THE MAINSTAY of an upper body workout is the shoulder press. It’s also, according to an increasing number of orthopedic surgeons, one of the most dangerous exercises. That’s because the lift puts tons of pressure on the head of your humerus—the round bone segment that sits inside the shoulder socket. Over time, that excess weight can cause tears to the socket tissue, called the labrum. Then you may be looking at physical therapy or arthroscopic surgery.
Do a shoulder press wrong and it could lead to an even more serious injury. Andrew Rokito, chief of shoulder and elbow surgery at NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital, says that in the past year alone, his team performed 250 rotator cuff repairs and 240 shoulder replacement surgeries. (The proliferation of CrossFit may have something to do with that.)
“It’s almost inevitable that you’re going to have an episode of shoulder pain if you are upper-body weight training,” says Rokito.
Reducing some of the risk starts with taking shoulder presses out of your rotation and replacing them with exercises that incorporate gradual movements. Adam Rosante, a strength and conditioning coach in New York City, gives us a shoulder circuit that minimizes risk without sacrificing reward.
Do 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps for each of the moves, resting 1 minute between sets. Use heavier dumbbells for the first exercise (incline-bench isometric row) and then lower the weight for the remaining 3; try using around 40 pounds and 15 pounds, respectively. Avoid setting down the dumbbells between the last 3 moves. Once you’re done, rest 2 minutes and finish with a brachial, or dead, hang. Complete this circuit 2 or 3 times a week.