6 New Shoulder Exercises for Gains, Not Pains

Pain-Free Workouts for Delts

Got cranky shoulders after years of lifting? These clever delt exercises allow you to train without pain so you can keep the gains coming.

Six Shoulder Exercises That (Probably) Don’t Hurt

When dealing with a shoulder injury or shoulder dysfunction, you’ve got one task (other than diagnosing the injury): Pick the right exercises to optimize the results as best you can while avoiding pain or excessive inflammation. Here are some options.

1. Rack Viking Press

Assuming your gym doesn’t have a Viking press machine, the rack Viking press is a great alternative. It’s a pain in the ass to set up, but it can be an effective way to load the shoulders while still being relatively shoulder friendly.

The Viking press is an effective way to get strong overhead while avoiding existing shoulder issues. It allows you to change your pressing angle to one that suits your anatomy by adjusting the height of the furthest safety pin (the one the bar is pivoting on).

Pressing either overhead or horizontally with a neutral grip offers some shoulder-saving benefits too. It limits elbow flare and offers a more stable position for the shoulder to press from.

More neutral-grip pressing like this could be the one simple change you make that gives immediate benefits to your shoulder health and performance.

2. Landmine Single-Arm Press

When experiencing shoulder pain, limit the amount of work you do above 90 degrees of shoulder flexion, especially if it’s a pain trigger. The angle of pressing here is effective for hitting the shoulders, while the neutral grip adds to the shoulder-friendly nature.

The landmine offers another benefit to cranky shoulders: the thickness of the end of the bar is like that of a fat-grip barbell. Many who experience shoulder pain claim to have less pain when using a thicker barbell.

We’re not sure why, but it might be similar to what we see with bottoms-up kettlebell pressing where there’s an irradiation effect with increased shoulder muscle activation.

3. Accentuated-Eccentric Landmine Push Press

The angle of pressing here is also relatively safe for most, providing you’re okay with the explosive nature of this move.

If you’re not ready for this, just scale it back a bit by pressing with two hands and lowering with one. You’ll still get the eccentric overload, but it’ll be a little less “jerky” on the shoulder.

4. Eccentric Lateral Raise

Start doing your lateral raises in the scapular plane by shifting the angle 30 degrees forward. Not only do the deltoid and supraspinatus have a more direct line of pull in the scapular plane, there’s also increased activity of the external rotator muscles.

Combine it with some eccentric loading and you’ll get one heck of a shoulder-friendly isolator. Bending the elbows on the concentric (lifting) portion shortens the moment arm from the dumbbell to the shoulder, making the weight a little easier to handle. This also gives you the chance to focus on lifting with the elbows for pure isolation of the delts.

On the way down, the moment arm lengthens to a more disadvantageous position, weight-wise, thus providing some eccentric (negative) overload. That eccentric overload is great for your shoulder health and tendon strength, as well as creating some microtrauma and muscle growth.

5. Elbow-Grip Lateral Raise Iso

If using the scapular plane isn’t enough to ameliorate pain, try gripping some dumbbells in your elbows and doing iso holds.

This works great for clunky shoulders, but it’s also an excellent option for anyone who just wants to get their shoulder pump on. Bringing the dumbbells in simply shortens the moment arm and takes the wrists and elbows out of the equation. This makes it kinder on the shoulders while also helping those who have dodgy wrists or lateral elbow pain (golfers elbow).

If you really want to blow up your delts, try this:

  • A1 Lateral Raises (Scapular Plane): 12-15 reps.
  • A2 Elbow-Gripped Lateral Raises, Max Iso: Hold for as long as possible using the same weight.
  • Repeat for 2-3 sets, then struggle with the steering wheel to drive home.

6. Pronating Dumbbell Press

Swapping a barbell with dumbbells is an easy way to help prevent pain because the dumbbells offer more natural shoulder movement. The space underneath the acromion process is already pretty tightly packed when you go overhead, and using a stiff barbell with an overhand grip doesn’t help.

That’s not to say a barbell military press should be labeled as bad, but like most everything else, it has a time and a place. While you’re experiencing pain, though, switch to dumbbells, along with choosing a neutral or pronating grip.

Adding a 1-second pause at the bottom of each rep is also a good way to minimize shoulder stress while forcing more muscle contractile components to do the lifting.

Remember, Get Diagnosed First

If you’re experiencing shoulder pain or dysfunction when overhead pressing, then seek a corrective strategy to help combat the weak link. You’ll probably need a professional diagnosis for this because otherwise, you’re just guessing.

In the meantime, try slotting some of these exercises into your routine to avoid pain while still continuing to make progress.

Make any workout work better:

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Good post.

I’m kind of confused by this statement being used as the introduction to a section about landmine pressing, which occurs well above 90 degrees of shoulder flexion. What am I missing?

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Same question.

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Best things i have done for my shoulders: about a year ago stopped overhead pressing with a bar in favor of kettlebells, and stopped benching with a bar to use only dumbbells. Shoulders have felt way better ever since, and got some new size on both (especially my pecs, benching at/ near my max for years never put much meat on).
More recently, have been doing Turkish get ups several times per week - after a couple weeks of this i noticed i no longer have shoulder pain when sleeping, used to get it on both sides(side sleeper) and sometimes even when sleeping on my back.

Wish i had done these things years ago.


Great exercises.

People- if your shoulders hurt- HANG HANG HANG from a pullup bar for extended periods daily. This is the summary of a book written by an orthpaedic surgeon that worked for me (partial slap tear) and has saved many many people from needing surgery. Dont know if this is kosher but heres the link, feel free to read the reviews: Shoulder Pain: The Prevention and Solution


Let me rephrase it by saying: “the closer to 90 degrees you can get while training your shoulders the less problematic the movement will likely be”. We all know that ideally you want to be going closer to overhead to target your shoulders more instead of your chest. Landmine pressing variations are somewhere in between a vertical and a horizontal press, while also tend to target your delts a little more than an incline chest press at the same angle :slight_smile:


Hey, great question. Just responded to the original above from @TrevorLPT

Great lessons we can all learn from :raised_hands: Thank you for the insight and keep up the great work :slight_smile:

Thank you for sharing. The research on hanging isn’t very conclusive. Some actually suggests there to only be a temporary change that doesn’t hang around (pun intended) in the long-run. That being said, anecdotally, I feel there’s more to it than just what the research shows here, and have seen positive benefits by including some form of traction work in both shoulder pain and back pain clients.

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I both benefit from and enjoy these articles with the succinct clips alongside them. Thanks!

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To be clear, I don’t know anything about any other research. I only know this book, my experience, a few friends, and the awesome ratings on Amazon.

The author is a board certified orthopedic surgeon of about 30 years and claims 90% of shoulder surgeries to relieve pain can be prevented by daily hanging. Tall claim, but he provides his own case studies and quite a lot of data with complete with medical scan images showing the impingement changes in the surrounding acromion.

I have noticed if I stop hanging for a couple weeks, I will regress into pain territory. So to your comment of temporary change, in my case I agree, but we’re all temporary, eh? I was 30ish and came across this book I was unable to bench press, military press, even do pushups after my snowmobiling accident that caused the tear. Besides that specific injury, my shoulders had simply been nagging and crappy despite trying all of the traditional PT exercises and stretches with bands.

At 40, I do all of these things with no pain and have beaten younger PRs.

Take it for what its worth!

I’m going in for surgery right after summer. In the meantime I’d like to try the hanging technique to be able to make it till then.
Can you give me some specifics on how they’re supposed to be done. Like sets, reps, or is it tut etc. And is it a loose hang/stretch or kind of protracted or semi protracted hang with the goal of adding weight? Thanks

full hang, relax at bottom, for cumulative of 3-5 minutes per day. if you can only do ‘sets’ of 30 seconds thats fine.

You will notice improvement within days, seriously. I just told another guy in his 60’s with a torn labrum, and he’s been hanging for a week, says he’s noticed an amazing improvement in pain relief and ROM.

one of a half dozen people (besides myself) that I’ve seen real world evidence of this working!

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