Shoulder Pain and Crossfit

Shoulder pain is one of the most common complaints/injuries in the Crossfit community. This isn’t because Crossfit is bad or inherently dangerous, but rather, it’s probably more due to the fact that so many movements that Crossfitters do utilize the shoulders.

There are the common-sense ones like overhead presses, snatches, handstand work, muscle ups, and overhead squats. And then there are the not-as-common-sense ones such as wall balls, burpees, and the ski erg.

Unfortunately, when most Crossfitters go to see a physical therapist or physician about their shoulder pain, they’re often told that Crossfit is bad for them, or they should take an extended time off of training in order to heal their shoulder pain.

However, this usually isn’t the best course of action, and can sometimes even make things worse.

Instead, what you should do is find ways to modify your Crossfit training so that you can still do it, but without irritating your shoulder pain. You can modify things such as:

Intensity: The weight or % of 1RM that you’re lifting

Volume: The total number of reps/sets that you’re completing of a given movement

Range of motion: Avoiding positions of lifts that are particularly aggravating, such as the bottom of a push up or bench press

Tempo: The speed at which the movement is done. Instead of doing reps as fast as possible, use a slower 3-0-3 tempo

Exercise variation: Changing up the actual movement itself. You can do paused power snatches if snatches flare up your shoulder, or landmine presses if strict presses bother it

You can also add in some direct shoulder/rotator cuff training such as these exercises that we often use with our Crossfit clients:

Band Angels

Kettlebell Armbar

Prone Row + ER + Press (aka the “triple threat”)

Lastly, if trying to modify your workouts and do rehab drills on your own isn’t solving your shoulder pain, it’s probably time to contact a professional. We at Barbell Physical Therapy and Performance work with Crossfitters, weightlifters, powerlifters, and other athletes dealing with shoulder pain every day and are the experts in helping people solve their injuries and get back to the training they love.

To reach us, you can call/text us at 203-679-1476 or email us at

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Ryan VanNieuwenhuyze

Barbell Physical Therapy & Performance

"We Help Active Adults, Lifters, And Athletes Solve Their Pain And Get Back To The Workouts And Sports They Enjoy Without Medication, Surgery, Or Stopping The Activities They Love."