Last updated on November 1st, 2022 at 03:49 pm
Who else wants to know, “Can I Do Deadlifts With a Rotator Cuff Injury?”
An injury, any injury, is something that we all dread.
There’s nothing worse than getting into a rhythm at the gym and then having your workouts cut short due to a strain, a sprain, a tear, or whatever else.
More often than not, you can “work around an injury”.
There are certain exercises you know you can do and others that you just have to avoid.
So, when it comes to a rotator cuff injury we typically understand that most pushing exercises are out of the equation.
However, will it be okay to do deadlifts?
Let’s find out.
Can I Do Deadlifts With a Rotator Cuff Injury?
You can deadlift with a rotator cuff injury, although this will depend on the severity of the injury. The rotator cuff muscles play a stabilizing role during deadlifts, so they are activated in some way. You should be able to raise the bar from the floor without any discomfort. However, due to the forces of gravity once the bar is off the floor, if you feel any pain whatsoever, especially as you lower the bar, then stop deadlifting straight away.
1. My “Rule of Thumb” With Injuries
Look, I’m not different from you.
If I succumb to injury I understand that the best course of action is probably complete rest.
But, usually I just can’t let it go.
I don’t want to miss a single day of training if I can help it.
And I’m not entirely sure what it will do to my mental state if I had to rest and recuperate for weeks or even months.
So, I typically always try to “work around an injury”.
Of course, if an injury has me bed-ridden and unable to move, then there’s not a huge amount I can do about it (been there, done that, and got the t-shirt).
However, when it comes to a rotator cuff injury things are a little different.
Yes, I may be in pain, but I still know I can train certain exercises effectively without aggravating my rotator cuff.
I have a simple rule when it comes to training around injuries – if it hurts, don’t do it.
Don’t try to fake it, don’t lie to yourself, and don’t try to lift through the pain.
If something hurts then STOP DOING IT.
We typically know that when it comes to the rotator cuff that shoulder exercises are out of the equation.
So, you won’t be pressing overhead and you won’t be doing a wide variety of raises.
Additionally, pretty much any push-based exercise is going to have to take a back seat until you heal.
What are you going to do without your beloved bench press?
You may even find that certain lower-body exercises cause you severe discomfort simply because of the positioning of your hands in relation to your shoulders.
So, barbell back squats, good mornings, and pretty much any exercise that involves you holding a barbell across the back of your shoulders is a no-no.
You simply can’t stretch your arms in such a way to hold onto the bar without experiencing pain.
Realistically, out of all the “Big Lifts” you’re really only left with the option of the deadlift.
Deadlifts and The Rotator Cuff – How Severe is Your Rotator Cuff Injury?
Deadlifts are definitely not a push-based exercise.
They don’t involve you having to lift a bar overhead or even place it on your shoulders.
So, initially all seems good.
However, when it comes to deadlifts, and any pull-based exercise for that matter, your rotator cuffs still have some involvement.
The rotator cuffs work as a stabilizing muscle during deadlifts.
In effect, they stop a weighted bar from ripping your shoulder out of its socket when you lift the bar.
So, you may not be actually using your shoulder during deadlifts, but they still have a role to play.
This is especially noticeable once the bar is off the ground, as the forces of gravity come into play.
If you feel any pain or discomfort at this point, go back to “my rule”, drop the bar and stop deadlifting.
In truth, it really does depend on the severity of the injury.
You may notice absolutely no discomfort whatsoever if the “injury” is general wear and tear, tendinitis, or even bursitis.
However, the tugging on the rotator cuffs from deadlifting will probably be too much to take if you have a shoulder impingement or strain or tear.
As I say, if it hurts, stop immediately.
2. Start Light and Build Your Way Up?
The best piece of advice I can offer when it comes to a rotator cuff injury and deadlifts is to start out light.
Don’t go in all guns blazing looking to hit a new PR.
I know the mental anguish that having an injury can cause.
You don’t want to stop training if you can help it, so you try your best to find something that works.
However, there’s no point in making an injury even worse and then having to sit out from training for months while you recover.
So, start off extremely light.
I’m even talking about starting out with just an empty barbell.
See how that feels.
If you don’t feel any discomfort or pain then add a couple of 10kg or 25lb plates to the bar.
Rest, reset, and then go again.
Basically, keep adding weight as long as it doesn’t cause you any issues.
Okay, you may not get the muscle and strength gains you were hoping for by lifting this way.
However, you still get to train the movement, and best of all, pain-free.
Plus, this system of going up in small increments could see you hit a lot of volume with any discomfort.
So, in effect you’ll be getting a great conditioning workout and still hitting the target muscles in some way.
Training With a Shoulder Injury – Rotator Cuff Rehab
3. Find Alternative Hip-Hinge Exercises
Realistically, there isn’t really a like-for-like replacement for the deadlift.
However, if you’re really struggling with a rotator cuff injury and deadlifts seem to be making it worse, then you’ll need to find an alternative.
You may even find that you’re at the point where you can’t hold a bar at all and you’re ready to give up.
Firstly, a vast array of lower-body bodyweight exercise will not involve using the arms or shoulders.
With that being said, be wary of plyometric-type movements such as squat jumps, box jumps, etc. as this may involve swinging the arms to create momentum.
I know for a fact that for many people, they really want to train their “normal” way, but when injury prevents them from doing so, they kinda give up.
We all know that exercise provides not only fantastic physical stimulation, but also mental and emotional too.
So, just because you can’t squat your PR, bench press for an entire session, or rip a huge amount of weight off the floor, this doesn’t mean you have to give up.
I would look to some form of bodyweight training first.
However, there are many weighted hip-hinge exercises you can perform to temporarily replace the deadlift.
And many of these will not involve holding onto a bar.
Granted, you may not get the same type of lat stimulation you would with deadlifts, but you can still effectively.
Glute bridges, hip thrusts, and hyperextensions are all great exercises to train the lower posterior chain.
And none of these movements will put the rotator cuffs under any stress.
Plus, I’ve always been a fan of stability ball leg curls.
You can of course use the leg curl machine, but I much prefer using a stability ball.
You’re not simply “sitting in a chair” and using your lower body limbs.
No, stability ball leg curls are definitely a far more athletic move, and when done correctly you’ll create a serious burn in your hamstrings.
So, rather than giving up on working out altogether, look at exercises that take the rotator cuffs completely out of the equation.
It is perfectly possible to deadlift with a rotator cuff injury, although this does depend on how severe it is. As deadlifts don’t involve pushing a bar overhead or away from you there shouldn’t be too much of an issue. With that being said, the lowering phase of the deadlift will bring the shoulders and rotator cuffs into play. If you feel any pain or discomfort during deadlifts then drop the bar immediately and stop. You can use other hip-hinge movements that don’t involve any participation from the shoulders while your injury heals.
If you are suffering with a rotator cuff injury then I suggest you check out my personal review of Joe Brent’s Shoulder Pain No More program.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.