Best Exercises for Shoulder Pain

Best Exercises for Shoulder Pain

Best Exercises for Shoulder Pain

If you are struggling with shoulder aches and pains or recurring shoulder injuries, then this article is for you. When it comes to being strong at the push and pull movement patterns such as the bench press, pull-up, push-up, dumbbell row, or any other movement that involves the shoulders, it is imperative to have adequate shoulder mobility and strength.

Many people injure their shoulders with the above listed movements. And it is not because the movements are “bad” exercises. It is because these people are not prepared for the exercises they are performing. Their muscles and joints are not prepared for the exercise, or the combination of exercises at hand.

  • Injury = demands placed on tissues > tissue capacity
  • Rehab = demands placed on tissues < or = tissue capacity
  • Prevention = tissue capacity >> demands placed on tissues

Taking a quick look at the above equations should really shed light on how injuries and aches/pains occur. However, just “getting strong” and building tissue capacity is not enough. You must train smart and through your entire ranges of motion. You cannot just get strong in one part of your range of motion and expect to be strong in other parts of that range. That is just not how our body works. Strength is angle specific.

So to really mitigate your chance of injury, you must make sure you have full ranges of motion in your joints. Secondly, you must create strength, control, and stability throughout all of those ranges of motions. This is the recipe for bulletproofing your shoulders and overcoming your shoulder pain.

Here are 5 of our favorite shoulder exercises for combatting achy and painful shoulders, especially stubborn anterior shoulder pain.

1. Sleeper Stretch for Shoulder Internal Rotation

Shoulder internal rotation is the most common shoulder joint range of motion lost. Normal range of motion for shoulder internal rotation is 70-90 degrees. Having a lack of this internal rotation range of motion puts your shoulder at a greater risk for injury. This range of motion is necessary for various movements and without it, compensations often occur throughout the shoulder girdle. Most commonly seen is tipping/dumping of the shoulder blade forwards, compromising the anterior structures of the shoulder joint. This is especially true in vertical pulling exercises such as the barbell clean.

PRO TIP: The sleeper stretch is often criticized, but when executed properly and safely, it is a phenomenal exercise to normalize shoulder internal rotation. Do not push through pain or pinching with this exercise. You should only feel a deep stretch on the outer part and back part of your shoulder.

PROGRAMMING: 2-3 rounds 3-4 days/week. This is a safe exercise to perform in your warm-ups prior to upper body pushing or pulling days.

2. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder External Rotations

Those with anterior shoulder pain often have “weak” or under-trained shoulder external rotators. Relatively speaking, most training programs do not implement much (or any) accessory training exercises for the shoulders. They target the large prime movers of the shoulders, but neglect the smaller shoulder stabilizers, especially the shoulder external rotators (the teres minor and infraspinatus). Seated dumbbell shoulder external rotations are a fantastic way to isolate these muscles and build strength and endurance. Go light with this exercise and do not use momentum to power through this exercise.

PRO TIP: Keep your elbow that is resting on your knee slightly lower than shoulder height. Do not push into any pain or pinching at any time during this exercise. Additionally, you can slowly lower the dumbbell to work on eccentrically stretching the posterior shoulder to improve shoulder internal rotation range of motion. At no time during this exercise should your shoulder blade tip/dump forwards (keep your shoulder blade stable and immobile).

PROGRAMMING: 2-3 rounds of 15-20 repetitions, 3-4 days/week. This exercise is safe to perform in your warm-up, during rest breaks in betweens sets/exercises, or on its own.

3. Banded Face-Pulls

The banded face-pull combats that nasty posture we all exhibit throughout the day, especially those of us that work desk jobs: internally rotated, adducted, and protracted shoulders with an overly flexed thoracic spine. By working the upper back and posterior shoulder with the banded face-pull, you are working on maintaining an upright/extended spine, while pulling your shoulders into external rotation, horizontal abduction, and retraction. As with all exercises, you should feel no pain or pinching with this.

PRO TIP: While pulling the band towards your face, also think about pulling the band apart horizontally. Keep your elbows high throughout and really focus on hammering your posterior shoulder and upper back. Go light with these. Again, we are working accessory movements and shoulder joint stabilizers, so we are training for endurance with this exercise.

PROGRAMMING: 4-5 sets of 15-20 repetitions, 3-4 days/week. This is a fantastic exercise to implement into your warm-ups to prep your shoulders for upper body days, or to superset with a heavy pushing exercise.

4. Band Pull-Aparts

Banded pull-aparts again are a great exercise to hammer the posterior shoulder and upper back musculature. They again help reverse that poor posture we all unfortunately exhibit by training shoulder external rotation, horizontal abduction, and scapular retraction. Hold on to the band in a supinated grip (palm facing upwards) to really target shoulder external rotation. From here, you can vary your grip width to make the exercise easier or harder. Pull the band apart only until it taps your chest. Slowly and controllably return to the starting position.

PRO TIP: Keep tension in the band at all times. Perform these slowly or you are short-changing yourself. There is no need to pull your arms back farther behind your back, just tap the band to your chest.

PROGRAMMING: 4-5 sets of 15-20 repetitions, 3-4 days/week. Like the banded face-pull, this is a fantastic exercise to utilize in your warm-ups or to superset with heavy pushing exercises.

5. Kettlebell Arm-Bar

The kettlebell arm-bar is fantastic for improving shoulder joint stability, especially reactive stability due to the offset weighted nature of the kettlebell. This exercise really works on maintaining shoulder joint centration (joint alignment/spacing from optimal co-contraction of all the shoulder joint stabilizer muscles). Once holding the kettlebell in this position becomes easier and more second-nature, you can add in axial shoulder joint rotations to further challenge your shoulder joint reactive stability.

PRO TIP: Do not go too heavy with this exercise. This is a common fault we see and contradicts the purpose of the exercise. Remember, we are training reactive stability and endurance of the shoulder joint, not brute strength.

PROGRAMMING: 3-4 sets of 5-6 repetitions, holding each repetition for 15-30 seconds. Perform 3-4 days/week. This is fantastic for prepping the shoulders in your warm-ups or performing it on its own.

There you have it! 5 of our favorite exercises to combat painful and achy shoulders.

As always, we do not recommend you taking this information as medical advice. Always consult with your doctor before implementing strengthening exercises or starting a training program. For optimal results, we recommend consulting with a qualified physical therapist or chiropractor who understands human movement and strength training. This is because musculoskeletal pain requires a thorough physical/movement-based assessment to identify your individual limitations and needs before specific rehab exercises are prescribed.

Frustrated with your painful or achy shoulders and have tried these exercises without much success? Reach out to us for help! We can even help find you a qualified healthcare professional to help you in your area.

Top 5 Shoulder Mobility Exercises

Top 5 Shoulder Mobility Exercises

Top 5 Shoulder Mobility Exercises

Poor shoulder mobility is one of the most common mobility restrictions we see, second to poor hip mobility. While shoulder mobility is definitely of utmost importance for overhead athletes and overhead lifting, it is also extremely important for the everyday person. In fact, a lack of shoulder mobility can lead to issues up and down the kinetic chain, in particularly neck and mid-back pain.

Unfortunately, we see far too many athletes, weekend warriors, and everyday gym-goers waste their precious time foam rolling and performing drills that only result in temporary neurological changes in their shoulder mobility. We do not want temporary changes. We want long-term changes. Changes that translate into our everyday lives and improve our performance and lifting. Thus, the exercises we perform should provide these benefits.

If you want these long-term changes that translate into improved long-term mobility, performance, and pain-relief, the exercises should be active in nature. These 5 shoulder mobility exercises are active mobility exercises that will take you to the next level.

1. Shoulder Internal Rotation Sleeper Stretch

The sleeper stretch has been around for quite some time and is often demonized by some healthcare and rehab professionals for its “safeness” and effectiveness. However, with the proper set-up and execution of the exercise, the sleeper stretch is an extremely safe shoulder mobility exercise to utilize to improve the mobility of your posterior shoulder joint capsule. The sleeper stretch will not only improve your shoulder internal rotation, but will also improve your overhead mobility (shoulder flexion).

If you lack of shoulder flexion, and also lack shoulder internal rotation, this is the place to start. Work on improving your shoulder joint capsule mobility and your overhead positioning often clears up.

PRO TIP: Do not push into any pain or pinching with this stretch. You should feel the stretch in the posterolateral part of your shoulder. You should not feel anything in the front of your shoulder. The isometric contractions within this exercise are the game-changer and provide strength in your newly acquired range of motion. These isometric contractions provide the long-term changes in your shoulder internal rotation mobility.

PROGRAMMING: 2-3 repetitions per side, 3-4 days/week

2. Shoulder External Rotation Americana Stretch

The Americana stretch, like the sleeper stretch, is one that you must execute safely and properly to get the benefits you are looking for. When done properly, it is one of our favorite drills to improve shoulder external rotation by working on the anterior shoulder joint capsule.

Again, if you have a lack of shoulder flexion and external rotation mobility, then this is the place for you to start. Target the shoulder joint capsule and overhead positioning often improves.

PRO TIP: Do not push into any pain or pinching with this stretch. You should feel a stretch in the anterior shoulder. You should not feel any pain or pinching in the back of your shoulder joint. As with the sleeper stretch, the isometric contractions are the game-changer to improve your shoulder mobility for the long-term.

PROGRAMMING: 2-3 repetitions, 3-4 days/week

3. Elevated Prayer Stretch on Bench

The elevated prayer stretch on a weight bench works shoulder flexion mobility while simultaneously improving thoracic extension mobility. Both are pivotal for shoulder mobility and shoulder joint health for the overhead athlete, weightlifter, and everyday person.

PRO TIP: Do not push into any pain or pinching in the back of the shoulder or even in the spine. Really use your thoracic spine paraspinals (the muscles along your upper back) to pull yourself into extension. Do not shove or jut your neck forwards, keep it in line with the rest of your spine.

PROGRAMMING: 12-15 repetitions, holding at the bottom for 2-3 seconds, 3-4 days/week

4. Scapular Joint Circles

Abnormal scapular rhythm, or a lack of scapular control altogether can greatly affect your shoulder mobility. In fact, too many people still adhere to the “keep your shoulder blades down & back” myth that is plaguing the fitness world. Your shoulder blades HAVE TO MOVE and upwardly rotate for you to achieve full shoulder flexion that is pain-free. Working on controlling your scapulae by rotating them around your ribcage in open and closed-chain positions will help you get some movement and motor control back into your scapulae.

PRO TIP: Make sure you are only moving your scapulae around on your ribcage. Do not substitute thoracic spine flexion for shoulder blade protraction. Also, keep your elbows locked out/straight during the entire exercise.

PROGRAMMING: 10-12 joint circles in each direction in both open & closed-chain positions, 5-6 days/week

5. Shoulder Joint Circles

Ever wonder why you have to stretch to regain ranges of motion in the first place? Likely because you “overuse” one part of your range of motion and “underutilize” the opposing ranges of motion. For example, we often take our hands in front of us and overhead (shoulder flexion), but when is the last time you took your heads to your sides and reached straight back and upwards as far as you could (shoulder extension)? If you have not used your shoulder extension range of motion in 6 months, 5 years, or 20+ years, why would you expect to still have that range of motion?

Shoulder joint circles are a great way to not only maintain your shoulder joint ranges of motion, but also work on expanding and strengthening the outer limits of those ranges.

PRO TIP: This is something that should be done daily to remind your brain and body that you have access to all of these ranges of motion. If you do not use them, you lose them. Make sure you are not just haphazardly going through the motions; create tension throughout your entire arm and fight through your ranges of motion.

PROGRAMMING: 10-12 joint circles in each direction, 5-6 days/week

6. BONUS: Supine Kettlebell Pullover

The supine kettlebell pullover is one of our favorite shoulder mobility exercises for a couple reasons: 1) the movement is an eccentric-dominant one that really elongates the tissues while simultaneously building strength & mobility and 2) it incorporates core strength/stability and really hammers the core-shoulder-connection in the overhead position.

PRO TIP: Perform the kettlebell pullover with a properly pressurized and braced core. Slowly pull the bell over your head as far back as you can, stopping before your back starts to arch off of the ground. Each eccentric pullover should be at least 3-5 seconds in duration.

PROGRAMMING: 5-10 repetitions, 3-4 days/week

And there you have it, 6 of our top favorite shoulder mobility exercises.

As always, if you continue to have trouble improving your shoulder mobility after diligently utilizing these exercises, then reach out to a qualified healthcare professional who understands movement, mobility, and strength training. Again, none of these exercises should cause any pain at anytime. If you need help finding a local physical therapist or chiropractor, or you want to schedule an online consultation with us, send us an email. We are happy to help!

Shoulder Extension End Range Strengthening

Shoulder Extension End Range Strengthening


Shoulder extension is an often neglected range of motion when it comes to shoulder health.

Probably because in today’s world we don’t do much that involves us needing to take our shoulders into extension. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Shoulder extension is largely important for overall shoulder health.

Many times, our patients have plenty of shoulder extension range of motion, but aren’t able to control it. We’ll check their passive range of motion and then at their end range, say “hold this right here.” And guess what? The majority of people lose a lot of that range.

This exercise is a great way to strengthen your shoulder extension end range of motion. If you have the passive range, you better have control and strength over it!

Shoulder Flexion End Range Strengthening

Shoulder Flexion End Range Strengthening


Do you want to bulletproof your shoulders?

If yes, then this is a great exercise to work on creating strength at your end range of motion in shoulder flexion!

It’s also a great way to work on shoulder flexion while minimizing compensations from occuring in your mid-lower back.

Assume a child’s pose/lumbar-locked position. This position puts your lower back into flexion, preventing you from being able to extend through the lower back to compensate. Reach your arms straight out overhead, keeping your elbows locked out. From here, trap air in your belly, create full-body tension, and attempt to lift your hands about 1 inch off of the ground. Hold this for 3-5 seconds and repeat for 5-10 reps.

Too easy? Were you able to lift more than 1 inch off of the ground? Then try elevating your hands off of the ground by placing an object such as a yoga block under them.

Shoulder Flexion Mobility

Shoulder Flexion Mobility


Building yet again off of our last two posts!

If you want to work on shoulder flexion mobility, you better first have assessed your shoulder joint capsule. AKA, do you have normal internal and external range of motion at the shoulder? If no, then that’s your starting point. Review our last few posts to get caught up!

But who’s to say you can’t simultaneously work on shoulder flexion? That’s the purpose of today’s post. This exercise is an amazing exercise to work on alongside restoring your shoulders’ rotational capabilities.

Really focus on feeling a stretch in your lats/armppit area. You shouldn’t feel any pinching on the back side of your shoulders at any time during this exercise. The only thing you should feel on the back side of your shoulders are your muscles contracting to try and pull your arms farther into shoulder flexion.

Shoulder External Rotation Mobility

Shoulder External Rotation Mobility


Let’s build off of yesterday’s post!

Are you looking to improve your shoulder mobility?

If yes, start by looking at your shoulder’s rotational capabilities. Do you have normal internal and external rotation ROM? If you’re limited in either of those ranges, then that’s your starting point.

Yup, even if you’re just trying to improve shoulder flexion.

You need to make your shoulder work the way a shoulder is supposed to work. And that all starts at the capsular level.

This exercise/stretch will help improve your external rotation ROM and strength.

Don’t push into any pinching in the shoulder, and don’t cause yourself any pain. Be smart.


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