Is CrossFit destroying your shoulders?

May 11, 2017 4 Comments

If you’ve trained the snatch then you’ve felt discomfort in the positions. Unfortunately, for some of us this discomfort turns into pain and continued discomfort.

Let’s end that!

Below is a video where I work with Dr. Richard Ulm an International Instructor in Dynamic Neuromuscular Stability. He travels the world helping athlete, coaches and doctors fix issues!

Two Common Ailments

I ask Dr. Ulm what was the most common ailment he saw when it came to shoulders. He listed two.

  1. A Tight Pec
  2. A Tight Rotator Cuff

Let’s break each down…

A Tight Pec – Many athletes who are having pain in the snatch overhead have an overly tight pec. The pec muscles are then pulling the shoulder forward which creates a shearing force in the shoulder (watch the video above for a great visual).  If we work office jobs and lean over a computer… this can be magnified!

A Tight Rotator Cuff – There are four muscles that can be involved here… subscapularis, supraspinatus, infraspinatus and teres minor.

Stay with me here!

When the shoulder blade gets unstable these four muscles can start to tighten up trying to provide stability for the shoulder. When this happens then again there is pressure pushed forward into the biceps tendon.

What do both the tight pec and tight rotator cuff have in common? A stability issue can cause them!

(Mobility is key to good weightlifting… check out our free Mobility for Weightlifting Schedule to help you)

The Cause – A Stability Issue

I’ve mentioned a number of muscles getting “tight” and being related to our shoulder pain. However, the cure isn’t just to loosen these muscles!! (Even though that is important)

If the muscles are tightening because of instability then we must solve that instability.

… but, what is stability?

Stability is how our bodies control a joint through a movement. In the case of the snatch, can we maintain a good shoulder position as we transition under the bar?

The shoulder doesn’t have a lot of structural support. It is a shallow socket compared to the hip…

So that puts a lot of stress on the dynamic structures like the muscles I mentioned above. We must take time and put focused effort on getting these muscles to work correctly together.

How to Stop the Pain

You might not want to hear this, but if you have pain then it is time to rest! This doesn’t mean you have to stay home and sit on the couch!

It does mean however, that you should decrease the volume of going overhead into the positions that irritate your shoulder.

During your rest you need to open up those muscles mentioned above. Get them loosened up…

Then, you must attack stability! How you say? Well, we’ve created a second part to the video above to help!

Check it out below and good luck!

This is a guest post from Drew Dillon, head coach and co-founder of Project Lift during his lifting career as an athlete Drew placed as high as 4th at a USA Weightlifting Nationals and is now a personal coach to 2012 Olympian Holley Mangold. He is also know as a weber grill snob and will routinely ask you "what is for dinner" during training. You can follow Drew on Instagram and YouTube. 

4 Responses


August 14, 2017

Oh I I could have watched this video a few weeks ago ?
I am 4 weeks out from dislocating my shoulder. I had been warming up (overhead squats) and was going to do one more set at the weight I was at (55lbs) I went to back rack the bar but only made it about a quarter inch down and my shoulder blew out. I was not (at the time having any pain while warming up) my doctor and physical therapist have both told me my pecks are so tight that they are actually pulling my shoulder blades off to the side and forward. So far, in the first video, you are 100% talking to me!


June 03, 2017

I can 100% relate to all this. What I’ve also found to be helpful us digging into my shoulders with a lacrosse ball, but again that’s temporary relief!

Dot Heslop
Dot Heslop

June 02, 2017

I am nearly 59 and from a PE teaching background. I’ve spent a lifetime in physical activity. Very flexible, gymnastics background. Crossfit for 4 years and doing well but now my high level flexibility in shoulders much reduced, pain in shoulders and biceps, plus elbow attachments. Frustrated. Stopped snatch apart from very light, sand with clean and jerk. Frustrated but keen to learn more. I’m mobilising and massaging. Working on strict strength and core stability.


May 13, 2017

Yes I would like to know more. Im in PT now for exactly what this video is talking about. Tight pec and tight rotator. I will be incorporating these exercises prior to lifting. My physical therapist is recommending I lift nothing overhead so I am really trying to strengthen my back muscles.

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