- Common arm workouts with overhead movements can cause pain or injury, according to trainer Cat Kom.
- If you feel a sharp pain or pinch in your shoulder or back, try a more joint-friendly exercise.
- Build muscle in the shoulders, triceps, and back with pain-free exercises like front raises or the superman.
You need to challenge your body over time to build muscle but your arm workouts are painful, there are alternative exercises you should try to avoid injury and improve gains, according to a personal trainer.
Cat Kom, CEO and Founder of Studio SWEAT onDemand, told Insider that she often sees people try to build arm muscles with overhead exercises, but they end up with shoulder or back pain instead.
“Avoid anything that hurts in a bad way, not to be confused with what’s challenging or hard,” she said. “You always hear ‘No pain, no gain’ which is true if you’re talking about the right kind of pain. With the wrong kind of pain, you’re just going to set yourself back.”
She said if you feel sharpness, a pinch, or something that just feels wrong, swapping in exercises that change the angle of the movement can help protect the joints, working the right muscles without causing pain or injuries.
“The key is testing out what works for you,” Kom said. “It’s about listening to your body, and knowing you can work the same muscles without doing exercises that cause pain.”
If shoulder presses are painful, try front raises or Arnold presses
One of the most popular arm exercises is the shoulder press, but it can lead to injuries for people who spend a lot of time sitting or hunched over computers, according to Kom.
If you feel a pinching sensation when your arms are overhead, Kom recommends switching to the dumbbell front raise, which involves bringing the weights straight out in front of you. The exercise is often easier on the rotator cuff, the tendons around the shoulder joint that are most likely to be irritated by overhead movement.
You can also try the Arnold press, an overhead variation that starts with your palms facing you, as at the top of a bicep curl, and rotates up in to a press, which may help your shoulders move more freely.
Both have many of the same benefits as an overhead shoulder press, working the shoulders, some of the pectoral muscles in your chest, as well as firing up the core.
A modified “superman” exercise can work your shoulders, back, and core all at once
Another great movement for stability and pain-free gains is the superman, which involves lying facedown on the floor, extending your arms out over your head, and lifting your arms and legs off the ground.
The exercise helps target important, often-ignored muscles in the back, and you’ll also work your core, build your glutes, and improve shoulder stability at the same time.
Kom recommends a variation where your palms face each other, while the arms are still apart in a Y-shape, to get the same benefits without putting excess stress on the shoulder joint.
“If you have any kind of shoulder impingement, that takes the pressure off,” Kom said.
Work your triceps with the “walrus” push-up
The triceps overhead extension is a popular movement for building the muscles on the back of the arms, but can have similar problems as the shoulder press, according to Kom.
A good swap is a push-up variation called the walrus push-up, which involves keeping your elbows tight against your rib cage as you push up by extending your arms, while your hips stay planted on the ground.
“It’s great because you don’t need any equipment and can do it anywhere,” Kom said.