7 Best Shoulder Strengthening Exercises
by Viktoria Wolffhardt, Slalom Canoeist
Shoulder strengthening exercises are key to healthy, strong shoulders. Shoulders are very complex joints that we use daily from washing our hair to opening doors. Shoulder strengthening exercises don’t take much time, are easy to do, and will keep your shoulders healthy throughout your life.
Recovering from injuries, warming up before working out, or just in between: you don’t need much time, equipment, or expensive machinery to strengthen your shoulders.
Why Shoulder Strengthening Exercises are Important
The shoulder provides 360-degrees range of motion. Muscles and ligaments stabilize it. The small contact area of the joint is what allows for such extreme mobility. The rotator cuff tendons stabilize the shoulder joint to keep the joint at the best position for the movement required. The extreme mobility of the shoulder joint also means it is very prone to injury.
The rotator cuff loses its elasticity and strength as it ages. A significant number of people will have labral (part of the rotator cuff) damage by the time they are merely 40.
Sports that require overhead motions are especially risky to the shoulder. Sports like swimming, basketball, and contact sports pose special risks shoulder joints. Poor posture also contributes to damaged shoulders. If you value doing everyday activities, you really need to do shoulder strengthening exercises!
Slalom canoeist Viktoria Wolffhardt explains five seven shoulder strengthening exercises you can do anywhere at any time.
7 Shoulder Strengthening Exercises
1. Shoulder stability exercise
You might know this exercise from the adidas Training app, it’s called an Up Down. Start in the low plank position and push off from the floor into the high plank. Make sure that you engage your core and keep your hips as stable as possible. Then return to the low plank position and repeat. Alternate between starting with your left and right arm.
Repeat this exercise ten to twelve times per side and do a total of three sets.
Need a good warm-up before your next race? Learn how to properly warm up for your race!
2. Strengthen your rotator cuff
Stretch a resistance band between your forearms. Move your left and right shoulder in circles in both directions along the wall. You can do this exercise at different heights to stimulate your muscles more.
Repeat the exercise ten to twelve times on each side and do a total of three sets.
3. Arm circles with weights
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a light weight (e.g. 1 l water bottle) in your left and right hand. Let your arms hang loosely at your sides and lift the bottles upward making small circles until they are in a horizontal position. Briefly hold this position and then slowly lower your arms again.
Repeat this exercise ten to twelve times per side, alternate between forward and backward circles. Do a total of three sets per side.
“Make sure you don’t arch your lower back. Pull your chin back a bit, so that your back stays straight through the exercises.”
4. Water bottle stabilizer
Fill ¾ of a 1.5 l water bottle with water. Pick up the bottle with your right hand and stretch your arm straight out in front of you. Make sure your hand is at the height of your shoulder and your arm is straight. Now try to hold the bottle steady.
Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds, then switch sides and repeat the exercise. Do three sets per side.
What the exercise does:
“This develops the small muscle groups in the shoulders to relieve strain on the tendons and joints. It is especially good to do when recovering from shoulder injuries.”
5. Internal and external rotation with resistance band
Attach a resistance band to a door handle (or another anchor point) and stand with your side next to it. Take the resistance band in your hand and pull it until it’s tight. Check that your arm is at a 90-degree angle and keep your elbow near to your body. If this is impossible, reduce the tension on the band by standing closer to the door handle. Holding the arm’s position, externally rotate your shoulder so that your hand moves in the direction of the door handle. Then internally rotate the shoulder by pulling the fitness band back towards your body against the band’s resistance.
Repeat this exercise ten to twelve times per side and do three sets.
“Your pelvis should be stable and facing forward – there should be no rotation of the upper body or hips.”
6. Side Neck Stretch
Don’t stretch to the point of pain. Go slow, breathe, and relax into the stretch.
7. Child’s Pose
Relax and breathe into the stretch. Drop your shoulders away from your ears. Press down into the ground to really stretch the joint. Be careful if your shoulders are already unstable as this can place the joint in a compromised orientation that could lead to shoulder dislocation.
Have fun working out!
About Viktoria Wolffhardt:
Viktoria Wolffhardt has been a slalom canoeist for 15 years. The runner-up world champion and two-time winner of the U-23 championship is always looking for new challenges. Her motto is: “Be fast, be good, have fun, and always be yourself!”