Shoulder Savers: Training Around Pain and Making Gains

John Rusin
Written By: John Rusin
August 24th, 2016
Updated: June 13th, 2020
27.7K Reads
Shoulder Savers: Training Around Pain and Making Gains
Shoulder pain can be unbearable and hinder your progress in the gym. If you're experiencing pain, put these methods to work to continue seeing gains!

There’s no other region of the body that gets as chronically beat up on lifters as the shoulder joint.

While we all love to press heavy and torch the shoulders with crazy intensity, it’s just a matter of time until the shoulders start to fight back, leaving you broken down and hurt in the process.

Achy shoulders are hardly an excuse to skip a training day for most serious strength athletes.

However, aimlessly pushing through pain and sticking to a strict non-modified training program will almost guarantee chronic dysfunction and more serious injuries to ensue.

If you refuse to stop training and want to continue pushing forward, at least make these smart modifications to your direct shoulder work and pressing routines.

They will allow your shoulders a bit of a deload while also targeting the muscles of the shoulders directly and minimizing the wear and tear to the joints.

Here’s how to get the most out of your shoulder training while training around injuries to keep the gains coming right along with your recovery.


One of the simple, but most effective ways to train through shoulder pain is by mastering the art of shoulder stability. Many times when injuries occur, the first thing self-sufficient athletes turn to is increasing local mobility to the shoulder using methods like stretching, foam rolling, and mobility based drills. After treating thousands of strength athletes, this tactic can often times do more harm than good.

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So if mobility isn’t the answer, what is? In short, it’s usually more about stability. Mastering your strong and stable thoracic spine bracing strategy, scapular position on the posterior aspect of the rip cage, and actively being able to generate torque and tension through the gleno-humeral joint can be a game changer for athletes training through even the most serious injuries.

Centrating the shoulder joint is about placing the ball in socket joint in perfect alignment where the ball is centralized in the socket, creating the greatest possible contacting surface area between these two aspects of the joint.

This position will allow a more authentic recruitment of shoulder joint stabilizers to work from, creating a stronger base of support, hence a more pain-free position to train from.

Related: 6 Crucial Exercises For Shoulder Stability

Simply put, the stiffer we can make the pillar of the hips, core and shoulder complex, the less compensation and unwanted motion needs to happen at the shoulder joint. This is the first requisite I teach my clients and athletes as it’s this important. To practice this movement, get in a push up position and knock out a couple of reps.

If this hurts, work on the points above. When you can push up without pain, you’ll know you’ve mastered the shoulder centrated position.


Below are three methods and movements to start prioritizing for your pain-free shoulder training if you’ve been sidelined with injuries, or want to prioritize your shoulder health.

Watch the videos, read the coaching notes and implement directly into your programming. Train hard while lifting smart to allow your wings to recover and come back stronger than ever.


While lateral raises are a “pain-free” variation of direct shoulder work on their own, many times athletes will have pain and dysfunction present when training around shoulder injuries. The problem isn’t necessarily the range of motion of the lateral raise, front raise or bent over rear delt raise, but rather the initiation process of movement. Check out this banded lateral raise:

To bring your arms from a neutral position down at your sides to an elevated position at any angle, the first initiation of movement depends on the fully stable and centrated position of the rotator cuff and gleno-humeral. Many times when pain is present, the shoulder joint is harder to centrate. But isn’t getting centrated a key to long-term shoulder training success as mentioned above?

Yes of course, but here’s the deal. Centration and initiation of movement is far harder to do with a heavier external load than it is with a lighter one. This is exactly why the implementation of banded shoulder raises is highly advantageous for the lifter working around shoulder pain.

Here’s another great example of the banded front raise and how to use it to train around shoulder pain and dysfunction:

When the hands are at the side with the band in the hands, the band is the least stretched out, meaning it as the least amount of resistance in this range of motion. This is perfect for banged up lifters as this initiation position is usually the one in which they struggle to maintain positioning.

As the hands are elevated, the resistance increases linearly, which overloads the position at the shoulder in need of the most loading in a safe and effective manor.

Related: Warming Up For Dummies - A Lifter’s Guide to Injury Prevention

Focus on driving up the movement dynamically, while maximizing tension at the top of the movement for a split second. Slow down the eccentric lowering portion of the lift, making sure to maintain tension throughout the system even when the hands are back down to the side. This will elicit a constant tension pump effect that is great for stimulating muscle growth with fractions of the joint stress.

Finally, the most effective and advantageous banded lateral raise variation to make a priority in your training program is the banded bent over rear delt raise. This will directly target the upper back, which is often times a lagging muscle group in lifters with chronically banged up shoulders.

Check out this video setup seated on a bench. Feel free to do this in standing as well, but ensure that you have an ultra-light band in order to get through a full range of motion.

And there you have it, three new ways to train intelligently around shoulder pain. Make these staples in your chest, back and shoulder emphasis-training days and allow the shoulders to heal. Oh yeah, and enjoy the nasty pump these will cause, minus the shooting nervy pain in the shoulders.

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1 Comment
johnson p
Posted on: Thu, 08/23/2018 - 08:16

I had severe shoulder issues for 8 years and I never did my workout at all but after starting my FHT program from John Rusin I didn’t have much pain and I was able to lift weights again and it’s the best workout plan and your shoulders will be safe and healthy.