5 Tips to Overhead Press with Shoulder Pain

When someone is experiencing shoulder pain the very last thing they will want to do is press anything overhead…

For many this can lead to them avoiding any overhead movements for the entirety of their shoulder pain, which means some individuals may just cross shoulder movements off their list for the rest of their lives if the pain never improves.

Ironically, getting some basic shoulder physical activity in could be the exact thing that helps alleviate the individual in questions shoulder pain. They just need to figure out how to do so in a way which won’t cause pain and discomfort. Thankfully, there are many ways an individual can still get some overhead press work in while experiencing shoulder pain, it just takes some patience and creativity. Here are 5 tips you can try today!

(Looking to build a stronger strict press? Check out this video!)

1. Experiment with Different Planes of Movement

Whenever someone is explaining their shoulder pain it usually sounds something like this “yeah I don’t feel any pain unless…I do *insert extremely specific shoulder position here*”.

For most individuals it’s usually one very specific movement pattern that hurts making the solution pretty straightforward…try a different movement pattern.

We can often forget there are more ways to press overhead than just the standard issue barbell strict press. Try playing around with an extremely light pair of dumbbells to see if you can’t find a pressing pattern that hurts less than a regular strict press. Try a neutral grip, try elbows out at a 45 degree angle, try elbows all the way out to your sides, and figure out which movement patterns are more likely to trigger discomfort.

Likewise, if you have an adjustable bench you can play with the incline to figure out what your shoulder can tolerate best. Maybe you feel pain pressing directly over your head, but you can do a high incline press pain free. This takes a bit of patience to figure out what works best for you, but there is usually a plane of motion you will find that provides more comfort than the standard pressing plane which is currently causing you pain.

2. Try Pin Pressing 

Pin pressing offers two distinct advantages to a normal overhead press. For starters, in the bottom position, the pins themselves will be supporting the load of the barbell, not your shoulders. Not only does this temporarily relieve pressure for you in between reps, it also means all of your attention can be focused on simply pressing the weight.

Second, and more important, pin pressing allows an individual to choose a pressing height which could possibly relieve all of their shoulder discomfort. For example, if someone is experiencing shoulder pain in the bottom portion of a standard barbell overhead press, they could skip this portion of the lift altogether by trying some forehead height pin press. While it may not be a full range of motion press, it’s better than the individual not training their shoulder at all, and this reduced ROM press could build tolerance to full ROM pressing in the future.

Even in if this ends up meaning you do above your head pin pressing with an extremely short range of motion, this pin pressing can be the stepping stone to improved training in the future. Don’t be afraid to experiment with varying pin press heights to see which could best alleviate discomfort.

3. Landmine Press + Viking Press

Landmine Pressing, and the strongman variant thereof, viking pressing, are both another example of tip #1 “try a different plane of movement”.

Both of these presses are unique to a standard overhead press in that you’ll usually be pressing the weight out in front of you, and not directly over your shoulders like you would with a barbell. For many this is just enough of an angle change to their press to alleviate pressing discomfort.

What’s even better is you can play with the pivot point of either the landmine or Viking press to accommodate for yourself even more. The lower you place the pivot point for either of these movements the more likely you are to alleviate shoulder pressure, while the higher you place the pivot point the more you begin to mimic a standard barbell press. This provides you a very natural way to progress yourself overtime as you can slowly raise the pivot point as your shoulder pain improves to mimic your barbell press overtime.

4. Reverse Band Strict Press

I’ll admit, while reverse band bench is a staple in a lot of programming nowadays…you’re probably not going to witness too many people reverse band strict pressing in your life…

That being said, reverse band strict press is still possible. Unfortunately, I can’t give you specific instructions as it will completely depend on what your lifting setup looks like. Like I said in the beginning…sometimes shoulder pain takes some creativity.

Reverse band strict press is a parallel to another common lift recommended for shoulder pain, slingshot bench press. The whole point of doing this would be to allow the band tension to relieve some of the pressure in the bottom of the press to hopefully relieve your shoulder pain. So if you are getting tired of a bunch of pin pressing and you like to MacGyver stuff, this one could be for you.

5. If Everything Else Fails…Bench Press

In my experience, if someone is really fighting against overhead pressing due to their shoulder pain, bench press is usually an easier sell. This will not always be the case as sometimes bench will actually be more problematic for some people. However, most individuals are going to have a bigger mental issue with putting weight directly over their head as opposed to lying doing when it comes to shoulder pain.

Bench can be a great stepping stone into getting someone to overhead press again. It’s great because we’ll still be keeping the lifters shoulder active and we can slowly introduce higher and higher incline benching overtime to make the idea of getting back into overhead pressing more comfortable.

Additionally, a lot of the same variations you’d try to relieve someone’s shoulder pain on overhead press apply to the bench press as well. So the entire time they are benching they’ll be learning the variations they could employ in the future for overhead pressing.

Long story short, keep yourself moving. Complete avoidance of a shoulder issue is not going to make your situation better and is actually likely to make it worse. Whatever variations you need to try to get some basic shoulder work in during your instance of shoulder pain do it. A little bit of something is better than a lot of nothing.

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.