The Importance of Training the Shoulder

The shoulder is the most moveable and unstable joint in the body. The "ball" in the upper arm is actually larger than the socket that holds it, and with the range of motion being so great, it is susceptible to injury.

To remain stable, it must be kept in place by muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Therefore, it is very important to make sure these soft tissues are strengthened to keep the shoulder strong, flexible, more coordinated, and conditioned to handle stress.

There are many daily activities that use the shoulder muscles: lifting groceries, any type of manual labor, household chores, raking leaves, handling children, etc. It is therefore critical that they be able to handle stress well. This is especially true for athletes vulnerable to overuse injuries.

Important small muscles that surround the shoulder joint are called the rotator cuff muscles. They are the key muscles that keep the joint functioning properly. Weakness in any of the four muscles can cause instability, which can lead to numerous injuries.

Exercises that strengthen the shoulder and the rotator cuff muscles can be done at home, work or the gym. You can include these exercises in your regular workout routine or do them separately. The rotator cuff muscles are very small, so be careful not to use too much weight or do too many repetitions. Also, it is important to keep a balance between the front and rear rotator cuff muscles. Many people tend to overwork the front muscles by training only the major muscle groups. They work the back, chest, shoulders, and arms, all of which internally rotate the shoulder. As a result, the muscles used in external rotation are under worked.

Below are some examples for a well-rounded shoulder workout. Click highlighted exercises for explanations and demonstrations.

Internal shoulder rotation exercises

Shoulder press w/ Swiss ball and dumbbells
Dumbbell shoulder press

External shoulder rotation exercises

Reverse flyes w/ Swiss ball and dumbbells
Rear delt raises w/ resistance band
Dumbbell lateral deltoid raise 

External rotator cuff exercises
Make sure to use light weight. The external rotators are small muscles that can be injured easily if you are not careful. Recommended weight is from 2-10 pounds. Limit your repetitions to 6-8 to start, working up to 12.
  • Lying ‘L’ flies – Lie on your right side on a bench. Place your right hand either under your head or on the floor for support. Your left leg should be on top of your right leg, with your knees slightly bent. Your left arm should be bent to 90 degrees at the elbow, with your upper arm to your side, with your left forearm on your lower chest region. Hold a dumbbell with your palm facing in towards your body. The weight should be light to begin with; you can even start with a can of soup. Keeping the 90 degree angle, lift the weight as high as you comfortably can, but still make sure to keep your elbow close to your body. Lower and repeat. Do the same for the other arm.
  • Lying flies – The starting position is almost the same as for the "Lying ‘L’ flies." The only difference is, instead of bending your left arm to 90 degrees at the elbow, you begin with it only slightly bent at the elbow, lying across your mid chest region. Your left palm should be facing in towards the bench as you hold a dumbbell. Slowly lift the dumbbell until your arm is pointing almost straight up. Don’t allow your body to roll. Stay on your side. Lower and repeat. Do the same for the other arm.
  • Side lying abduction - Lie on your side, on the floor or on a bench. Hold a dumbbell with your arm against your side, palm facing into your leg. Slowly raise your arm straight up to 45 degrees, with a slight bend in your elbow. Lower and repeat. Do the same for the other arm.
Internal rotator cuff exercises do not need to be performed because the internal shoulder rotation exercises are training them already. The only exception is for people who have dislocated a shoulder. If you have any questions, please post a question for the experts on the SparkPeople Message Boards.
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Member Comments

Thank you Report
Very good information, thanks for posting. Report
I had have a pain on my right shoulder for a few days. I think that is due to my large breast and the bras. I love to do wall push-ups and exercises similar to the ones mentioned in the article. They help ease the pain. Report
Good info Report
Good article. Report
Thanks! I hope these will help. I will try. Report
with my problems with my sholder i think they can help me regain some of my motion in my shoulder . it was fulled with information . thank you very much . Report
Thanks for sharing Report
I would love to work my shoulders more, I know we do some of these things in the group fitness class that I go to, but I am not sure whether or not we are covering all bases. Report
when i froze my left shoulder then 2 yrs later had to have shoulder surgerty on right shoulder in theropy they would have my upper chert with my chin resting on a swiss ball then with dumbells doing flying L's just be carefull not to go to high or use too heavey of a dumbell. Report
Having had a frozen shoulder, I can praise these exercises - but, please check with your doctor if you are having any pain because doing these wrong can really do some damage. Report
I would love to try this but they say I need my right shoulder replace and I also have pain in my left one too. So is this good for me. Report
This corroborates what my OT friend has been saying all along. I used to swim a couple hours a week and I began to have some mild shoulder pain, and when I started to mix it up with some kickboxing, the pain went away. Whatever I was doing with the KB, it was supporting my RTs enough. Report
I have been struggling with left shoulder pain for almost 2 years now - I found the explanation to excersice above very tough to visualize and would sincerely appreciate a video demonstration. thanks so much Report


About The Author

Joe Downie
Joe Downie
Joe, an exercise enthusiast, is a certified physical fitness instructor and high school soccer coach.