The shoulder is a miracle joint. It’s a shallow ball-and-socket joint that provides a ton of mobility with the muscles surrounding the joint providing the stability. This allows us to press, pull, and throw with abandon.
However, there is one drawback.
The shoulders get banged up. Like, a lot. If you’ve been lifting for any amount of time, there comes a moment when your shoulder barks at you. When this happens or you want to take some measures to keep this from happening, these tips are for you. Four well-respected coaches share their favorite post-rehab shoulder exercises to keep your shoulders strong and mobile.
Just remember, however, no matter how solid this advice is, it should never take the place of your doctor’s or physical therapist’s recommendations, nor does it intend to diagnose the type and severity of a shoulder injury. These exercises are for you to strengthen the shoulder joint when you’re coming back from an injury or you’re suffering from non-diagnosed shoulder pain.
They may not be the most badass of moves, but your shoulders will be better for having incorporated them into your rehab regimen.
TRX Face Pull to Y
Travis Pollen, Ph.D., is an Exercise Science Professor, personal trainer and co-creator of Strength For Yoga program and cofounder 3M Athletic Performance gym.
When working around or coming back from a shoulder injury, overhead shoulder range of motion can be troublesome. While the culprit of the issue is often multifactorial, one movement that can work wonders is the lower trap raise, or “Y.” The Y is a staple for targeting the lower trapezius in upward rotation of the scapula, which contributes to getting the arm overhead smoothly.
The Y can be performed with a variety of equipment — dumbbells, cables, or a suspension trainer. One variation is the TRX Face Pull to Y combo. This exercise takes advantage of the fact that we’re stronger eccentrically than concentrically, which means we can use more resistance in this variation than we can on a normal Y.
To perform the exercise on a suspension trainer, high row the elbows back, externally rotate the shoulders, and press straight up overhead in a Y. From there, lower the arms all the way back down in front, keeping the elbows straight. Focus on moving slowly through the eccentric Y, controlling the motion through the base of your shoulder blades.
To find the right amount of resistance, experiment with scooting your feet away from the anchor (easier) or in toward the anchor (more challenging).”
Programming suggestions: Two to three sets of 10 to 15 reps as part of your warmup or pair with a lower-body exercise as a mobility/recovery exercise. For example:
1A. RDL variation: 6 to 12 reps
1B. TRX Face Pull to Y: 10 to 15 reps
External Rotation to Press
Allan Bacon, Ph.D. is a former dental surgeon now online personal trainer who specializes in training powerlifters and body composition clients.
“The external rotation to press is one of my favorite movements for strengthening external rotators for overhead stability. Plus, the Serratus Press is an excellent movement for the stability of the shoulder blade and scapula. The latter also relieves a lot of stress on the rotator cuff.
Combined, they help strengthen movement and stability of the shoulder joint, and I find the serratus is an often-over-looked muscle group, particularly in those with shoulder instability. I love these two movements because they are readily accessible to both home gyms and commercial establishments, they’re appropriate for athletes of all skill levels, and they’re highly effective.”
External rotation to press key technique points:
- Set your bands or cables between the shoulder and eye level to prevent internal rotation of the shoulders.
- Retract your scapula throughout the movement.
- Keep elbows in line with the shoulders.
- During the rotation to press part of the movement, make sure to keep your arms in line with or behind your ears.
Key technique points:
- Set your bands or cables to shoulder height with significant tension (no slack)
- Elbows should remain locked in place throughout the movement and pressing should be engaged by flexing the serratus muscles only. You can think of the serratus as the muscle that lines the 1st to 8th ribs on the side of your chest, just below the pecs.
- Press as far forward as possible and let the serratus relax and return back to the start position. Remember, elbows should not bend at all during the movement. Movement should only happen with a forward and backward translation of the shoulder itself.
Programming suggestions: Pair these exercises in your warmup before doing any upper or lower body training. Performing one to two sets 12-15 reps works well. For example,
1A. Serratus press: 12 to 15 reps
1B. External rotation to press: 12 to 15 reps
Serrated Anterior Wall Slide
Bo Babenko is a physical therapist and strength coach who specializes in strengthening the mind, body, and soul.
“The serratus anterior muscle is one of the most neglected in all of training. It is crucial to how the scapula (shoulder blade) rotates on the rib cage. The analogy I often use with patients who end up with biceps and/or labral issues is that they are likely only using the big boy up front to lift things when they have these other 20 or so little guys that can help out.”
The serratus anterior is very unique in how it moves and wraps from the side of the ribs to the underpart of the shoulder blade. The wall slides demonstrated in the video are one of my absolute favorite ways to challenge the shoulders and to improve the mobility of the shoulder joint.”
Programming suggestions: This is a perfect upper-body warm-up exercise before you hit the weights. Doing one set of 10 to 12 will have your shoulders ready for action.
Band Press Stabilization
Dean Somerset is a personal trainer, strength coach, educator to fitness professionals and writer based in Canada.
“For rotator cuff training, most exercises involve taking the shoulder through a range of motion whereas one of the key functions of the cuff is for stabilization of the shoulder. For this reason, the band press stabilization is fantastic at teaching stabilization in the shoulder that’s maintaining the 90 90 position with the arm out to the side and the elbow bent. The pressing arm gives a changing force on the shoulder that it has to work against on each rep, making it a very challenging shoulder stability exercise.”
Programming suggestions: You have two options here. Performing as a warmup exercise doing 10 to 15 reps per side. Or pair it with a strength move as a recovery mobility drill, especially one involving the shoulder. For example:
1A. Unilateral landmine press: 8 to 12 reps per side
1B. Band press stabilization: 10 to 15 reps per side