Shoulder Injuries in Calisthenics and Yoga: Understanding Risk, Prevention and Rehabilitation

By Sarah Milner

Calisthenics, a form of exercise involving bodyweight movements, has gained immense popularity for its ability to build strength, flexibility, and muscular endurance without the need for equipment. Yoga has long been celebrated for its holistic benefits, including improved flexibility, strength, and mental well-being. However, despite their many advantages, yoga and cali can sometimes lead to injuries if not practised with proper technique and awareness. One of the most common areas susceptible to injury during practice is the shoulder.


The anatomy of the shoulder

The shoulder is a highly complex and mobile joint, comprising the humerus (upper arm bone), scapula (shoulder blade), and clavicle (collarbone). It is supported by an intricate network of muscles, tendons, and ligaments, including the rotator cuff, which provides stability and allows a wide range of motion. This complexity makes the shoulder prone to injuries, especially during the intense, repetitive movements or sustained postures often seen in cali and yoga. 


What are the most common injuries I see? 

Types of shoulder injuries fall into two categories: non-traumatic (biomechanical/overuse), or traumatic. Here are the three most common injuries people come to me with: 

  • Shoulder Impingement: This occurs when a structure in your shoulder is getting repeatedly pinched/compressed by another causing inflammation and pain. Often involves one of the bursa’s (the fluid filled sack that sits between tendon and bone) and/or the scapula rubbing against your rotator cuff. Impingement is often the result of poor form, poor posture and muscle imbalances (tightness/weakness), particularly during activities with repeated overhead postures (handstands, Warrior 1) or push positions (parallel bar or ring dips, Chaturanga). 
  • Tendinopathies: Inflammation of the tendons due to overuse and poor form as well as muscle imbalances. It is commonly seen in individuals who perform high volume of exercises that place stress on the shoulder tendons without adequate rest or individuals who struggle with consistency of training (tendons hate sudden changes so start/stop training and going back too intensely too suddenly can really trigger an angry tendon.) Often this involves the rotator cuff and/or bicep tendons. 
  • Subluxations or Dislocations: The shoulder joint is highly mobile due to the relative sizes of the ball and socket that make up the joint (think golf ball on a tee), this makes it susceptible to dislocations (where the upper arm bone pops out of the socket) and subluxations (partial dislocations).  These can occur from sudden or improper movements, particularly in dynamic exercises like muscle-ups, explosive push-ups, crow pose. 


Prevention is the priority

So, what can you do to prevent the injuries from happening in the first place? Here are my five top tips:

  • Proper dynamic warm up: Begin each workout with a comprehensive warm-up to increase blood flow and flexibility in the shoulder muscles. Dynamic stretches and movements as well as the use of a resistance band can help prepare the shoulders for intense activity.
  • Focus on technique/alignment: Maintaining proper form is crucial in yoga and cali. Poor technique can lead to undue stress on the shoulder joint. Engaging the core, using props like blocks, straps and gym bands, slowing the movement down and potentially even regressing the complexity of the movement can help maintain correct posture and prevent injuries. 
  • Strengthening Exercises: Incorporate exercises that specifically target the rotator cuff and shoulder stabilisers. Resistance bands and bodyweight exercises like scapular push-ups can help build strength and resilience in the shoulder muscles. Try to focus on building a strong posterior chain (back of shoulder, shoulder blade) to counterbalance anterior dominant lifestyle (working on computers, looking at phones) and anterior overloaded movements (push). 
  • Gradual progressions: Avoid sudden increases in the intensity or volume of workouts. Gradually progressing in difficulty allows the shoulder muscles and joints to adapt to load and build strength. 
  • Listen to your body: Avoid pushing through pain or discomfort. It is essential to recognise the body’s limits and modify poses accordingly. Discuss with your yoga or callisthenics teacher to provide guidance on adjustments and alternatives. Factor in rest days to allow your body time to adapt to the training you are doing and enable adequate recovery time, particularly if your practice is high intensity/load.


Rehabilitation Strategies

If you find yourself with a shoulder injury, here are my rehab recommendations

  • Physiotherapy: The best way to treat an injury efficiently and with the least impact on your training is to first get a proper diagnosis so that you can commence a rehabilitation program that is tailored to your specific injury and movement needs. Manual therapy, acupuncture, advice on training and just understanding what the injury is can help restore function, alleviate pain and support mental wellbeing. 
  • Rest and recovery: I try to avoid telling people to stop exercising! That often means taking away an activity someone loves and relies on to help in mental and physical wellbeing as well as a social network. However, factoring adequate rest/recovery time is essential to allow for healing/repair and adaptations to rehabilitation exercises. Advice on this should be provided by your physiotherapist when they create a tailored rehab program. 
  • Modified exercises: Continue with modified exercises that avoid overloading and straining the injured shoulder. This may involve focusing on lower body workouts that keep the shoulders in neutral position or poses that do not bear weight on the arms, such as seated or supine positions, can help maintain overall fitness, flexibility, and mental well-being.  
  • Mindfulness and Education: Educate yourself about shoulder anatomy and common injury mechanisms. Being mindful of your body’s signals and understanding how to prevent injuries can help you make informed decisions about your practice. 
  • Balanced workout/practice: Ensure a balanced routine that includes pulling as well as pushing exercises. This helps to develop balanced muscle strength around the shoulder, reducing the risk of imbalances and associated injuries. 


Practising Cali and Yoga are excellent ways to build strength and flexibility, but like any physical activity, it requires careful attention to form, technique and progression to avoid shoulder injuries.

By understanding common injuries, implementing effective prevention strategies, and following appropriate rehabilitation strategies; athletes can enjoy the benefits of these fantastic activities while minimising the risk of shoulder injuries. Emphasising proper warm-up, balanced workouts and mindful practice are key to maintaining shoulder health and sustaining a long-term fitness journey.

And… If this goes wrong and you pick up an injury, then I’m here at Mission to help get you back in action! You will see me around the building on Fridays but feel free to drop me an email at if you want any more information on any current or past injuries, or book your next session now.