Chiro Approved Shoulder Exercises For a Healthy and Pain Free Shoulder

Do you have shoulder pain? Training making it worse? Learn how to improve it with these shoulder workouts!

Strength training for healthy shoulders, overhead press

The shoulder is known to be the most unstable joint of the entire body! The ball and socket joint of the shoulder is only held together by a few (but powerful) muscles and ligaments. Because of this, and our anterior (forward) dominated postures, it’s quick to accumulate damage and stress.

Unless there was direct trauma to the shoulder, most rotator cuff tears, stiff shoulders, and shoulder impingements come from dysfunctional motor (muscle) and neural (nerve) patterns. In our experience, these problems can be treated effectively with your Chiropractor and home strengthening exercises, and surgery is rarely needed.

Whether you are actively weight training, or simply looking for better shoulder health, these are the shoulder workouts that you need to be doing to maintain and keep a healthy, pain free shoulder.

Strength vs Stability vs Mobility

Most people look for shoulder workouts with the goal of getting stronger. Strength is an important part of joint health, but can also be a limiting factor in proper joint function when it becomes imbalanced. More than that, if you train without proper joint and muscle mobility (think flexibility), there will be a higher chance of injury.

We’ll be focusing on the under trained shoulder muscles, the common shoulder imbalances, and creating proper mobility for a pain free and healthy life.

Shoulder Exercises For Pain

failed bench press pain with shoulder pushing
Weakened right arm bench press, suspected subscapularis muscle dysfunction.

As a precaution, if you are having pain with any shoulder movements, get yourself properly checked before ‘pushing through the pain’. Often the shoulder dysfunction is easily treated with a detailed exam, Chiropractic Adjustments, Muscle Release Technique, and home exercises. These exercises below are for general stability and maintaining proper shoulder strength and balance.

If you do have a severe restriction in your shoulder, and prefer the DIY approach, you should focus on regaining proper movement patterns and mobility first before heavy weight training (check out our stretches to help loosen up your shoulder coming soon). Let’s get to it.

1. Banded W's

Trapezius anatomy and lower trap weakness
Upper, middle, and lower trapezius muscle. Arrow pointing to lower trapezius

This shoulder exercise is great as a warm-up, and for stability training of the rotator cuff. When assessing athletes and desk bound office workers, we often find the lower trapezius muscle imbalanced compared to the upper trapezius. The bigger the imbalance, the weaker your shoulder becomes.

Research shows that this exercise is one the most effective at isolating and focusing on the often neglected lower trap.

To perform this shoulder workout, start by standing shoulders width apart holding a medium resistance band in both arms with your elbow bent 90° at your side creating an “L shape”. Slowly draw your hands apart while making sure your elbow stays still and near your side. Hold at the end of the movement for 3-10 seconds. 2-3 sets of at least 10 repetitions is recommended.

Banded W's with resistance band
Banded W's with resistance band

Common Mistakes: Those with shoulder dysfunction may start to shrug their shoulders upwards as they perform this action. Try to relax the top shoulder, and focus on keeping your core and shoulder blades moderately tight to create more scapular stability.

2. Prone Side Raises

Prone lateral arm raises
Prone lateral arm raises

Ever wish you could workout without leaving your bed? Then this is the exercise for you!

This technique is great at creating scapular stability and working the middle and lower trapezius.

Start by laying stomach down on an elevated surface (strong table, ledge, or bed) with room for one of your arms to hang down towards the floor. Before moving your arm, focus on pinching your shoulder blades together (scapular retraction) and relaxing your upper shoulder. While maintaining this scapular pinch, slowly raise your straightened arm up to be parallel to the floor. Hold this position for 3-5 seconds, then slowly return your arm down to the starting position.

Looks easy, but believe us it’s not! To create more difficulty, you can hold a filled water bottle in your hand for extra weight (not more than 1L you Arnold Schwarzenegger)

Common Mistakes: This movement is advised to be done very slowly. The slower, the more difficult, especially at the top range of motion. Be conscious of not twisting and turning your lower body or back to get the last few degrees of movement. Only do what feels comfortable, and if you feel any sharp pinch, make sure to get it checked out by a trained professional.

3. Bed Angels and Wall Angels

Who knew you could do so much by just laying in bed? What we call “bed angels” is a great shoulder workout focused on mobility of your scapula (shoulder blade).

Serratus anterior muscle side view
Serratus anterior muscle

Your serratus anterior muscles connect your ribs to your scapula, and helps to hold it in place (which is important for overhead lifting and proper gliding). While often under-trained and weak, this exercise can help to strengthen and lengthen when done in a controlled and correct manner.

floor angles bed angles scapula movement
Level 2 difficulty 'Floor Angels'.

Start by laying on your back, knees bent, arms away from the body, and elbows bent 90° into an ‘L shape’ with the fingers pointing over your head. With your forearm and wrist relaxed and touching the ground, pinch your shoulder blades together and gently start to elevate your arms over your head while sliding your arms against the floor.

Think of this as doing an overhead press, but laying down. This focus on perfect form (shoulders and back pinned) helps train fluid movement mechanics and helps work on serratus anterior control. Make sure to not shrug your shoulders, but keep them relaxed and depressed (towards your feet).

Doing this mobility work in a bed is Level 1 difficulty, as it allows you to ‘’cheat’ a bit with having your back and shoulders slightly rounded. Level 2 difficulty is performing this on an actual floor. This will challenge your ability to focus on scapula retraction, serratus activation, and smooth fine motor control.

Remember to perform this movement slow and controlled, taking 5-7 seconds to complete the movement up, and 5-7 seconds moving down. Perform 2-3 sets for 5-10 repetitions. If you notice a part getting ‘stuck’ or ‘cheating’, restart your movement and focus on quality, not quantity

Common Mistakes: If you are finding it difficult to have your entire forearm and back of the hand touch the floor, you likely need to loosen your front pectoralis muscles, latissimus muscles, or need Thoracic (mid-back) spinal mobility. Check this out for DIY stretching and mobility work for your shoulder here!

Finding this too easy? Let’s move on to Level 3 Difficulty.

seated angel movement for scapular shoulder mobility
Level 3 difficulty 'Seated Angels'.

Try this same overhead press in a seated position, with your back against a wall. Make sure to keep your pelvis, shoulder blades, head, and forearms pressed against the wall. Now slowly drag your forearm up the wall and over your head, making sure to follow the same steps as before. Don’t shrug that shoulder!

Common Mistakes: You’ll probably be having a lot more difficult on this one. Make sure not to round out your lower back (or flatten it for that matter). Your chest and shoulders will want to elevate, but make sure to breathe and keep them relaxed and controlled. If this seems impossible, think about how your shoulder is moving when adding weight to any overhead press! Injuries happen not from training, but training improperly without the prereqs!

4. Banded Face Pull