Why Do Planks Hurt My Shoulders?

Planks are notoriously tricky. Many folks agree that a plank minute feels substantially longer than a regular minute (did someone slow the timer?!). The primary reason for the (seemingly) lengthy plank minutes is the number of muscles required for a proper plank. 

If you hold a plank properly for a bit of time, you’ll feel the muscles in your shoulders, back, core, thighs, and hamstrings kick in. Many times, our core muscles are what feel the burn first, but eventually, the rest of our body will begin to feel the challenge. 

However, while challenging your muscles is an excellent way to build strength and endurance, you shouldn’t feel aches or shooting pains. Pain in the shoulders and lower back are common complaints in a planking position, yet it shouldn’t be a normal feeling in this pose. 

If you’re doing the pose wrong, there’s a good chance your body will begin to hurt (and not in a good, muscle-strengthening, calorie-burning way). We’re here to talk about shoulder pain and why you feel it in a plank, so stick around to learn more!

Are Planks Good For Your Shoulders?

Planking can be a solid way to strengthen your shoulders, providing you do the move correctly. For example, consider a high plank. The isometric nature of this particular pose is excellent for your shoulder rotator muscles. Regularly performing and holding a high plank can help functionally strengthen your rotator cuff. 

Of course, you need to hold the pose correctly. Otherwise, your shoulders might begin to ache or send shooting pains through your arms and back. 

It’s important to note that the purpose of planking isn’t usually to target the shoulders. Most folks use planks as an exercise to target their core all the way around. So, while your shoulders will engage in a plank, this isn’t a move to target the shoulders. 

Why Do My Shoulders Hurt In A Plank?

Shoulder pain isn’t the most desired side effect of planking. Most folks hold near-torturous planks to build strength in their core, some even using them to relieve lower back pain. Planks aren’t supposed to target your shoulders. So, if your shoulders are screaming when you hold a plank, you’re probably doing something wrong. 

Oftentimes, the culprit of shoulder pain in a plank is repeated movement without the proper form. For example, let’s say you’re moving through a yoga flow. The Chaturanga is a staple in many yoga flows, so you move through this pose numerous times throughout the workout. 

With the repeated use of a repetitive motion, you might notice your shoulders begin to ache. Many times, the reason for this pain in these repetitive motions is improper form. The repetitive exercise shouldn’t bother your shoulders, but you might overstress them without correct movements.

When your shoulders and shoulder blades (scapula) are in an improper position and inactive in the plank, you will notice the strain it puts on these areas. Many times, folks feel the ache in their rotator cuff and bicep muscles. 

The improper alignment over a prolonged period can lead to muscle strains, tendonitis, and even muscle tears. So, it’s vital to engage these muscles throughout the plank properly. 

How Do I Stop My Shoulders From Hurting While Planking?

As mentioned, your shoulders shouldn’t hurt while planking. If you just finished a killer shoulder workout, your shoulder muscles may begin to burn faster, but you shouldn’t feel pain. Here are a few tips to avoid shoulder pain in a plank position. 

Lift Your Hips

Sagging your hips (or lifting them too high) can cause a world of hurt throughout your body. Lowered hips place the strain from the plank in other parts of your body, forcing the wrong areas to overcompensate for improper form. 

Many times, you’ll feel pain in your shoulders and lower back. If your hips are sagging towards the ground, hovering maybe an inch or two above the ground, they’re too low. A handy way to check your form is with a mirror. 

Your body should form a straight line, all the way from a neutral neck down to your ankles. Your body shouldn’t bow towards the ground or the ceiling. If your body has a gentle “C” shape in the plank, you need to adjust your form.

Raise (or lower) your hips, so your body forms a straight line from head to foot. This form will relieve the strain on your upper body, transferring your weight to your core and allowing you to feel the work where you should. 

Don’t Arch Your Back

Another common planking mistake that could result in shoulder pain is an arched back. Your spine should be neutral, allowing you to create a long, straight line down your body. Many folks make the mistake of arching their lower back to relieve the burn happening in their core.

However, in doing this, you place this stress on your upper body and lower back, forcing these areas to compensate for your poor form. To fix your form, engage your core and glutes. 

If you have a tough time doing this, try slightly tucking your pelvis toward your ribs. You don’t want to arch your back up; just tuck your hips enough to feel the position in your abdominal muscles. You should feel your core and glutes engage as soon as you fix the arch in your lower back. 

Stack Your Wrists, Elbows, And Shoulders

Your elbows, wrists, and shoulders should be stacked in a plank position. By this, we mean that your arms shouldn’t be placed in front or behind your shoulders. You want your elbows and wrists positioned directly underneath your shoulders. 

This helps ensure you don’t stress your shoulders or engage muscles that you shouldn’t feel in this pose. So, if your elbows and wrists align with your face, they’re too far forward. Your arms should form straight lines from your shoulders to the floor.

Positioning your hands further out relieves the burn in your abs, but it places undue stress in the wrong spots. So, while it might feel easier to position your hands this way, remember to keep them directly under your shoulders. 

Modify The Plank 

In some cases, the culprit of your sore shoulder might be a lack of upper body strength. This is totally normal, especially for beginners. If your chest, shoulders, and triceps aren’t strong enough, you won’t be able to maintain a plank position for very long. 

So, to build your upper body strength, you can start by modifying the plank. Place your knees on the ground instead of resting on your toes. Keep a straight line in your body, ensuring a straight line from your neck to your knees. This position should relieve stress on your upper body, simplifying the move enough for strength building. 

Alternatively, you can also build your upper body strength by performing modified pushups. Tricep pushups (keep your elbows close to your body, they should slide past your ribs in the low part of the pushup) are a great way to strengthen this muscle group. 

Regular pushups (position your elbows at a 45-degree angle from your body) can help strengthen your chest. If you have a tough time doing these pushups on your toes, drop to your knees, ensuring you keep your body in a straight line from your neck to your knees. 

If pushups on your knees are a struggle, consider incorporating a resistance band. While this sounds counterintuitive, it can help. Slide a medium-level resistance band up to the middle of your biceps. It should create a loop around your arms. 

The band will extend across your chest when you lower yourself into the pushup. The resistance in the band will want to bring itself back together, which helps you push back up by bringing your arms together. 

Once you’re ready, remove the band and continue building your strength. Build up to no-band knee pushups, then up onto your toes. This can be a big jump, so you can always bring the band back into play when you start doing regular pushups on your toes. 

As you strengthen your upper body, you should find that planking becomes more manageable, and you can hold the pose for longer. You might need to incorporate a few core exercises into your strength-building routine, as a lack of core strength can also cause this problem. 

Regular crunches, flutter kicks, prayer crunches, and side crunches will help build your core muscles, eventually making it easier to hold planks.