aligned with your rear leg.
  • Initiate the movement from your upper back and shoulders.
  • Guide your arms in a diagonal pattern, moving towards your front leg and then upward towards the ceiling.
  • Ensure your lower back, hips, and pelvis stay stable throughout the exercise.

8. Prone Overhead PVC Lift Off

  • Lie flat on your stomach.
  • Extend your arms overhead.
  • Hold a dowel or stick with both hands.
  • Keep your shoulders comfortably apart.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  • Lift the dowel straight up, aiming for the highest point while keeping your head down.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • You can repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.
  • Maintain proper form, focusing on the engagement of your shoulder blades during the lift.

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Strengthening with Shoulder Mobility Limitations

It’s important not to rely only on mobility exercises if you know that your shoulder flexibility is limited. Focusing only on increasing your range of motion without doing any strength training can detrain the shoulder muscles that are affected and make the body less capable to handle stress.

One important thing to remember is to find a good balance between strength and mobility work. Instead of just doing mobility exercises, make sure you also work on strengthening your shoulders within the range of motion currently allowed. This balanced approach makes sure that a more complete and effective plan is made to deal with shoulder mobility problems.

Landmine Press: The Best of Both Worlds

Discover a fantastic alternative with the landmine press that not only allows you to perform overhead presses but also contributes to enhancing your shoulder flexibility.

What makes the landmine press special is its adaptability. By tweaking the angle of your torso during the exercise, you gradually work on restoring and expanding your shoulder flexion. It’s like giving your shoulders a little extra room to move.

As you make progress and find your shoulder flexion improving, you can easily transition from the landmine press to the traditional overhead pressing exercises using barbells and dumbbells. It’s a smart way to combine strengthening and mobility work, offering you the best of both worlds in your shoulder training routine.

Not Just a Mobility Issue: Optimizing Your Overhead Press

If you’re facing shoulder pain during overhead presses, it might not be just about mobility. Let’s dive into some key adjustments and considerations to make your overhead press pain-free and effective.

Check Your Overhead Press Technique

Before anything else, ensure you’re nailing the correct form. Refer to a barbell overhead press tutorial to understand the essential techniques. The right form is crucial for minimizing shoulder pain and optimizing the benefits of your workout.

Modifiable Factors and Adjustments

Optimizing Grip Width: Adjusting your grip width is a powerful tool for reducing shoulder pain. Aim for vertical forearms from the back view to enhance force transfer. Don’t overlook the importance of volume and intensity. 

Trying the Dumbbell Overhead Press

If shoulder pain persists, consider trying the dumbbell overhead press. This alternative provides flexibility in choosing your “arm slot” for personalized comfort. Experiment with flexion, abduction, and scaption to find what works best for you.

When All Else Fails: Removing Aggravating Motions

If adjustments don’t bring relief, temporarily remove the overhead press. Persistent pain may require professional evaluation. Gradually reintroduce it once the pain subsides.

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Don’t Forget About Accessory Work:

Balanced accessory work is quite important. Include horizontal row variations, vertical pulling exercises, scapular retraction drills, and rotator cuff-specific work in your routine. A sample upper body workout is provided below.

Sample Upper Body Workout:

  1. Standing Dumbbell Press: 3 sets x 8 reps
  2. Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 sets x 6 reps/side
  3. Cable Row: 3 sets x 12 reps
  4. Lat Pulldown: 3 sets x 12 reps
  5. Rear Delt Fly: 3 sets x 12 reps
  6. Sidelying External Rotation: 3 sets x 12 reps

Tying it All Together

All in all, shoulder pain during overhead presses is a challenge, but it’s not a permanent roadblock. Here’s your plan:

  • Ensure you have mobility for overhead presses. Work on it if needed, even using landmine presses.
  • If you have mobility and still experience pain, adjust the load, programming, or grip width.
  • If pain persists, try the dumbbell overhead press, experimenting with different arm slots.
  • In cases of persistent pain, temporarily remove the overhead press, seeking a professional evaluation.
  • Balanced accessory work should be a part of your routine.


Shoulder pain with overhead presses is quite common, and overcoming it is achievable. As long as you stay committed to the solutions provided above, you will enjoy a successful and pain-free lifting experience. 

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