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  • Writer's pictureCoach Matt Pippin

Shoulder Friendly Push-Up Alternative



Constantly experiencing shoulder pain from push-ups? Then it’s time to find an alternative that won’t place as much stress and demand on your shoulders, while you also develop the necessary shoulder mobility to make this issue go away. Keep reading and I’ll show you how. 


THE BEST PUSH-UP ALTERNATIVE FOR SHOULDER PAIN

Neutral grip push-ups are the best shoulder-friendly push-up because they require significantly less internal and external rotation of the shoulder than a traditional push-up does.


With traditional push-ups, when the hands are placed away from the body, as you start to lower down, the humerus (the big shoulder bone) has to internally rotate. If the shoulder lacks this particular movement, pinching and undue stress will be placed upon the shoulder joint. 


On the flip side, when you’re at the top of the push-up, the humerus must be able to externally rotate, and if it can’t, problems will start to arise once again.


By switching the grip and set-up to this neutral position, the elbows will stay closer to the rib cage, therefore asking the shoulder to do less of both internal and external rotation. This simple adjustment will allow you to reap all the benefits of push-ups without all the aches and pains.


HOW TO DO A NEUTRAL GRIP PUSH-UP

Watch the video above to follow along with me or perform these steps for a neutral grip push-up.


The Setup

To set up for a neutral grip push-up, place your dumbbells or gymnastic parallettes on the floor, about shoulder-width apart with the handles parallel to each other.


Starting Position

Grab the middle of the handles and place your feet in the push-up position. If standard push-ups are too intense, you can keep your knees on the floor. Keep your shoulders directly over your wrists, pelvis slightly tucked, abs engaged, knees actively squeezing together, and your chin tucked.


The Movement

Slowly lower your body and stay rigid like you’re a surfboard, while slightly drifting forward until you reach the depth you’re comfortable with. Just make sure no pain in the shoulder is present during this. 


The more advanced you are, the lower you can go. Pause at the bottom, and then drive yourself back up to the starting position.  


How to do push-ups with shoulder pain

EQUIPMENT NEEDED

The only equipment needed is a pair of dumbbells that won’t roll or a pair of gymnastic paralletes.


HOW TO PROGRAM THIS

Programming a neutral grip push-up is exactly the same as a standard push-up. For beginners, I suggest performing these 2-3 times per week, starting with 2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions. From there, you can progress these as you normally would for any other exercise by increasing reps and frequency. When these eventually become too easy, you can place your feet up on a small box or bench to increase the degree of difficulty.  



BENEFITS OF PUSH-UPS

Push-ups are one of the best exercises for developing upper body strength and should be utilized at the beginning of every fitness routine. Here are some other benefits:


  • They are the foundational movement for horizontal pressing and should be mastered before progressing to similar moves

  • Great for developing strength in the triceps, shoulders, chest, and core

  • When done correctly, they can increase range of the motion in the shoulders and pectoral muscles  


WHERE SHOULD YOU BE SORE AFTER PUSH-UPS?

After performing push-ups, soreness is not uncommon in the chest, triceps, and in the shoulders. However, soreness in the shoulder should be what I call “good soreness”, meaning you may feel a little tight or mild ache, but not a sharp or dull pain. There’s a significant difference between the two.  


IS IT NORMAL TO HAVE SHOULDER PAIN AFTER PUSH-UPS?

It is not normal to have any pain in your shoulders after performing push-ups. Experiencing some mild soreness the next two days after doing them is totally normal, but if you’re experiencing pain then you should stop doing push-ups immediately.  


WHY DO PUSH-UPS CAUSE SHOULDER PAIN?

Shoulder pain caused by push-ups is a mobility problem in the shoulder. The humerus (the big shoulder bone) must be able to internally and externally rotate freely. When it can’t, you have what’s called a space problem inside the joint.


Therefore, when you go to rotate the shoulder and feel that pinch in the front of it, the top of the humerus is running into the walls of the shoulder capsule. You can do every banded rotator cuff exercise in the world, but if you don’t create more space in the shoulder by developing more internal and external rotation, the pain will always keep showing up when doing push-ups.  


ARE PUSH-UPS BAD FOR YOUR SHOULDERS?

Push-ups are not bad for your shoulders, however, if you lack mobility in the shoulders, then push-ups can start to cause problems in this area, more specifically in the rotator cuff muscles. However, if your shoulder mobility is where it needs to be, then push-ups can and most definitely should be part of your strength training program.  


CAN YOU DO PUSH-UPS IF YOU HAVE SHOULDER PAIN?

Push-ups can be done if you have shoulder pain, as long as you modify them by changing your grip as I outline above. This is important though: you have to make sure you’re not experiencing any pain while doing the actual movement. If you’re feeling any pain or discomfort while performing a push-up, stop immediately and consult a licensed practitioner for a diagnosis. 


Don't try to be sneaky and avoid the shoulder pain by making the push-up easier and not going down as far. It doesn't work like that because eventually pain will set in in this easier position as well, and soon you’ll no longer have any other alternatives that you can use.  


WHAT NOT TO DO IF YOU HAVE SHOULDER PAIN FROM PUSH-UPS

If you’re currently experiencing shoulder pain from push-ups, you should remove the following exercises from your routine until you work on your shoulder mobility:


  • Any other horizontal pressing movements (bench press, incline dumbbell press, machine chest press, cable or machine flyes)

  • All overhead pressing as this has a much higher shoulder mobility than push-ups and can make things much worse

  • Front or lateral dumbbell raises

  • Placing your arm behind your back


HOW TO RELIEVE SHOULDER PAIN

You now know how to modify your push-ups if you have shoulder pain but how do you actually get the pain to go away? The steps to relieving shoulder pain are as follows:


  • Determine if you need more internal rotation, external rotation or both of the shoulder

  • Develop more range of motion for whichever you need more of

  • Increase the strength of the tissues required for internal and external rotation

  • Boost and maintain global shoulder mobility

  • Modify exercises that utilize the shoulder so that do not impede your shoulder mobility progress


For a great follow-along video on how to relieve shoulder pain, check out this coaching: Relieve Shoulder Pain With This Sequence



WHAT TO DO NEXT

If you found today's coaching helpful and want the full system to help you relieve that shoulder pain, then I’d definitely recommend checking out the Healthy Shoulders 10 Day Challenge where you get step-by-step instruction on what to do and when. Hope to see you inside! We’ve been getting a ton of requests for a program like this so I’m excited to be bringing it to you.



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ABOUT COACH MATT PIPPIN

Matt is a Strength and Mobility Coach with over 15 years experience in his field and has coached over a thousand professional, collegiate and everyday athletes with the goal to help them move, feel and perform at their highest level. He's incredibly passionate about bringing simple and effective online mobility training programs to everyone who wants to take control of their self care and make lasting change. CLICK HERE to learn more.

Certifications:

  • NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

  • Level 3: Fascial Stretch Specialist

  • Level 1: Institute of Motion Health Coach

  • Certified FRC Mobility Specialist (FRCms)

  • Level 1 Kinstretch Instructor

  • Weck Method Qualified

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