Your Shoulder Still Hurts, Here’s Why

December 31, 2017

Photocredit: Carmine Sarazen

Shoulder pain, it tends to be as prevalent in CrossFit gyms as butt shots are on Instagram, the problem is no one is double tapping for your shoulder pain.

So, what’s the deal? Why do so many CrossFitters have shoulder pain and do you need to stop doing CrossFit if you want to feel better?

First, no, you do not need to stop doing CrossFit if you want to feel better. In fact, the likelihood is that your shoulder was already a mess before you started CrossFit, but you didn’t know it, just like you didn’t know that a squat is supposed to be performed below parallel until your coach taught you. The demands we put on our body outside of the gym (besides our hips and low back from sitting on our Instagram butts all day) are low, so there would be no reason for you to know that your shoulder is dysfunctional, you’re not doing anything that would cause pain.

It’s like that time in college when you didn’t know how drunk you were until you stood up, life was easy sitting in that booth wasn’t it? In fact, in many cases, the lack of use in general is your first problem, that is of course until you joined the gym and set that goal of getting a muscle up, or 10 in a row. You went from zero to 100 really quick!

Here is the thing...

Pull-ups and muscle ups are sexy, we love us some push-ups and burpees, and we hate putting anything over our head without help from our hips. I get it, I CrossFit and I’d much rather push press 155# for reps than strict press 105#. Push press is faster and I’m going to move more weight. In fact, let me jerk the bar and I’m even happier! This combination of affinity for downward pulling and pressing coupled with an unhealthy disdain for pressing and pulling upward leads to shoulder that move in one direction well and the other, less well, much less.

We have put thousands of CrossFit athletes through our testing, almost 10,000 to be more specific and what we find is that athletes who perform the best and have the least pain have some things in common. 

What I’m describing here is a balance of strength and movement across a joint:

  • For every strict pull-up that they can do without any added resistance or support, they can do the same number of reps of 1 arm high pulls at 1/3 of their body weight in each arm.
  • They can do about the same number of reps in both arms on the high pull. 
  • They can single arm press about the same weight for the same number of reps that they can high pull.
  • They have full shoulder abduction range of motion.
  • They have full shoulder flexion range of motion.

    Well, do you have shoulder pain?

    Try the tests, see how you perform (the results might shock you) And don’t let your friends without shoulder pain who can’t do these tests fool you, they’re just not in pain…yet.

    So, what is the solution? It’s simple! Start working more unilateral and bilateral strict pressing along with some more unilateral strict high pulls. And while you’re at it, reduce your volume of pull-ups and muscle ups. Want some bonus work to do in the place of all that down pulling? Grab some farmer’s handles, load ‘em up, and carry ‘em once a week.

    Here are a few videos demonstrating high pulls and a quick tempo pull up to build strength in those shoulders! 

    One Arm High pull

    Tempo Pull up

    This is a guest post by Dr. Sean Pastuch. Dr. Sean is the founder of Active Life, a disruptively minded Physical Rehabilitation and Performance company that aims to provide an inspiring alternative to Physical Therapy and Chiropractic. Dr. Sean founded Active Life because he believes that people would live with less pain and would enjoy training more if the remedy to their ailment looked more like the life they want to live. Since its inception in 2015 Dr. Sean's Active Life has worked with thousands of CrossFitters including; Rich Froning, Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, Samantha Briggs, Noah Olsen, Jacob Heppner, Lindy Barber, James Newbury and so many more. Imagine getting rid of your aches and pains (despite your diagnosis), without having to go to the doctor's office multiple times per week and without having to miss the gym? That's what Dr. Sean wants for Active populations world wide. You can follow Dr.Sean and his team on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube