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What Are the Top 5 Worst Shoulder Exercises You Can Do?

What Are the Top 5 Worst Shoulder Exercises You Can Do?

As one of the least stable joints in your body, shoulder exercises can help strengthen surrounding muscles and improve range of motion. However, due to its instability, some shoulder exercises can actually damage your shoulder, particularly your rotator cuff, which is the group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder and hold the joint together. To avoid shoulder injuries, be sure to practice proper form when attempting the following exercises.

The 5 Worst Exercises for Your Shoulder

  1. Lateral raises – Often done with dumbbells or resistance bands, lateral raises start with your back straight and your arms at your sides. To work your shoulder muscles, you slowly form a “T” shape by lifting your weights out until your arms are parallel to the floor before lowering them back down to the starting position.

If done poorly, this exercise can add too much pressure against the rotator cuff muscles and the bones in your shoulder. To avoid injury and lessen the pressure on your shoulder, make sure that when you hold your weights and move your arms upward, you keep a “thumbs up” position, rather than a palms or thumbs down position.

  1. Behind the head shoulder press – This exercise involves resting a weighted barbell behind the neck and pressing your arms upward to lift it. Like lateral raises, the behind-the-head shoulder press can add too much pressure to the rotator cuff and the surrounding bones.

For a safer shoulder exercise, try an overhead press. It involves lifting the barbell in front of your neck, rather than behind. This adjustment offers a more natural shoulder movement and causes less stress on the shoulder.

  1. Shoulder upright rows – To do an upright row, you need to hold a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell in front of your body, pull it upwards to your lower neck area, and ease it back down to the resting position. This particular exercise works your trapezius and deltoid muscles, but the movement can cause your rotator cuff to rub against the acromion, which is an arch in your shoulder blade. If this exercise is done frequently, wear and tear can cause serious shoulder pain.
  2. Single-arm rows – Single-arm rows involve bending over and placing a hand and knee from the same side of your body on a flat bench so that your body runs parallel to the ground. While extending your arm straight to support your weight, hold a dumbbell in your other hand and pull it upwards to your torso by bending your elbow. Keeping your elbow close to the side of your body, hold the weight at your side before lowering the weight back down.

Though not as intense on the shoulders as an upright row, with improper form, single-arm rows can damage your shoulder. To avoid injury, keep your balance, control your movement, and engage the proper shoulder muscles when lifting the weight.

  1. Triceps bench dips – A common at-home workout, tricep dips require your hands to be positioned shoulder-width apart at the edge of a bench or chair with your legs extended out in front of you. While you hover your body off the floor, slowly lower and lift yourself by bending and straightening your arms.

This exercise primarily works your triceps, but it places a lot of stress around the muscles and tendons around the rotator cuff. For an exercise as accessible as a bench dip that works your triceps and avoids shoulder stress, try narrow push-ups, which are push-ups that keep your elbows much closer to your ribs than normal push-ups.

What to Do If You’ve Injured Your Shoulder Exercising 

When you experience a shoulder injury, it can be difficult to go through your daily life without encountering pain. Lifting, reaching, driving, and even dressing yourself can become excruciatingly difficult when dealing with an injured shoulder. If you’ve experienced a shoulder injury, or any type of musculoskeletal injury, the sports medicine team at Orthopaedic Associates of St. Augustine is here to help. Our team of experts focus on reducing and relieving any shoulder pain you might have experienced with our injury-specific treatment plans, surgical options, and recovery methods. To request an appointment, please schedule online or give us a call at 904-825-0540.

Dr. Volk, expert in ArthroscopyAlbert Volk, MD 
Board certifications in Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine. Dr. Volk specializes in an all-arthroscopic rotator cuff repair of the shoulder.


Sina Kasraeian, MD 
Board Certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery and has extensive training in arthroscopy and sports medicine reconstructive procedures.