The shoulder joint has an incredible amount of degrees of freedom. We need them in life to scratch our back and reach the top cabinet.
Strength training for the shoulders should have a lot of different positions and angles challenged.
It is also important to pick exercises that you have the ability to be successful with… ideally based off an assessment. The best example is someone who struggles to get overhead for a full shoulder press. Instead they can do a landmine press allowing them to get stronger without pushing the range past what they have.
These are the 5 most common exercises we program for our one on one clients that hit all the angles and develop well rounded shoulder strength.
Kettlebell Arm Bar
We use this shoulder exercise predominantly to warm up the shoulder capsule. But as you can see in the video, it’s also a great way to build strength and stability in the shoulder.
The arm bar can help you unlock some of the shoulder internal and external shoulder rotation.
Both of these, when limited, can contribute to a cranky shoulder. We recommend testing your rotation before and after the movement to see any improvements.
Most people find this exercise a challenge when first trying it. Start slow and with very light weight like a 5 lb dumbbell.
Use two hands to get into the arm bar. Then drive the arm holding the kettlebell towards the ceiling, keep it there.
Take an inhale gently through the nose, expanding the entire ribcage. Complete each breath with a long solid exhale out the mouth feeling the ribs move down and in. Repeat for 10 breaths.
After the breaths, do the capsule CARS (controlled shoulder rotations) to work on strength and stability in the joint. Repeat for 10 reps.
Inhale during the external rotation and exhale during the internal rotation. But don’t get too hung up on the breaths here if it takes your attention away from the rotations.
This is a great shoulder exercise for improving scapula and shoulder control. Both of which can help you unlock shoulder mobility.
It’s also one of those exercises that looks very easy. And people often butcher the movement by going too fast. Which then makes the whole exercise more or less useless.
Double-check your positioning is correct: trap a bit of air in the lower abs so your belly button is pushing against the ground.
Keep the sternum on the ground and avoid arcing through the back. This is important, and most people ignore it.
Lock this position for the whole set. The only parts moving should be your shoulders and shoulder blades.
When just starting out, begin with hands directly above the low back and then extend your elbow to bring the hands to hip level. Return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Do one more.
Focus on slow, controlled movement, keeping the hands and shoulders as far away from the ground as possible. These movements should feel hard, regardless of your strength levels. If you can complete more than two reps in the beginning, you’re not tensing hard enough.
As your scapular and shoulder control get better, progress through all the variations in the video. Once you get stronger, you can shift your hands closer to the mid and upper back in the starting position.
Landmine Press Variations
Out of all the shoulder exercises, the landmine press might be the most shoulder friendly.
As it doesn’t demand a full shoulder flexion, it allows most people with shoulder issues to push heavier weights without aggravating whatever’s going on in the shoulder. Especially when dealing with limited shoulder mobility.
With this landmine step to press variation, you combine the upper and lower body with trunk rotation to generate power.
Alternatively, you can press in a lunging or tall, half-kneeling position with heavier loads and slower reps.
Drive with the leg on the same side as the pressing arm. Follow the press through by punching towards the ceiling and letting your torso rotate slightly towards the stepping leg.
The end position should be a relatively straight line from the top of your head to the knee of the stepping leg. Return to the start position and repeat for 8-10 reps.
As you’re getting better with the movement, focus on driving harder through the back leg. To the point that the foot’s almost briefly leaving the ground.
Lateral Shoulder Raise
An effective medial deltoid builder, but also a great shoulder exercise to improve the rotator cuff stability. Provided that you’re doing the movement with the correct technique.
You can also perform lateral shoulder raises in standing and/or with cables.
Tighten up your core to stabilize the rest of the body. Lift the arms about 30-40 degrees in front of you, instead of directly out to the sides.
Allow the shoulder blades to move freely and focus on getting your hands away from each other as you’re raising the weights. Stop each rep at, or just above, the shoulder height.
Complete 10-15 reps in a controlled manner. To practice the movement, it might help to begin with a few isometric holds in the top position.
Alternating Kettlebell Press
As each rep starts from a dead stop, you can’t go as heavy as you might go with a single-arm press. This alternating between the arms allows the ribs to alternate as well. Getting this side-to-side motion can be a game-changer for someone who is stiff there.
This is a great example of two birds with one stone. If you compare what is going on at the ribcage here compared to a standard barbell military press you realize quickly they are very different.
Start by cleaning the kettlebells into the rack position. You can also curl them up if you’re not comfortable with the clean. Tense up the body and hold one kettlebell in a tight rack position. Press the other arm as far up as your pain-free shoulder mobility allows.
As you press, complete a slow, hissing exhale through your mouth, without losing the tension. Drive the kettlebell towards the ceiling, keeping your forearm vertical. It might help to imagine a rocket under your pressing elbow.
Control the kettlebell on the way down, bring it to the rack hold and repeat the press on the other side. Notice how you have to shift the tension in the body as you’re changing sides. Repeat for 6-8 reps per side.
Don’t settle for mediocre results just because you have limited shoulder mobility or an ongoing shoulder injury.
You can stay strong and even improve your mobility when you know how to make the most out of the healthy range of motion you’ve got.
And while doing so, you’re likely to speed up any rehab you might be doing. Just remember to stay in the pain-free range.
Need a structured program to further improve your shoulder mobility?
Our 12-Week Shoulder Mobility Program is part of Elite Video Membership.
It’s a progressive, structured mobility program for anyone struggling with overhead pressing movements or feeling weak after a shoulder rehab.
You can also sign up for our newsletter for future shoulder routines.