3 Best Exercises for Shoulder Health

3 Best Exercises for Shoulder Health by Mike Volkmar, MS, CSCS, PES, CPT

The shoulder is a very common joint to have pain. The majority of exercisers experience pain in the front or on top of the shoulder joint. This can be for a few reasons. The two major culprits are muscle imbalances and overuse injuries. What is muscle balance? Efficient movement and joint heath requires a balance of muscle length and strength around a joint. If muscles are not balanced, then the related joint is directly affected. What is an overuse injury? Simply they are the result of repetitive micro-trauma to the tendons, bones and joints. The following are three reasons you may have a muscle imbalance or have created an overuse injury.

You sit at a desk all day. Sitting all day at a desk with your shoulder hunched forward can cause your chest and anterior shoulder muscles to become tight and your latissimus dorsi (lat muscles for short) and upper back muscles to become weak. This weak and tight relationship at the shoulder joint can create a muscle imbalance

You do more push exercises (pushups, shoulder press, bench press, etc….) than pulling exercises (pullups, chin-ups, rows, etc…). Do a quick audit of your workout. How many exercises are in the push category (Chest and Shoulder related)? Now how many are in the pull category (Back related)? If you perform more push than pull exercises you are setting yourself up for a muscle imbalance at the shoulder.

You play a sport (Swim, Baseball, Volleyball, Golf, etc…) that uses the shoulders at a higher volume. Overuse injuries are very common in those sports.

Here are the best 3 exercises for Shoulder Health:

Dumbbell Rear Delt Raise
Targets: Rear delts and lower back
While holding a pair of dumbbells, bend at the waist and the knees, lowering your chest while keeping your spine in a neutral position. Get into a deadlift position (lower back neutral, bent over at the waist, knees slightly bent) with the dumbbells hanging in front of your knees. Initiate the movement by shrugging your shoulders down and back while raising the dumbbells to shoulder height.

Band Pull-Apart
Targets: Shoulder scapula and rear delts
Stand tall with your shoulder blades pulled down and back (as though you were trying to put your shoulder blades into your back pocket). Grab a light strength band with both hands with a grip just outside the width of your shoulders, and then pull your hands apart. Maximize the exercise by expanding the chest and pulling your hands as far back as possible. Hold for a count of 2 seconds and return to the starting position. Repeat for the programmed reps.

Band Face Pull to 90/90 External Rotation (ER)
Targets: Shoulder scapula, rear delts, and rotator cuff muscles
Grab a strength band with both hands, holding it so as to make it look like an isosceles triangle (two sides of equal length). Keeping your shoulder blades in your back pocket, pull the band to first your nose, and then pull the band back over your head. Hold for a count of 2 seconds and return to the starting position. Repeat for the programmed reps.

6 week Shoulder Health Program:
During each phase, you use progressive overload: the gradual increasing of volume (reps and sets) from workout to workout (or week to week).

Phase 1 – Perform 1 exercise per day before you hit the gym using the following rep and set schemes.
Week 1: 3 sets of 10 reps per exercise = 30 reps total
Week 2: 3 sets of 15 reps per exercise = 45 reps total
Week 3: 4 sets of 15 reps per exercise = 60 reps total

Phase 2 – Perform 2 exercise per day before you hit the gym using the following rep and set schemes.
Week 1: 2 sets of 10 reps per exercise = 40 reps total
Week 2: 2 sets of 15 reps per exercise = 60 reps total
Week 3: 2 sets of 20 reps per exercise = 80 reps total

Nothing is worse than having pain that affect your daily activities. Take some extra time to strengthen your weak muscles to alleviate some pain so you can get back to doing what you enjoy.

For over 100 mobility based exercises for the everyday athlete and 20 sport specific workouts please pre-order The Mobility Workout Handbook: Over 100 Sequences for Improved Performance, Reduced Injury, and Increased Flexibility now!



MICHAEL VOLKMAR, MS, CSCS, PES, CPT, received his master’s degree in Exercise Science with a specialization in Exercise, Nutrition, and Eating Behavior from George Washington University (GWU). In 2001, Mike started his well-traveled path in Sports Performance Training at the Junior College level (OCC, Onondaga, NY) working with the baseball team. He worked for three years as the Strength and Conditioning Coach at GWU, first with the Single A affiliate (High Desert Mavericks) of the Milwaukee Brewers, and later season with the Double A affiliate (Harrisburg Senators) of the Washington Nationals, before moving on to spend one year at the International Performance Institute of IMG Academies, FL. Mike continued his professional development by becoming the Director of Strength and Conditioning at the APEX Academies. Currently, Mike is the strength and conditioning coach at the Peddie School. A Division I baseball player during his undergraduate career, Mike is an amateur powerlifter with a passion for all things fitness.  Mike has advanced specialty certifications in strength and conditioning, post-rehab exercise, athletic development, and sports medicine. Mike stays active in social media with Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.  He also runs a Summer Strength and Speed program at the Peddie School.