Strengthening for Shoulders

Dec 19, 2016
Tagged with: Strengthening for Shoulders

Now that you understand a common cause of shoulder pain, and you have made some changes to your activities, you can start incorporating exercises to correct the strength imbalances. Specifically, you have to work the back muscles that don’t get enough exercise throughout daily activities that are using all of the pushing muscles. Strengthening these muscles will help keep the shoulder blade in its optimal position. Try doing the following shoulder exercises without resistance — it’s the best way to start incorporating them. Gradually increase resistance and repetitions as the pain decreases and the muscles get stronger. Start exercises in the least painful range. Ideally, you want to work in a pain-free range, but this may not be possible. Consider seeing your physical therapist to help guide you in performance and progression of these exercises.

Work it Out

Exercising the muscles responsible for holding the shoulder blade in place is important in preventing and treating shoulder pain. These exercises can be done on a pulley machine or with dumbbells when you are ready to add resistance. Start with two sets of 10 in a range that doesn’t cause or increase your pain. If you can balance, you can do both arms at once, but one at a time is equally beneficial. If you don’t have grip strength, use a wrist cuff. Remember to move with control in both directions of the exercise.

Rows – target the muscles that squeeze the shoulder blade back.

  • Grasp a dumbbell or pulley handle and start with your arm outstretched
  • Pull your elbow straight back, squeezing the shoulder blade back
  • Keep your shoulder down (don’t let it raise toward your ear)
  • Allow your arm to straighten at the same speed you pulled

Shoulder adduction: – Grasp a dumbbell or pulley handle and start with your arm straight out at shoulder level (lower if this hurts) – Pull straight down to your side – Sit upright; leaning forward will train a different muscle group – Allow the arm to come back to shoulder height at a controlled pace.

Scaption: – Grasp a dumbbell or pulley handle and start with your arm halfway between in front and to the side—think 45°. – Hold the weight with the thumb up – Start down at knee level – Lift the weight to the level of the shoulder, not higher. Stop even lower if you have pain – Lower with a controlled speed – Keep your trunk upright and your head straight.
External rotation – for a small but important muscle in the rotator cuff: – Tie two ends of a resistance band together to create a loop. Place each hand on either end of the loop and keep your elbows tight at your side – Hold your hands with thumbs up – Start with your forearms slightly turned in toward your stomach -Keeping your elbows tight against your side, bring your forearms out, away from your stomach (bottom) It’s a small movement! – Allow the arms to come back in toward the stomach slowly.

Start incorporating the exercises three times per week, and see if you have an improvement in your shoulder pain.

Author: Kristin Mcnealus



  • bobl07

    Thank you for these tips. As a wheelchair user, I am always looking for ideas. One thing that is always important as a wheelchair user is to exercise the back of the shoulder, if not with these suggestions but even something as pushing backwards up a hill.