My Top 3 Shoulder Exercises

Lately, we have been seeing a lot of shoulder injuries related to things like swimming, CrossFit, improper exercise, sports, work injuries, as well as daily activities.  Because of this, I wanted to share my top 3 exercises to strengthen the shoulder and decrease your chance of developing shoulder pain.

First off, let’s mention how amazing the shoulder joint is.  Normally, we think of the shoulder as a ball and socket joint, which it is.   The difference with the shoulder is that the socket is very shallow which allows it to move more than any other joint in the body.  You can think of the shoulder joint as a golf ball sitting on a golf tee, where the ball is kept on the tee by contraction and control of the muscles as we go through an amazing amount of motion.  With this increased mobility comes a lack of stability in the bone structure, requiring us to rely on our muscles more than most joints.

The Rotator Cuff is the main stabilizing group of muscles in the shoulder and, for most of us, is the group we hear the most about.  Keeping the rotator cuff strong is one piece of the puzzle, but strength and stability in the muscles surrounding the shoulder blade and supporting posture are also essential.


Maintaining good posture helps open the shoulder space and reduce the risk of impingement and strain on the shoulder structures.

Here are my top 3 exercises for strengthening the shoulder.  (As with any other exercises, if you have pain with these, please stop to avoid injury, and come in for a free screening so we can determine the cause before continuing on.)

  1. Bilateral External BilateralExternalRotation: This is a great exercise to strengthen the rotator cuff as well as your posture.
    • Start with good upright posture
    • Hold a resistance band with your palms up and elbows at your side
    • Pull out with your arms while you keep your elbows at your sides
    • As you get to the end of the motion, squeeze your shoulder blades together
    • Make sure you are maintaining good posture and not shrugging your shoulders up
    • Work your way up to 3 sets of 10 repetitions depending on the resistance of your band.TRXRow
  2. Standing Rows: Great exercise to strengthen posture as well as the lats and even biceps.
    • Can use resistance band, cable system, or a TRX
    • Stand in good posture
    • Pull your arms straight back to your sides
    • Squeeze shoulder blades together
    • Work up to 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
  3. A’s, T’s, and Y’s over a ball: You may have heard these by a different name, but they are a great exercise for strengthening muscles around the shoulder blade.
    • Lay on your stomach on an exercise ball that allows for good range of motion to the floor.
    • Y’s: Bring your hands from the floor, straight up in front like you are doing the “Y” in YMCA.Ys
    • T’s: Bring your hands from the floor, straight out to your sides like you are making the letter “T”.Ts
    • A’s: Bring your hands from the floor, straight back to your sides like you are making an “A”. As(Not like in YMCA)
    • Adding weight if you are able and avoiding painful ranges.
    • Make sure all motions are controlled and without going above the body.

Again, if you have any pain with these exercises, STOP and talk to your PT about what may be holding you back.  If you have not done much exercise for the shoulders in the past, make sure you go slowly to avoid excessive soreness.

The shoulder is truly one of the most amazing joints in the body.  With so much mobility, we sacrifice some stability, so make sure you are keeping them strong and stable!

David Butler, DPT, OCS
Owner, Clinic Director
Utah Physical Therapy, Lehi