With ring dips, handstand push-ups, repeated shoulders to overhead, butterfly chest to bars, it doesn’t take a shoulder physiotherapist to see how demanding CrossFit workouts can be and cause shoulder strain.
To minimize CrossFit shoulder pain, you require a high level of shoulder mobility and stability to perform the workouts safely and injury free. However, it is relatively uncommon to have both these attributes at the same time since most tend to like working on strength OR mobility, but rarely enjoy both.
Lacking in either strength or mobility while trying to perform these highly complex movements puts you at risk of CrossFit shoulder pain from muscle strains, tendonitis, labral tears, and rotator cuff tears or ruptures. However, since you likely don’t love putting the extra time into the less than fun base work for building stability and mobility, here is the best bang for your buck CrossFit shoulder workout to get shoulder pain relief in the least amount of time (15 minutes 3-4 days a week).
Mobility exercises to minimize CrossFit shoulder pain
1. Chest stretch on the foam roller to minimize shoulder strain
Note: This stretch is best done on a long foam roller with the entire length of your spine supported.
Start with your arms by your sides and your palms up. Keep your elbows straight and move both arms out to the side until you feel a gentle stretch in your chest. Keep the back of your hands touching the floor. The sensation should be tolerable and not intense as you are going to hold the position for a while. Hold the stretch for 5 minutes. Longer holds for this stretch are better.
Watch for: Sensations of pins and needles or pain. This means your arms are too high, lower them closer to your side.
2. Lat stretch with band for shoulder pain relief
Use a heavy resistance band over a pull up bar, rig, or a solid post. Wrap the free end of the band around your wrist and take a couple steps back so the band is stretched. Move into a half kneeling position with the back leg on the same side as the wrist holding the band. Lean slightly forward letting the resistance of the band pull on your arm while it stretches that side of the body. Tuck your pelvis under (as if you had a tail and you were tucking it between your legs) and move your hips slightly to the opposite side. Hold for 2-3 minutes on each side.
Watch for: pinching in the shoulder. You should feel a stretch from the side of your shoulder blade to your hip, with no pinching in the shoulder. If you feel pinching, don’t lean so far forward. Bring your body more upright and twist your body towards the band.
Strength and stability to minimize CrossFit shoulder pain
1. Rotator Cuff exercises to build shoulder stability
Use a light to medium resistance band for this exercise. Start with your shoulder blade pulled back flat against your rib cage in good posture. Hold your elbow at your side and bent to 90 degrees. Turn your palm up holding the band. Put the band across your body and out in a straight line, keeping your elbow bend to 90 degrees. Do not brace your elbow against your side during this exercise, but let it rotate freely around its axis. Complete a standard 3 sets of 10 on each side.
Watch for: Your elbow moving around. Your upper arm and elbow shouldn’t move, but should spin in place. Don’t lean to the side, don’t turn to look at your elbow, only your forearm should move. If you can’t maintain this position, you can put a towel under your arm and brace your elbow against that. Either way your elbow and upper arm don’t move but spin in place, and your shoulder blade stays pinned against your ribcage. This exercise needs to be done with good form so don’t use a heavy-gauged band if it is affecting your form. Check your ego and get a lighter resistance band.
2. T-band pulls for upper back strength and shoulder blade stability
Use a medium to heavy resistance band for this exercise. Start with your arms straight, shoulder blades set flat to your ribcage. Holding one side of the band in each hand, pull your arms straight back with your palms facing forward, keeping your elbows and wrists straight, and making a ‘T” shape with your arms. Squeeze your shoulder blades together (back and slightly downward). Hold this 1-2 second before returning to the start position. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
Watch for: shoulder shrugging. Don’t let your shoulders lift upward toward your ears. Your arms should stay in a straight line and make a perfect ‘T.” If you can’t hold this position, grab a lighter resistance band.
Shoulder physiotherapy for CrossFit shoulder pain relief
Once your master these exercise you will have a good base of stability and mobility to do the more challenging shoulder exercises in CrossFit. Of course, this will not guarantee no CrossFit Shoulder pain or your mastery of all things CrossFit, but it will give you a good base to develop your movement. If you don’t put in the base work and neglect either your stability or mobility, you are likely to struggle trying to move forward.
In the video below, Amy Fahlman, a CAMPT-Certified physiotherapist, talks about CrossFit shoulder pain or shoulder strain that may result. Amy will also explain why CrossFit shoulder injuries can happen and how shoulder physiotherapy can help.
About Amy Fahlman
Amy Fahlman is a FCAMPT physiotherapist in Ottawa, Ontario. She enjoys travel, adventure, CrossFit, running, and all things outdoors. For more insights and tips like this or to book an appointment, visit Amy’s website.