Training

Why Do My Shoulders Pop When I Do Lateral Raises?

Updated January 26th 2022

Come find out why your shoulders are popping when you are doing lateral raises.

Is this normal or not?

Obviously, not right?

Many lifters do not like the way their shoulders grind and pop during lateral raises.

In most cases, this is painful to do the movement.

In other cases, their shoulders only start to pop and grind after they have been doing a lot of repetitions on a compound movement.

So, let us figure out how to stop your shoulders from painful popping during lateral raises.

Causes: SHOULDER POPPING DURING LATERAL RAISES

Your shoulders are popping from lateral raises due to one or a combination of the following reasons:

  • Scapula instability
  • Lack of warmups
  • Bad posture; rounded shoulders
  • Overuse, not enough rest
  • Genetically suboptimal acromion

SCAPULA STABILITY

In today’s world, we live in a time where computers and desk jobs are abundant.

As a result, many lifters may be stuck behind a desk.

They will develop rounded shoulders and a bad posture.

Little did you know, it is this exact position that is causing your shoulders to click and pop.

As your shoulders round forward, your supraspinatus can get pinched, which can cause you pain and discomfort.

The key is to work on your scapula mobility.

This can be done using the YTWL exercises.

Scapula dysfunction can also take place in winged scapula from the bench press.

You need to understand what is the problematic functional motion and address it properly.

Lack of WARMUPS

For some veteran lifters, they will claim that doing warmups helps their shoulders feel more relaxed before doing any working sets.

This is a fact since you will help excite the muscles and pump more blood to them.

Warm-ups can be done for as little or as long as you desire.

It is usually not recommended to do very long warm-ups since you may fatigue yourself prior to doing any heavy exercises.

If your shoulder gets worse with more movement or continues to hurt, you should stop exercising the joint.

You should definitely get it checked out since that is not a common experience for healthy shoulder mobility.

EXTERNALLY ROTATE YOUR HUMERUS

As stated above, your shoulder popping and grinding may be a result from your shoulder being rounded forward.

This will impinge one section of your shoulder muscles.

So, to combat this, you will need to practice how to externally rotate your humerus (upper arm bone).

To externally rotate your arm, turn your palms towards the back of your body.

With a more supinated grip, you will open up more space in your shoulder joint.

This will limit the number of contact tendons and muscles can grind or click against your bones.

Your greater tubercle will likely not hit your acromion or rub against any tendons if you are externally rotating your arm. 

OVERUSE AND NOT ENOUGH REST

What if I told you that you are working hard but not recovering enough?

Maybe one reason, the biggest reason why your shoulders are popping and clicking when you do any lateral or front raises is that your body is tired.

Your shoulders need more rest.

You worked it too hard.

You hit 10 working sets of overhead presses and your shoulders cannot stop popping when you lift your arms overhead.

Or what hitting 6 sets of bench presses but your shoulder feels like a rock and you do not want to move them.

Why does it take muscles so long to recover?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the muscles that support your shoulder are not that big.

Yes, especially for lifters and athletes that want superior muscle growth and strength, you will need to train all your muscles hard.

But you will need to pay a price.

You will need to focus way more on recovery and mobility.

Yes, going to the gym and destroying your body is the easy part.

That is how you got to this point - having clicky and popping shoulders.

Genetically suboptimal acromion

Another reason why your shoulder pops during lateral raises is that your acromion is hooked.

Typically, an acromion is supposed to be flat and the bone should not drastically narrow the space for your humerus to glide through.

However, through injuries, weakness, stress, and environmental changes, your acromion could slowly change and develop bone in places where it should not.

It can develop a gradual hook, which will increase the potential for impingement in the future.

Now, this does not mean that if you have a hooked acromion, you will 100% experience shoulder popping symptoms.

At the same time, even if you have a flat acromion, you can still experience shoulder popping even though you have a typical acromion.

This is just one of many factors to look at when deciding what is the cause of your shoulder popping.

Most likely, your shoulder popping occurred even before you started to do lateral and front raises.

It just happened that this was the activity that caused your symptoms to magnify and reveal to you that something is wrong with your shoulder and you should consider remedies to fix it before it gets worse.

Are shoulder lateral raises necessary?

Performing shoulder lateral raises with internal rotation will outperform shoulder lateral raises with external rotation or neutral grip in posterior deltoids, medial deltoids, upper trap, and tricep activation.

Whether or not your shoulder is healthy to perform this motion is the biggest question for all lifters.

Should you lean forward during lateral raise?

Leaning forward during lateral raises will change your center of mass. 

This can change your weights' trajectory if you have good lateral raise form or you are compensating with your upper back and pecs.

Some lifters opt to stand strict when performing lateral raises.

Others prefer to perform the exercises with a slight lean forward, but your form should not change drastically and you should not be engaging your back muscles like you are rowing the weight.

I find that if I am leaning forward, I have a tendency to want to engage my lats and my mid-traps as if I was performing a bent-over row.

It will be best to experiment and figure out your most optimal form where to can create the best mind-body connection.

SHOULD I DO SHOULDER LATERAL RAISES?

Many gym bros and experienced lifters will tell you how important it is to develop big shoulders.

Many programs will include them at the end of a shoulder or bench workout so that they can overload the shoulder muscles.

However, if you are willing to follow a beginner program like Greyskull LP, you will see that less is more sometimes.

If you truly need more shoulder exercises to assist in growth, there are endless options.

Doing lateral and front raises are just a few of the best exercises to target your shoulders.

There is both pros and cons of performing this specific exercise and its variations:

Let us focus on the research first.

Research was done on 10 competitive bodybuilders to perform the following lateral raises to see what muscles were activated the most:

  1. lateral shoulder raises with external rotation
  2. lateral shoulder raises with a neutral grip
  3. lateral shoulder raises with internal rotation
  4. front shoulder raises
  5. lateral shoulder raises with the elbow bent, neutral grip

If you are trying to work on your medial deltoids, any variation of the shoulder lateral raises will help activate this muscle. 

When ranked from most activated to least activated in the medial deltoids,

  1. Lateral shoulder raise, internal rotation
  2. Lateral shoulder raise, neutral
  3. Lateral shoulder raise, external rotation
  4. Lateral shoulder raise, elbow bent

This was surprising to see that any shoulder exercise that involves abduction and internal rotation would rank so high in muscle activation since it is one of the most common areas to create chronic shoulder issues.

When working on the anterior deltoids, the lateral shoulder raise with external rotation is the best choice.

Ranking the top 3, these shoulder raise exercises highly recruit the anterior deltoids,

  1. Lateral shoulder raise, external rotation
  2. Front shoulder raise
  3. Lateral shoulder raise, bent elbows

A little bit of a surprise here but front shoulder raises still made it in the top 3.

The lateral shoulder raise with internal rotation is the best shoulder raise exercise to work on the posterior deltoids.

Ranking the top 3, these shoulder raise exercises will work on your posterior deltoids,

  1. Lateral shoulder raise, internal rotation
  2. Lateral shoulder raise, neutral
  3. Lateral shoulder raise, bent elbows

Shoulder lateral raises with internal rotation recruit two of the three deltoid regions maximally.

It would be a perfect exercise if it did not cause so many issues.

The front shoulder raise is the only shoulder raise exercise that significantly activates the pectoralis major.

The lateral shoulder raise with internal rotation and lateral shoulder raise with bent elbows are the top 1 and 2 shoulder raise exercises to activate the upper traps but all 5 of the shoulder raise exercises still recruit significant upper trap activation.

When working on the triceps, the lateral shoulder raise with internal rotation is the best choice.

Ranking the top 3, these shoulder raise exercises will activate your triceps the most,

  1. Lateral shoulder raise, internal rotation
  2. Lateral shoulder raise, bent elbows
  3. Lateral shoulder raise, neutral 

From the study, lateral shoulder raises do show promise of growing your shoulder muscles.

If the pros are using them in their program, it just has a proven track record of success in muscle growth.

Picking the appropriate grip will already set you ahead of your competitors since you will know which muscles are highly activated in which motions.

Should I bend my arms during lateral raises? 

According to research, lateral raises with bent arms will show increased activation in tricep recruitment, posterior deltoids, anterior deltoids, and medial deltoids.

There are better ways to activate these shoulder muscles by tweaking your form but you can still get decent results with bent arm lateral raises.

It really depends on what you want to accomplish.

If you want the best for overall shoulder activation, straight arms with external rotation are the best variation followed by straight arms with a neutral grip.

For instance, for the best anterior deltoid activation, straight arms with external rotation showed the highest results followed by front raises.

Contrast this with the best posterior deltoid activation, straight arms with internal rotation showed the best results followed by straight arms with a neutral grip.

 

Why lateral raises are bad?

On the flip side, the lateral raise is one of the worst shoulder exercises you can do (if done incorrectly). 

Here is why:

  • The supraspinatus is a small muscle, a common site for impingement
  • Bursa can be inflamed
  • Without control, you can damage the joint and surrounding structures
  • You can choose different exercise substitutes

THE SUPRASPINATUS IS A SMALL MUSCLE

The supraspinatus is one of four muscles that make up your rotator cuff.

It is a delicate muscle and is often activated whenever you abduct and lift your shoulder.

When using heavy weights, it can often be overworked and strained.

This is similar to having a weak joint and using heavy weight, like weak wrists using heavy dumbbells.

BURSA IS UNDERNEATH THE SUPRASPINATUS

This is another reason why many people tend to experience complex shoulder issues.

Some lifters can develop bursitis, which is an inflammation of the bursa.

The supraspinatus can be overused very easily and can lead to inflammation.

CONTROLLED MOTIONS ARE THE BEST

Heavy and powerful movements are not recommended to strengthen your rotator cuff.

If you are looking to grow your smaller muscles, doing controlled and light weight exercises are best.

Lateral shoulder raise substitutions

Though the shoulder lateral raise and front raise are effective in building shoulder strength, stability, and power, it puts your shoulder at a higher risk of injury.

For athletes that require maximal deltoid activation and power, it might be inevitable to run away from those exercises.

But for 99% of other people, there are workarounds if you cannot perform lateral shoulder raises, especially with internal rotation. 

A ton of shoulder impingement happens at that 90-degree shoulder abduction with internal rotation since you are compressing the subacromial space.

To protect your shoulders and prolong your healthy lifestyle, here are some lateral shoulder raises alternatives:

  1. Reverse flies
  2. Neck presses
  3. Military presses

WHERE ARE YOU FEELING THE SHOULDER POPPING?

  • Near the neck
  • On your back near your shoulder blades
  • Around your shoulder joint

NEAR YOUR NECK

Make sure this is not neck pain from shoulder pressing.

If you are feeling your shoulder grind or pop near your neck, it is probably a supraspinatus issue.

Work on mobilizing the surrounding muscles.

Relax the muscles.

Work on trying to externally rotate your humerus.

Work on your posture.

ON YOUR BACK, NEAR YOUR SHOULDER BLADES

Grinding and popping around your shoulder blades indicates a lack of scapula mobility.

Work on relaxing and massaging the surrounding muscles in your back, traps, and shoulders.

Doing the YTWL exercises would be highly recommended to reteach your body how to move its scapula correctly.

AROUND YOUR SHOULDER JOINT 

Shoulder popping in this area is an issue with the way your humerus articulates with your glenoid.

Whether it is soft tissues rubbing against each other or boney contact, proceed with caution.

Sporadic clicks are usually not a symptom of concern.

Constant popping and clicking should raise a red flag though.

STRENGTHEN YOUR ROTATOR CUFF TO PREVENT FUTURE SHOULDER POPPING

Some lifters have found this solution to be effective in dealing with their shoulder popping.

They used rehab exercises to strengthen their rotator cuff.

They will usually focus on external rotation, internal rotation, abduction, flexion, and extension movements.

They will also use light weights when performing these exercises to not overload your delicate shoulder muscles.

Why is this effective?

  • Scapulohumeral rhythm - Exercises that force you to retrain rotator cuff muscles will allow you to realign your scapulohumeral rhythm, a sequence where your humerus moves every 2 degrees for every 1 degree of motion of your shoulder blade as you bring your arm up.

This is important because dysfunction of shoulder blade movement will restrict shoulder motion and cause other surrounding structures to stiffen or rub against each other.

  • Maintain function - If you do not use shoulder range of motion, you will lose it.

As any one gets older, their tissues naturally move less. 

This will decrease overall mobility of your soft tissues and joints.

To maintain functional status and health, you need to practice like you play.

You need to move like you want to and if you do not, you need to make adjustments to get back on track.

CONSIDER RESTING AND MOBILIZING

Many athletes go through hell in their training.

All the more reason you need to make sure you are getting proper treatment to accelerate recovery.

Speed up recovery?

Have a burger after workouts!

Yes, there are a ton of interventions you can perform.

  • Hot/cold treatment.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Massage.
  • Acupuncture.
  • A great diet.
  • Uninterrupted sleep.

The list goes on and on for what you MUST do outside the gym.

We know what it takes to get results inside the gym.

But the day-to-day grind of everyday life will determine what your results will be.

How do I know?

Simple.

After today’s workout session, how do you know you will be ready for the next one?

What do you make sure you do religiously so that you are ready for the next workout.

I will let you answer that one.

CONCLUSION

Always make sure you do not perform movements in pain.

A healthy shoulder joint should not click, grind, or pop constantly.

However, just because it occasionally pops, you do not need to worry.

However, constant clicking and grinding should be concerning and is not normal.

SHOULD YOU STAY AWAY FROM LATERAL RAISES?

If you are getting shoulder pain from lateral raises, why continue the exercise?

Just because it is in your program?

That's almost as bad as ignoring deadlift shoulder pain....

It is one thing to follow your program so that you are able to stay consistent.

Lifters need to build up consistency and repetition before habits are ingrained.

This is one reason why coaches and many experienced lifters emphasize the importance of sticking to your program no matter your circumstance.

However, if you have injured yourself, you need to be smart about it.

Do you want to stay consistent and keep on reaggravating the injury?

This is similar to picking a scab. 

Your injury will only get better if you let it heal and rest.

Legendary powerlifter and bodybuilder Stan Efferding, AKA The White Rhino, used this technique to get back into squatting and deadlifting heavy.

As a quick side note, if you do deadlift every week to focus on other movements to exert pressure on your shoulder without pain, you are moving in the right direction.

It is all about managing and not experiencing pain when performing compound movements.

Should lateral raises be heavy?

It is best for lateral raises to be done with low weight for 8-20 reps. 

It will be better to perform overhead presses for heavier weights instead.

There are countless experiences of lifters trying to perform heavy lateral raises as if it was a compound lift. And the results?

  • Pain with bench press
  • Rear delt pain
  • Shoulder joint pain
  • Strained upper traps

It is not a pretty list.

Though there are some bodybuilders that may have done heavy lateral raises or some variation of them in the past, it is generally not worth experimenting due to having more information on safer exercises that are more effective in achieving your goals.

Want bigger shoulders? - Work with light weights in reps 12-20.

Want a bigger overhead press? - Overhead press more frequently and be strategic about programming.

Just two examples of common goals that lifters may have that do not require heavy lateral raises to jeopardize their shoulder health.

 

Are lateral raises bad for shoulders?

Lateral raises are a great way to isolate smaller shoulder muscles, especially if you perform them with the most effective form.

Be careful not to ego lift as performing heavy lateral raises with poor form will result in pain and discomfort in the distant future.

It is very easy to perform these incorrectly.

Here are some form critiques that are commonly broken—

  1. Rounded upper backs
  2. Rounded shoulders
  3. Poor posture

You would only see bodybuilders or certain lifters performing these when trying to specifically target the mid-deltoids and even some posterior deltoid hypertrophy.

But more often, you will most likely see results faster and with fewer injuries when performing compound shoulder movements that are more natural.


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