How the Neutral Grip Prevents Shoulder Pain and Builds Stonelike Shoulders

shoulder health

Changing your grip on pressing movements helps you avoid shoulder pain and injuries. 

As a bodybuilder, you know that your shoulders are crucial to tying together your physique. They work hard during chest exercises and help with everyday arm movements, like lifting a suitcase or throwing a ball. But shoulder pain and injuries are widespread in athletes and lifters. That’s why we highly recommend the neutral grip technique — it prevents shoulder pain and helps build stronger and more defined shoulders while avoiding injuries such as shoulder impingement. Trust us, your boulder-sized shoulders will thank you.

If you’re an active athlete, strengthening your shoulders can help avoid problematic rotator cuff tears. So even if your goal isn’t to get big stone-like shoulders, toning and shaping your shoulder muscles is still important. There’s nothing wrong with being able to wear your sleeveless shirt with a little bit more confidence. 

Nearly all upper body routines you do as a weightlifter involve your shoulder to some extent. As a result, shoulder pain can be problematic and hamper your training. Serious ones like rotator cuff injuries put an end to professional careers.

In addition, the shoulder joint is one of the most mobile joints in your body (after the hips). And the more mobile joints are, the more prone they are to injury. 

The neutral grip places less stress on the vulnerable parts of your shoulder joints. This makes it a great alternative for lifters who want to build their shoulders but are worried about shoulder pain. In this article, we talk about how the shoulder works, the origins of shoulder pain, and how to use a neutral grip to circumvent shoulder pain and build big boulder shoulders. 

Anatomy of the Shoulder

shoulder impingement

In bodybuilding, many muscles we pay attention to cross the shoulders. Examples are the lats, pecs, delts, and biceps. Since huge delts and pecs are important and contribute to the desirably wide upper body we crave, many bodybuilding exercises strain the shoulder.

Understanding how your shoulder works help you know how to train it effectively and also avoid injuries. For the purpose of shoulder pain and using the neutral grip, we’ll be looking at the shoulder as a joint. Classically, the human shoulder is a ball and socket joint like your hips (1).

The Ball and Socket Joint

The ball part of your shoulder joint is at the end of your humerus and looks like a ball stuck on a shaft. It’s called the humeral head. Conversely, the socket part is formed at the corner of your scapula (shoulder blade). 

The socket part of your shoulder joint looks more like a saucer than an actual socket. This allows a wide range of motion at the joint. On the downside, it also means it’s easy to dislocate your shoulder, which could lead to pain.

Movement of the Shoulder

When muscles act across a joint like in the shoulder, while some move, opposing muscles contract to stabilize and keep the joint in place. With your shoulders, you also require muscles to hold your shoulder blade in place. This is because it’s only attached to your upper arm and collarbone at one end. 

A key structure that holds your shoulder in place is the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff comprises four muscles: subscapularis, infraspinatus, teres minor, and supraspinatus. It helps to rotate your shoulder and cuff the joint. 

Weakness of the rotator cuff muscles can place undue stress on your shoulders during heavy lifting because your shoulder won’t be able to keep your humeral head centered. Your rotator cuff holds your upper arm in place, which keeps your shoulders in place.

Shoulder Problems

Pain in your shoulder could be from an outright injury or a dislocation. However, there is also impingement syndrome which could lead to pain when your supraspinatus is contracted. Some individuals are more predisposed to this problem than others, which could also happen due to past shoulder injuries. This study shows weight training could predispose you to impingement syndrome (2).

Bodybuilders with impingement syndrome suffer shoulder discomfort when doing upper body movements since any internal rotation of your shoulder contracts the supraspinatus. Performing exercises like the lat pulldown with an overhand wide grip or even a lateral side raise can also lead to pain. 

This makes building your lats, developing your shoulders, and exercising other muscles using these exercises impossible. However, modifying your technique can help you go around this issue. A neutral grip, especially on pressing movements, is one of those modifications.

The Neutral Grip and How It Works

Another name for the neutral grip is the hammer or Swiss grip. When using this grip, your hands are neither supinated (palm facing up) nor pronated (palm facing down). Instead, the neutral grip has your palms facing each other and is easier on the shoulder joint because it reduces internal rotation slightly. 

As a result, beginners and those with shoulder impingement are advised to go with this grip. The neutral grip helps build strong shoulders; for most people, the grip is stronger, so they can lift more weight. 

The neutral grip can be used for bench, floor, and overhead presses. It can also be used for pullups, lat pulldowns, and rows

Benefits of the Neutral Grip

Avoid Shoulder Pain

The neutral grip puts your shoulder joint in a natural position that is much more friendly for your joints and safer. The two joints that benefit the most from this grip are the shoulder and wrist. For those with shoulder pain due to impingement or a rotator cuff injury, there is no better shoulder builder than using the neutral grip. 

Use More Weight

Due to a more natural position, many weightlifters find that the neutral grip is their strongest grip. This means they can often use more weight with this grip, leading to muscle hypertrophy and growth.  

Less Space 

A dumbbell is required instead of a barbell to do the neutral grip for most upper body exercises. And dumbbells require less exercise space, so you can easily do your routines at home.


The neutral grip can be used in various upper body workouts. With this grip, those with shoulder pain no longer have to stray away from the shoulder press, dumbbell bench press, overhead press, lat pulldowns, etc. 

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  1. Bakhsh, W., & Nicandri, G. (2018). Anatomy and Physical Examination of the Shoulder. Sports medicine and arthroscopy review, 26(3), e10–e22. 
  2. Kolber, M. J., Cheatham, S. W., Salamh, P. A., & Hanney, W. J. (2014). Characteristics of shoulder impingement in the recreational weight-training population. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 28(4), 1081–1089.
Terry Ramos
As a personal trainer and writer, Terry loves changing lives through coaching and the written word. Terry has a B.S. in Kinesiology and is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and ISSA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He enjoys playing music, reading, and watching films when he's not writing or training.