Staying out of pain, looking good, and having a big bench press are about 90% of everyone's goals in life when entering the gym. Given these goals, the shoulders will take a beating from the 15 sets of bench press everyone does on Monday. Since I work with a lot of baseball players, I typically see non-painful, dysfunctional shoulders every day. It's my job to optimize, improve, and restore shoulder function. This can be done through proper exercise selection, smart program design, and most importantly proper exercise technique.

Listed below are 5 exercises to add to your training program to keep healthy and high-functioning shoulders. Click the links for demonstrations of each exercise.

This is a great exercise that trains the dynamic stabilizers of the shoulder. The best part about it  is all of the different variations there are to keep it interesting and fun during your training session. Dynamic stabilization is how your rotator cuff muscles function and that's how it should be trained.

Key points and coaching cues:

  • Should feel in back of shoulder, around the scapula
  • Do not yank the shoulder blade down and feel the lat
  • Do not over extend and arch your lower back
  • Perform the walk for 20 yds/arm for 2-4 sets

This is a terrific bang for your buck exercise that is training scapular mobility, eccentric control, core control, lower trap, and mid back end range strength.

Key points and coaching cues:

  • Should feel in mid back and lower trap
  • Do not lose contact with any part of your back during the duration of the exercise
  • Reach your arms in front of you, and then reach your arms to the ceiling as you lift your arms up
  • Press your thumbs into the wall at the top for 2-3 sec for 8-10 reps
  • Keep your elbows straight throughout the exercise
  • Control your arms back down to the start

This exercise is another great bang for you buck exercise that has a lot of benefits for shoulder health. It is especially effective for those who have rounded shoulders or sit for eight hours a day. During this exercise you will receive all the benefits of a push-up, plus more scapula upward rotation and t-spine extension (aka good things for the shoulder).

Key points and coaching cues:

  • Should feel in pecs, triceps, and mid back
  • Control down like a normal push-up
  • At the top of the push-up, push your hips to ceiling
  • As you push to ceiling, push yourself away from ground feeling your shoulder blades move
  • Perform anywhere between 6-12 reps 

Not a very sexy exercise, but one that is probably one of the most important for shoulder health. This exercise teaches proper shoulder position, proper humeral head control, and it teaches to tilt the shoulder blade back on to the ribcage.

Key points and coaching cues:

  • Should feel in lower trap- not in lat, deltoid, or front of shoulder
  • For beginners, try setting the shoulder (not over pinching) on the ribcage first
  • Make sure lower back is not arched, and head is not forward
  • Keep elbow straight and lift arm, thinking about tilting shoulder blade back
  • Perform about 6-10 an arm
  • Progress to lifting arm up and tilting back at same time, instead of setting shoulder blade first

This exercise is another dynamic stabilization exercise, but this can be done at different arm and scapula angles. Manual perturbations are a great way to train dynamic stabilization. There are numerous progressions/regressions to this exercise, which is always an added benefit!

Key points and coaching cues:

  • Should feel in back of shoulder
  • Maintain braced core and neutral spine throughout
  • Be sure not to lock shoulder blade down in these two positions
  • Partner will add subtle perturbation to the arm
  • Try to maintain joint position during the duration of the perturbation
  • Perform each position for 12-15 sec

These exercises can be added to your training program during the beginning, middle, or end of your training session. These are by no means the answer to your shoulder discomfort, but at the very least should help keep away any nagging shoulder ailments.

Rob Rabena, MS, CSCS, is the director of Sports Performance at Maplezone Sports Institute in Garnett Valley, Pennsylvania, where he trains elite level high school, college and professional baseball and lacrosse athletes in the NLL and MLL.

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