I (heart) my supraspinatus

alternate working titles:

Why We Don’t Do SDHP


The Second Dumbest CrossFit Exercise

By Dallas Hartwig, MS, PT

Confession: I am a terrible  CrossFitter – I have never done the sumo deadlift high pull (SDHP). Yes, really. (I’ve never done Fran, either, but that’s a story for another day.)  My first exposure to the SDHP was more than five years ago, in a CrossFit.com prescribed workout complete with instructional photos. The physical therapist in me immediately recoiled at Nicole Carroll’s demonstration.  First, the movement itself (not just her particular demonstration) more closely resembled a jumping upright row than any sort of explosive, high-powered “core-to-extremity” movement.  But my greater professional concern?  The position at the top of a SDHP very closely resembles this clinical picture of a shoulder impingement test.  Except with an even more stressful shoulder position. (???!!! Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.)

Over my last few years of clinical PT practice, I’ve had several colleagues call me to ask, “I know you do CrossFit. I’ve recently seen several patients who were injured doing CrossFit. What’s this all about?”  I was quick to defend CrossFit’s exercise program, carefully explaining some of the concepts of intensity-driven adaptation, core-to-extremity movement patterns, and moving-large-loads-long-distances-quickly.  I hoped my explanation of CrossFit’s methodology would assuage their concern about this new breed of exercise.

But in every case, I also asked which CrossFit movements the patient was doing when they were hurt. Two quickly emerged as the Usual Suspects: the SDHP and the kipping pull-up, movements relatively unique to CrossFit’s prescribed training routines. (I’m not going to talk about the kipping pull-up in this post, although Melissa has written on that here.)  Hearing my PT colleagues describe a SDHP (hilarious, by the way) totally explained the injuries they were treating.  Because truthfully, 94.72% of  SDHPs that I’ve seen in the 4th or 5th round of Fight Gone Bad look nothing like core-to-extremity, hip-driven movements.  They look like inconsistent, poorly executed, discoordinated jumping upright rows.   And let me tell you what an upright row really looks like, to a physical therapist.

The Hawkins-Kennedy impingement test (pictured above) “pushes the supraspinatus tendon against the anterior surface of the coracoacromial ligament and coracoid process” (reference).  Translation:  This is a test for supraspinatus tendinitis and the resulting subacromial pressure and inflammation that typifies impingement.  In even more simple terms, this position jams your most commonly injured rotator cuff muscle between two bones. Just like the top of a perfectly executed, loaded SDHP. (No, that doesn’t sound good to me, either.)

Now, I understand that the SDHP is supposed to be a “core-to-extremity” movement, and that the upward movement of the bar should be driven primarily by the hips, less so by the extension of the knees and ankles, and even less so by the upward pull of the arms. (This is what they said at my CrossFit Level One cert, anyway.) But in reality, if there is any degree of discoordination due to improper attention to form, the complicated neurological pattern of the movement, or plain old fatigue (all wickedly common factors), there will realistically be a significant amount of arm pull at the top of the movement – arm pull in a compromised, internally-rotated position. I make the case that repetitive, high-velocity movements that require an awkward, mechanically-disadvantageous position on every repetition are simply asking for an injury. In other words, I like my supraspinatus, and prefer that it not be violently and repeatedly jammed into my scapula.

Given the inherent structural dangers posed by the movement and the propensity for the “80% perfection, 20% slop” advocated by CrossFit to quickly devolve to 50/50 or worse, I posit that you should attempt to obtain optimal fitness without doing SDHPs.  Though I guess you couldn’t be a very good competitive CrossFitter if you dropped them.  (Ask me if I care.)

So, you ask, what should I do instead of SDHP?

Want to improve turnover speed for your snatch (and build important rotator cuff and scapular musculature)?  Work muscle snatches and tall snatches, demonstrated here by Catalyst Athletics. Want full-body explosiveness? Work your clean and jerk, the mother of large-loads-long-distances-quickly (minus the traumatic shoulder impingement). Need a metabolically-demanding core-to-extremity movement in your workout?  CrossFit, Inc., recommends subbing SDHP for rowing. (Repeat after me, “no, thank you”.)  Instead, I say you should sub rowing for SDHP.  If you don’t have an erg, do dumbbell squat cleans or dumbbell thrusters. Or take the time to learn a proper kettlebell clean or snatch. Or work your barbell clean, in any variation. I think those are enough valid, safe and effective substitutions, don’t you?

In summary,  there is simply no good reason to do sumo deadlift high pulls – and two very good reasons (your left and right shoulders) to skip them entirely.  Thanks for reading – I wish you and your supraspinatus good luck.  (And happy FGB!)

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  1. Marcus says

    People might want to take a hint from Robb and change it to “Fight Gone Better” this weekend. I remember him talking about swapping the SDHP for hang power cleans at 95#. Thoughts on that substitution?

  2. says

    I’m totally good with that substitution. If you wanted to, you could even geek out with P Menu’s power output calculator and figure out exactly what weight you’d need to use to match the power output and metabolic demands of SDHPs. Or… you could just rip it up with 95# HPCs and get a good workout. After all, who’s keeping score? (Not me.)

  3. Robbie says

    Great piece Dallas. When I first started Crossfitting(in a globo gym) I once subbed SDHP for rowing…with a oly bar for a million reps and for months after, had impingement problems. Same thing while doing a tabata pullup…cleans and kb’s continued to aggro it until I got some PT and sorted it out…since then I’ve NEVER done sdhp and I make it clear to all my clients and colleagues that it’s a devil move that hates your shoulders. I like the HPC sub for fgb and I really like your stance on asking what’s in the kool aid before you drink it several hundred times at full speed.

    Being that you’re a PT, how about some tips on what to look for in a good PT and some red flags to look for? I have some clients that need some work beyond my scope and abilities and I’m curious to know what the range is from great to less than great in that field.

  4. Valerie says

    Since you are referring to the SDHP as “the second dumbest Crossfit exercise”; I am curious as to what the first one is?
    (not being a smart-ass; truly want to know)

  5. Rachel C says

    I could not agree more! The SDHP is just stupid.

    We actually don’t even do this movement in our gym. And for me, having my rotator cuff repaired already, I like to keep my supraspinatus, and subscap as happy as possible! Because when they are pissed off, everything is affected – including my sleep. And that, is definitely not okay.

    Plus, I really don’t ever want to have to go through a repair of that magnitude ever again. It’s not fun, people. So I’ll stay away from the SDHP, permanently. As should everyone else.

  6. says

    @Marcus: In addition, I doubt the Wounded Warrior Project will reject CrossFitters’ generous donations just because they subbed the SDHP for power cleans. In fact, I bet you could do a minute of tricep kick-backs with a Shake Weight and they’d still be grateful for your efforts and support.


  7. Alex C says

    I know many affiliates, us included that have subbed 2p Russian KB Swings for SDHP in FGB and it works great.

  8. Thor! says

    I think we should have a contest on naming the dumbest crossfit movement (so many to chose from but how do I chose between the medball clean and the kipping hand/headstand pushup?!?!)… Although its hard to top the SDHP. Great article Dallas, loved it!

    However for subbing, I would sub power cleans. I’ve seen way too many horrible HPCs (ok I guess the same can be said about power cleans, but at least there has to be some type of return to a fixed point) that make my low back shriek in horror.

  9. chris says

    Wow! great post. I had felt intuitively that there might be something dangerous about that movement after watching others do it to exhaustion and use way more shoulder than what seemed healthy.

    I have a question for you in this vein.

    What’s your take on pistols? a useful exercise or dangerous to the knees?

    As always, Thanks!

  10. says

    I like my supraspinatus, too – and can’t stand SDHP’s. I like the ‘Fight Gone Better’ plan, and it has never even occurred to me to put SDHP’s anywhere else, in any workout.

    @Melissa – with this comment and your recent pic on FB, I believe I am sensing an infatuation with the Shake Weight… my suspicions will be confirmed when the PTP 2.0 is released, featuring Shake Weight thrusters. Can’t wait.

  11. Steve S says

    Hey, don’t hate on the Shake Weight. It is used by elite athletes at the highest levels:

    This was on the HBO Hard Knocks series that documented the Jets’ training camp. I don’t follow the Jets but I will certainly be following the career of punter Steve Weatherford.

  12. Gabe says

    Can we add “moderately heavy deadlifts for time” to the pantheon of dumbest CrossFit exercises? I am a huge fan of deadlifting and do a strength-focused CrossFit program with limited metcon, but for crying out loud, I can’t see what good AMRAPs of deadlifts at 275 are unless you’re actively trying to hurt yourself.

  13. Eric says

    Almost on cue, K-Star put up a video (mobilitywod.blogspot.com) of how to position the shoulders for the SDHP to avoid impingement issues. What’s your take on that? Is it more a matter of “why do a movement that’s so easy to mess up and cause injury”?

  14. says

    Herm & I got a huge kick out of this. I have never understood SDHPs and hope to never do one again. I totally spit my water out at “in fact, I bet you could do a minute of tricep kick-backs with a Shake Weight and they’d still be grateful for your efforts and support” Too funny! Oh yes even the hula chair http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9_amg-Aos4 would make more sense and it’s fun! LOL! Curious to see how many folks sub it for the upcoming FGB. Cant’s wait for #1 Dallas!

  15. says


    I’ll totally support your PC suggestion. I didn’t even mention in the article that the SDHP doesn’t even look like a real life movement. If you need to pick up something heavy, clean it! Hi to Leslie from both of us.


    We like pistols for their core strength, balance, and flexibility demands (not to mention lower extremity strength). I recommend Pavel Tsatsouline’s pistol instructions in his book, The Naked Warrior, and I think Steve Cotter has some good videos online somewhere, too (he’s just a monster in general). When performed correctly, I’m not super-concerned about it creating patellofemoral issues, though making sure it’s very heel-driven and preventing the knee from coming a long ways forward will help. Pistols have a pretty long “evolutionary curve” to get really “good” – meaning that FORM MATTERS. Just because you can do pistols doesn’t mean they’re safe and pretty. Chase safe and pretty pistols. Practice makes perfect, kids.


    I’m with you. I’ll clarify that touch-and-go deadlifts are especially dumb. I had a conversation with a good CF athlete recently (who I had previously chatted with about his severe low back pain during workouts) who stopped doing touch-and-go DLs, and… his back pain completely disappeared. Huh. Shocker.


    Thanks for the link. Mr Starrett is a smart dude, but keep in mind that he’s presenting a way to continue to do SDHPs by making them “less bad” (remember, he works for and supports CrossFit HQ). I don’t dig “less bad”. I don’t see the transferability of SDHP to, well, anything else.


    Stay tuned for our take on other common CF movements. Have you seen the iGallop? Melissa and I nearly laughed ourselves to death when we saw this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwocdImA6Z8

  16. says

    Hey guys…interesting article. Just shows that we can all be more studious when it comes to movement.

    Re: the shake weight (the real reason for my comment) if you haven’t seen this clip from Ellen yet, it’s awesome (the real good stuff starts at about 2 minutes in “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOJrpVg51Y8&feature=fvsr”

  17. says

    Dallas, great stuff. Quick question on the “touch-n-go” deadlift. I routinely do max effort deadlifts in this fashion but the weight is high enough to where I can usually only get 5 or so. If one makes sure that their form stays good through all reps (weight on heels, flat back, bar tracking the shins and thighs, no rounding/folding over), do you see any error with this? By the way, I never ever felt comfortable with the SDHP. It was always awkward. Thanks!

  18. Heather says

    Great information here and also a good reminder how important form is.

    That said, any movement, especially with weights, done wrong, can cause injury. Ever see anyone do a kettlebell swing without using their hips? I’ve seen it in beginners and coaches immediately work with that individual to correct it because if they don’t, the person will get injured. Why is the SDHP any different?

    Most coaches do not want their athletes to get injured. In addition, there is a lot of incentive for good coaches to correct bad movement – it is a business afterall. All complex full body movements can lead to injury if you do them wrong, which is why crossfit gyms are so expensive. You need the attention of a personal trainer for every workout – which you likely get(I realize all crossfit gyms are not created equal…).

  19. says


    Good question. I never do touch & go DLs. Here’s why: when you go from heavily-loaded (5RM weight or heavier, on the descent) to completely unloaded (when the bar is on the ground) to heavily-loaded again (during your pull) in a fraction of a second, it is nearly impossible to maintain adequate/maximal stability in your lumbar spine, and some weirdo shear forces occur then. It’s not totally impossible to do safely, but I’m opposed to heavy touch & go DLs because I see the risk:reward ratio as way too high. Not to mention that the “bounce” of the 2nd-5th reps actually makes the movement easier, and I basically consider them a “cheat”. Practice your DL setup with every rep, training your CNS to pull properly, and your 1RM will climb.


    Sure, any movement could cause injury, but movements that are extra-high-risk aren’t justifiable when good substitutions exist. What do SDHPs make you better at that dumbbell/kettlebell/barbell cleans and snatches (and rowing) can’t? In my opinion, nothing. The point of this post was NOT about avoiding injury by performing movements correctly (though of course we’d recommend that), but to avoid high-risk movements (SDHP!) that contribute little (if anything) to your overall fitness that couldn’t be achieved by safer, equally-efficacious movements. P.S. Doing SDHPs – even “properly” – in a high-intensity, high-volume workout is just as dumb as doing high-risk movements like kipping muscle-ups for time.

  20. says

    Excellent feedback Dallas. My clients and I will be pulling this way from now on. Thank You! You guys are a great resource. My wife and I are going full-on Paleo once we get back from vacation and your site will be a huge resource to help make it easier.

  21. Ben M says

    This very subject was bouncing around in my head a few weeks ago. What are your thoughts on snatch or clean (high) pulls as a substitution?

    Better shoulder positioning
    Greater loading
    Actual core-to-extremity action

    Lots of reps could ruin Olympic lift technique even worse than high rep Olympic lifts
    Hard to establish a consistent finish position (belly button? xyphoid process?)

    I didn’t think of it originally, but those clean variations (HPC, DB cln, etc.) look like a great sub.

  22. Laci says

    Wish I would have read this post yesterday…did heavy SDHP’s and already have an slight impingement problem in my shoulder. Needless to say I woke up this morning to some definite pain. No more SDHP’s for me! Thanks so much for the information!

  23. rob says

    Great article! I too heart my supraspinatus having sprained it about 2 years ago doing horribly inefficient kipping pull ups. I really got a taste of what life was like without the ability to engage it. Life was not pleasant.

    I could not hold my kid, carry groceries, or roll up out of bed. The supraspinatus seems so irrelevant until you can not use it. Then you find out how important it is.

  24. says


    High pulls could work, too, but I don’t like high pulls for high-reps (like you’d generally use SDHP in a workout). I’d make the case that cleans or snatches have that same core-to-extremity pattern, so I don’t see high pulls as a better option than the other variations previously discussed.


    Sorry to hear about your impingement issue. My best advice: take it seriously, let it rest enough before restarting shoulder-intensive movements again, and make sure you’re addressing any biomechanical causes for your impingement (like poor capsular flexibility or poor thoracic extension) in the first place.


    Your rotator cuff is like your car – generally trustworthy, pretty abuse-tolerant, but a major problem if it’s gets busted up. Hope you’re all better now.

  25. Brad says


    Great article, I always thought the sdhp was an excellent way to ruin your oly lift technique and hurt your low back, and I knew upright rows were bad, so I kinda pieced it together on my own. Didn’t know the specific tho so it’s always nice to learn something new.

    Question, something that rip advocated (shurgging your traps at the top of a press) I have also heard will cause shoulder impingement? Is this true? Should we not shrug our traps/shoulders? (I know greg everett isn’t a fan of doing it on OHS)

    FInally, do you think toes pointing out (20-30 degree angle) when squatting is bad? Should they be straight ahead?

    I know kstar is a smart guy, but cfhq can make smart guys say dumb things to toe the party line.


  26. Sam says

    I love the great clinically-based information. It’s accurate and, I belive, with good intention. I followed Melissa’s blog for years before the Whole 9 came about – and it’s good information. I just wish I couldn’t read the overly apparent sour-grapes toward CrossFit through the post. I understand “something” went down between you all and CF, and even Robb Wolf and CF, but I think there’s a more subtle way to present those hard feelings. Maybe I’m older, or overly cautious of burning bridges, but even Wolf can sandwich a compliment or two between his pings toward CF. Again, great information and right on…I just find the daggers too apparent. Sorry.

  27. says

    (Melissa here, on D’s computer.)

    @Sam: Respectfully, you are reading too much into our post. Please don’t allow your knowledge of our history of CrossFit color your perception of our articles. The case against the SDHP remains the same whether CrossFit, P90-X or Richard Simmons himself were prescribing it in workouts.

    @All: We’re in MN this weekend for three workshop events – Dallas will respond to other comments/questions on Monday.


  28. Craig says

    Oh my God! Moms, Dads – stop picking up your toddlers to give them a hugs & kisses, you’re going to injure your supraspinatus!

    This article borders on the absurd. You’ve never done a sumo-deadlift high pull, but you found a picture of one on the internet and compared it to a picture of a clinical shoulder exam to make an illogical conclusion that the SDHP is injurious to athletes? Ha!

    Anyone with Google Images could pull up hundreds of similar exam photographs for every joint in the body and compare them to CF exercises to make a claim that the movement causes injury. The amazing irony is that you say muscle snatches and tall snatches are suitable substitutions. Really?? Comon’ try a SDHP (I dare you) then try a muscle snatch and tell me which one caused more stress on your rotator cuff!

    I got news for you: CrossFit is dangerous. You are going to see injuries, especially as its popularity grows. Similarly, you probably treat a lot of runners for shin splints as 10ks and marathons grow in popularity. And by the way, and I bet you’ve seen more shoulder impingements from Overhead Squats and Snatches than you’ll ever see from SDHPs.

    Executed properly, with an appropriate load, the SDHP is a good exercise for hip, core and yes, shoulder development. Are their better exercises? Sure, but variety is part of what makes CF so damn good and fun.

  29. Ben M says

    Shrugging during the overhead squat and during the receipt/recovery of the snatch is recommended, just not in the way you might be thinking:

    I am curious about the press. I personally doubt there’s risk of impingement, but I’m interested in correct technique.

    If you are referring to the “3rd world squat” that K-star has in his MWOD, then apparently feet ahead is a more mature position. For regular squatting, 20-30 degrees of turnout (or whatever gives the most properly aligned ROM) is recommended.

    I believe the argument is not so much based on pictures but rather movement patterns. The SDHP largely resembles an upright row, especially under fatigure (i.e. most of the time). Upright rows maximally internally rotate the humerus while putting it right into the impingement zone ( http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/tips/no_mo_upright_row_052606&cr= ). Inappropriate technique or loads only change the situation from “probably not a good idea” to “dog ****.”

    Pulling the elbows high while snatching does require internal rotation ROM and shoulder elevation, but not nearly to the same degree as an upright row. The rotator cuff is “stressed” during a muscle snatch because the muscles actually have to externally rotate, but this isn’t the same as impingement.

    My 2 cents

  30. says


    Good question. I’m with Rip on this one. Full activation of the upper traps in a press tends to maximally upwardly rotate the scapula, making (slightly) more room for the humeral head to rotate upward to get full (FULL!) range of motion. The common error with “shrugging” at the top of a press (or OHS, for that matter) is the combination of forward translation of the humeral head with internal rotation – and that position could be problematic. What they said at my Level 1 cert was to “shrug the shoulders into the ears”, which tends to promote that internal rotation/anterior translation pattern. All in all, if you maintain a sufficiently tight/stable scapular position during OHS, you don’t need to actually “shrug” – you simply need to have enough muscular tension to maintain a good scapular position. Sage Burgener has a good (if painfully pink) post on the overhead position. And… she has had the good fortune to hang out (and learn directly from) with Coach B. (I admit, I’ve had some fantastical hallucinations about being adopted into their family.) Nonetheless, here’s Sage’s post: http://sageolylifting.blogspot.com/2010/06/saving-world-one-snatch-at-time.html I like the Iron Maven link that Ben M posted (below), too. On your squat question: I buy Mr Starrett’s story – that a more toes-forward position demonstrates better (more mature) degree of hip flexibility/mobility, but when you’re squatting adequately deep or doing cleans & snatches, you’ll need some toe-out to “make room” for your pelvis to descend “between” your heels. Individual anatomical differences will require small compensations one way or the other (and this is where a good, experienced S&C coach comes in). Hope this helps.


    This post has nothing to do with our “history” with CrossFit, Inc. It has everything to do with our concern about a movement that continues to be taught to folks (that we feel is excessively-high-risk). We never said “CrossFit is dumb”, but we did say that the SDHP is. Just wanted to set the record straight on that one.


    While your tone is clearly condescending, I’m not going to do you the favor of responding in like manner. In PT school and 9 years of professional practice, I learned a couple things about movement, and just because I don’t do SDHPs doesn’t mean I don’t know what’s going on anatomically. I don’t have to be a heroin addict to know that doing heroin is dumb. I didn’t conclude that SDHPs were silly from doing a Google image search, by the way – I concluded that from my own clinical experience. If your experience is different, maybe you could write an article extolling the virtues of the SDHP. But this is our experience, and we’re sharing that here.

    Perhaps you should reread the article – I didn’t say that “stress” on the rotator cuff is inherently bad. In fact, “stressing” the RC is what makes it stronger. But “stressing” it in a biomechanically-unsound position, at high velocity and high volume, in my opinion, is foolish. But hey, man, you can include whatever exercises you want in your routine, whether that be SDHP, heavy upright rows, or one-arm preacher curls.

    P.S. I’ve not seen any impingement issues from OHS – unless you count the ones created by shoddy instruction by inexperienced-though-zealous coaches.

    Ben M,

    Thanks for the Eric Cressey article link. I have a great deal of respect for his clinical knowledge and experience. Looks like I’m not the only dude who hates that position under load.

  31. Shaf says

    “Executed properly, with an appropriate load, the SDHP is a good exercise for hip, core and yes, shoulder development.”

    No it’s not. The fact that a trifecta of essentially worthless exercises are the “big three” for Crossfit has more to do with their ability to “smoke” someone than anything else, including safety and efficacy.

    Taking those 3, the thruster, the medicine ball clean, and sumo deadlift high pulls, and replacing the movements with actual productive movements that build strength and programming in some tough yet not retarded metcon is ridiculously simple and will leave you with a more effective program.

  32. says

    it’s funny how that works out, eh Shaf?

    Everyone I know with half a brain shies away from barbell thrusters, med ball cleans and sumo DL high pulls.

    Dumbbell thrusters: a lot better. Barbell Cleans, cool! We even do SDLHP sometimes with KBs, as people tend to be able to lift them with proper form for a lot longer. But still, if you look over our programming, each has appeared approximately once over the last 90 days, with the exception of Fran and Jackie. Let’s face it guys, they’d pull my card if we didn’t do Fran!


  33. says


    Well said. I want to be on your team if we ever applied our “fitness” to hand-to-hand combat, manual labor, or most sports… I guess I mean “sports” where “training” and “competition” are distinguishable from each other. Being a better exerciser is a silly goal, as is “smoking” folks.


    I like DB thrusters, too. I “like” DB thrusters the way I “like” oral surgery or road rash. Nonetheless, I get why you have to do Fran… Sorry, man. We never did Fran, and look what happened to us.

  34. Justin in ATL says

    I am relatively new to the whole CrossFit thing real training in general, thus my general knowledge of biomechanics and such is somewhat limited. I (obviously) greatly prefer not to injure myself (doing something dumb) if at all possible. I therefore eagerly await your report and analysis on CrossFit movements that may be (are) less-than-wise. I have found much of the information that y’all have provided to be invaluable in the past and really appreciate it and your point of view. I look forward to reading what you have to say on the issue. Keep up all of the excellent work!

  35. John Frazer says

    Totally agree. Never figured out what the point of this one was other than to bang up my shoulders and shins.

    Now that we have the runner-up, when will we see the post on the Dumbest Crossfit Exercise?

  36. says

    I just found this site from Robb Wolf’s blog. I was really enjoying your guides on nutrition and then came across the training category. I’m excited to start reading more of your insightful comments on training! Just wanted to say thanks and ask a question:

    Why haven’t you done Fran?

    I’d also like to second the previous comment, asking for a list of Crossfit movements that aren’t ideal.

    Thanks for the great resources!

  37. says

    Someone mentioned that SDHP are not functional and have no real life/functional equivalent. Doesn’t the motion of a SDHP pretty much mirror the way most people pick up any small child. Close grip under their armpits starting from the ground and pulling up towards the chin. The finishing position isn’t as exaggerated but the internal rotation of the arms approaching the chin remains. Whether it is “safe” or not is another discussion all together and life demands things from us all the time that aren’t necessarily safe. I do, however, find it much more functional than a snatch as it pertains to every day activity.

    If life is going to demand it from you might as well be prepared. I think the quote at I heard at my CF lvl 1 cert was “You fail at the margins of your experience”. Part of a GPP system is having the controlled experience to eliminate failures in an uncontrolled environment which could lead to serious injury.

    I really enjoyed the article and will definitely be much more careful when doing SDHP in the future and will advise others with shoulder problems to skip them for sure. Heck, I might even sub another movement for myself every once in a while.

  38. John Frazer says


    When I pick up my child, the movement much more closely resembles a squat, followed by a curl (horrors!), followed by a goblet squat or Zercher squat. Or if I don’t squat down all the way, there’s a good resemblance to a Pendlay row.

    I’ve never figured out how this one got to be “fundamental” when none of those are.

  39. says


    I agree with John – picking up a child, you keep your elbows tucked in close to you, as that’s a far stronger position (and presents far less exposure to your shoulder joint) than elbows chicken-winging out to the side. (I’m almost certain that no one picks up their child with explosive hip drive, either.) But I do appreciate your contribution, and the fact that you’re approaching the issue with a rational thought process.


  40. says

    Also worth mentioning is the difference between training and life. We train with good, safe mechanics so that when life occasionally demands that we do things with suboptimal mechanics, we are okay. But do hundreds of reps with dumb form seems… dumb. Since a SDHP doesn’t make us better at doing anything, really, it seems pointless to practice at the gym.


  41. cindy says

    Although I believe you do have some valid argumentative points to your post I would challenge some of them. (Basically I do not agree that this movement is as big bad and scarey as you imply.)

    One is the close ties you are putting between the Hawkins Kennedy Impingement test and the SDHP. The Hawkins Kennedy test has different components that allow you to truly test the joint for impingement. The HK incorporates horizontal adduction, elevation at 90 degrees, and PASSIVE overpressure into IR performed by the therapist.

    The passive versus active differences alone make the two activities very different from one another. As you know, MOST clinical tests that stress passive joint tissues are tested in a passive manner as well. The incorporation of an active deltoid, bicep, rhomboid, and trapezius muscle I would think would have a more protective nature than it being more stressful. It is, as you know, very difficult to passively stress the ACL, or a posterior glide with an active quadricep or hamstring. Normally, an active deltoid would cause superior glide of the humeral head within the fossa. However, with the level of abduction involved in a SDHP, I would postulate a centering effect, very similar to the bicep at 90 degrees. (the origin of some of the slap lesion tests).

    I agree that the level of IR demands are not ideal, but not horrible either. That is the main similarity I see between the two movements as is outlined by your red line in the pics. You have similar IR demands scratching your back or putting on a bra.

    I do not believe that because a movement is challenging to a joint or muscle that it should be abolished entirely. By that argument, you should suggest that we abolish the sports of gymnastics, football, and baseball, all of which have components that stress different joints at end ranges of motion repetitively, leading to a high injury rate. Let’s not allow a catcher in baseball to stay down in a squat and reach to catch a ball due to the torsion and end range flexion, possibly damaging the meniscus. I agree that it should not be performed ALL THE TIME. I agree that would lead to overuse and rotator cuff damage. Allowing athletes to compensate for a lack of IR with scapular protraction would also be a recipe for disaster.

    Why do the exercise? I believe that it still works on the components of active hip extension, core to extremity power (sorry – REALLY disagree with you there) and helps build skills used in the clean and in the snatch. Should it be the only exercise you use? NO. But it’s not a horrible as you make it sound, used with decent mechanics, good programming, etc – just like any other exercise.

    I do not believe that this should be one of crossfit’s nine foundational movements. This is highly demanding on ROM, motor control and skill level, neither of which is there for newer crossfitters. I also do not think the push jerk has any business in there either.

    I enjoyed your post and responding to it!

    Cindy PT, OCS, ATC, CSCS and level 1 Crossfit Coach

  42. says


    Thanks for your commentary. I welcome the opportunity to dialogue with a professional peer on this stuff. I think we agree on several points – I’ll mention those first:

    1. Passive assessment/stressing of tissues is different that ballistic loading. No argument there.
    2. Internal rotation (even end-range) of the shoulder is not inherently damaging.
    3. Compensation patterns (such as the scapular protraction you mentioned) can be create joint alignments and forces that are profoundly damaging, and the more times you perform that pattern, the more damaging it becomes.
    4. Simply because movements are stressful on a joint or connective tissue is not valid rationale to “abolish” them.
    5. Performing SDHP often “would lead to overuse and rotator cuff damage.” (your words)

    There are a few points that you made that I’d like to respond to as well:

    1. My intention was not to portray the movement as “big, bad, and scary” – but I did want to question its place in an intelligently-designed program. As with any movement, you have to evaluate the risk:reward ratio, and consider whether a similar goal can be accomplished with a tool that is more efficacious, less potentially injurious, or both. In my opinion, the SDHP not only is of limited utility in teaching explosive hip drive combined with a retracted/”set” scapular position (such as would be required with a clean or snatch), but it also falls down when considering the elevated risk of injury when performed during a high-intensity training session that includes dozens of reps under considerable metabolic duress (no one does SDHP for singles with full rest between sets – the context matters!). I’d make the same point about kipping muscle-ups – considerable risk for most folks I observe at the dozens of CF gyms we’re in every year, though I’d rank the potential benefit of a properly-executed (strict) muscle-up considerably higher than SDHP. I digress.

    2. I may or may not agree with you about the delt acting to inferiorly glide and rotate the humeral head above 90 degrees (or so) of elevation. I get what you’re saying, but I feel like RC musculature as well as pecs & lats probably play a larger role in doing that. Following your logic, it would be virtually impossible to create an impinged shoulder position with the arm overhead (assuming you don’t have an anteriorly-tilted/winging scapula), since the delts would “center” (i.e. depress) the humeral head at positions above 90 degrees. This has not been my experience. The other big difference, in my opinion, is the speed at which the movement normally takes place – we recommend against “touch-and-go” deadlifts because the paraspinal musculature (in most people) does not seem able to maintain adequate co-contractions to adequately stabilize the vertebrae during fast DLs with fraction-of-a-second load/unload/reload patterns and with rapid reversal of direction. I’ve seen multiple spondys get fired up from those, and I think the rapid reversal of direction during SDHPs also encourages (similar) temporary partial relaxation of supporting musculature – and thus, suboptimal positioning – of the humeral head when the structure again supports the load during the eccentric portion of the movement.

    3. You don’t feel that the end-range IR demands are “horrible”. Scratching your back or clasping a bra, yes, involves considerable IR – but in a neutral or slightly extended position, with no adduction and elevation component, which is what can cause the (improper) approximation of humeral head and scapula. So the bra/scratching comparison is irrelevant since the movement combinations are not comparable to SDHP. I’d ask you if there are any normal, “real life” examples of scenarios that would position the loaded shoulder in end-range IR and elevation above 90 degrees.

    4. Since we’re trying to (ultimately) nudge clients towards safe, powerful movements, and we’re trying to minimize risk of injury, couldn’t we accomplish both of those things by teaching a hang power clean or clean high pull? Why would you ever use a movement that – as you say – could be highly damaging with excessive use AND that has limited carryover to the more powerful movements of cleans and snatches. In my opinion, the SDHP only strengthens the improper arm pull pattern that so many CFers exhibit when learning and training the Olympic lifts. Why wouldn’t you just spend the time to learn the really valuable movements and skip over the ones with limited efficacy and considerable injury potential?

    5. There’s a fundamental difference between “training” and “testing”, which I think is dramatically misunderstood within the CF community. To use your example: baseball catchers spend plenty of time in what could be a not-awesome position for their knees (though mobility work could minimize risk of meniscal damage secondary to improper knee arthrokinematics – but that’s another issue). But catchers don’t do dozens or hundreds of squats to and from the kneeling position – even though their “job” requires them to be there for long periods of time. We train good movements and positions in order to create optimal firing patterns and solid biomechanics – so that when we have to perform/play/live with sometimes-crappy positioning, we do okay. I’d never recommend practicing carrying a heavy, awkward couch up some stairs (with crappy mechanics) again and again and again just because you’re a mover and have to do that sometimes. It doesn’t make sense to create loaded, end-range joint stresses with considerable velocity in non-functional positions when you can select safer exercises (such as power cleans or clean high pulls) that play into other, more advanced and powerful movements. But that’s just my take.

    Thanks again for challenging our perspective. It spawns dialogue that, hopefully, will be constructive and will ultimately help people become fitter without undue risk/damage.


  43. W says

    I know this is ancient, but thanks for this article. I’m putting together programming for a group of crossfitters in afghanistan right now, and I’m learning a lot about intelligent programming along the way. I see SDHP in a lot of other boxes’ stuff, even my box back home that I love to death.

    When I saw the beastmodal domains’ post bashing the SDHP, I followed his link here to see what you guys have to say about it. Honestly, didn’t realize you used to be affiliated…in Whole30, my wife discovered she’s celiac, so I already had pretty high regards for your stuff.

    Anyway, I generally enjoy SDHP as a conditioning movement, but reading this is almost as disturbing as reading about high rep box jumps. I’ve stripped SDHP out and replaced them with clean pulls at % of our clean SWOD weights, kb snatches, or just replaced the whole WOD.

    Thank you for saving mine and my trainee’s shoulders, and reinforcing Ripp’s opinion that the high pull is the most useless movement ever.

  44. Lauren says

    Great article! Anyone who picks up a child with that motion must not like the child very much… Or maybe the child has a stinky diaper!? Just silly.