I was yesterday night having fun with my two-years old daughter, doing Overhead Presses with an almost weightless aluminium tube, when I realized that my shoulders make cracking noises. I had never heard them in the gym, but now at home I can clearly hear them.

This might be partly because my shoulders are in worse shape than usual, since I am waiting for some light tendonitis to heal, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that I have bad posture and slightly bent forward shoulders.

According to this answer here in another post:

The posture of the shoulder/scapula is important when doing exercises to strengthen the Rotator Cuff. If the shoulder is in the rounded position (from tight pecs or weak scapular muscles) it can put more strain on the RTC tendons, especially when raising the arms overhead. The cuff can become impinged between the acromion and the head of the humerus.

Additionally, according to this other text in a blog,

The deltoids are a multidirectional muscle with three distinct sections (heads) that move the arm in different directions. Overhead presses target the front and side. However, degree of involvement can be altered considerably with slight modifications and once again, balanced development is key. Generally speaking, most people are overdeveloped in front, which causes the upper arm to rotate inward and results in a postural deficiency characterized by rounded shoulders.

Would it be therefore a good idea to look for another basic, compound shoulder exercises that put less emphasis on the Front Delt, for people with rounded shoulders?

According to EXRX, Upright Row is a basic, compound exercise that mainly targets the Lateral Deltoid and not the front. And the list of synergistic muscles includes the Rotator Cuff: Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus and Teres minor. As a comparison, see the Barbell Military Press that works mainly the Front Deltoid.

Therefore the question: is Upright Row a good alternative to Overhead Press for people with rounded shoulders? Why / why not? (within a program such as SS or SL5x5)

  • Have a look at Face Pulls, they hit the muscles commonly associated with forward-neck.
    – John
    Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 8:14

3 Answers 3


If you suspect you have a muscular imbalance in your shoulders, the better course of action is to attempt to correct the imbalance.

Look at the EXRX list of exercises for the posterior deltoid for exercises you can safely perform. This will help strengthen your shoulder girdle through the full range of motion.

If you are concerned for your shoulders, be careful how you perform upright rows. Upright rows with a barbell can "cause or aggravate shoulder impingement syndrome". This is confirmed in past and current literature.

  • Thus, all that is left is our old friend the isolation: Lateral Raises...
    – Mephisto
    Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 12:10
  • 1
    @Mephisto: Well, from your description, you are hunched forward, implying you be better to implement some rear deltoid work, rather than Lateral Raises.
    – user2861
    Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 22:50
  • 2 more suggestions to help correct imbalances: 1. Strengthening the lower traps to help control the scapula. It is often overstretched and weakened with rounded shoulders. 2. Stretching - Foam rollers are helpful to stretch out the pecs that pull the scapula forward adding to rounded shoulders. Commented Jul 24, 2013 at 0:53
  • @LegoStormtroopr, it is clear to me that I have to do reverse DB flies for the rear delt (actually I have done them every week before stopping due to the tendonitis) or cable face rows or rear delt DB row or similar, plus pec stretches. But I don't think that exercise alone will develop my shoulders. Something must be found as a substitution for the overhead press in SL5x5 and similar programs. Perhaps DB press on a seat that is not fully vertical (so that your arms at the top press position point 30 deg forward, relative to your trunk?)
    – Mephisto
    Commented Jul 26, 2013 at 12:08

I've found overhead presses to be a poor way to fix a programmer's hunch. Pulling exercises like barbell rows, deadlifts, and pull-ups have helped me much more in that regard.

Since any program for you should include both a push and a pull, you should probably omit the overhead press and use that time for mobility work instead.

  • This answer here. It could be improved some more if you used exercises that targeted the rear head of the deltoids more than the lateral head.
    – JohnP
    Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 18:19
  • 2
    Anecdotally, deadlifts have helped my "programmers back" hugely.
    – John
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 8:15

From my personal experience, I have found that a correctly-performed overhead press (OHP) directly helped to correct my own shoulder impingement. I would agree upright rows are absolutely NOT a good alternative because if your shoulders are rounded you will not have the movement pattern or flexibility to achieve a technically correct upright row. Doing an incorrect upright row will exacerbate any current shoulder issue.

I think bad OHP form may be a contributing factor of shoulder impingement. I have found that an OHP, done with the proper form (as detailed here: https://stronglifts.com/overhead-press/), and beginning with an appropriate weight, will strengthen the rotator cuff muscles and all three shoulder muscle heads.

Two crucial parts of the OHP lift are at the top of the movement: 1) shrugging the shoulders and 2) locking the bar out above the shoulders. I had shoulder problems before I was correctly doing the shrug and lockout. Now that I'm getting better at these two components, my shoulder impingement is gone. I think this exercise can be beneficial even with a very light load because of the muscle activation achieved at the top of the movement.

Instead of adding assistance exercises for the shoulders I have found that using a foam roller for the thoracic area of the spine has helped immensely with my own rounded shoulder issue, as shown here: http://homegymr.com/foam-roller-exercises-for-thoracic-spine-mobilization/

  • Shrugging at top of movement? Your scapula should be retracted and depressed throughout the movement.
    – John
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 8:19
  • @JJosaur Are you implying the exercise demonstration and documentation on the StrongLifts website is incorrect? Perhaps you have another reference? Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 19:53
  • @JJosaur, the scapulae must be shrugged at the lockout of the OHP to reduce impingement. Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 16:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.