4 Ways To Develop Strong & Healthy Shoulders

4 Ways To Develop Strong & Healthy Shoulders

With baseball and softball seasons just around the corner, the subject of shoulder health takes on a little more sense of urgency in the athletic world.

It's not just pitchers that can have serious dysfunction, though.  A lot of people who strength train run into shoulder pain at some point in their lives.   If you are one of them, you know how much it can impair your ability to function in simple, everyday tasks.

With the shoulder joint being designed for movement, it is naturally more unstable than other joints in your body.  Athletic movements that strain or impact the shoulder area, and poorly designed workout programs can create havoc in there.  

Of course there are best practices you can follow to limit your risk of problems, whether for athletic performance or for everyday functioning.

If this is of importance to you, I strongly recommend you follow the 4 steps given here, in order, to develop pain-free and powerful shoulders.

1 -  Make Sure Your Range Of Motion Is Sound.


Your shoulders should move freely in all directions, but muscle tightness and scar tissue can restrict movement in certain directions.

If you have restricted movement, you will compensate by creating motion elsewhere to perform a certain task.  In everyday activities like reaching up or rotating around to grab something it might take awhile to realize the issue.   For athletes, particularly throwing athletes, the issue is noticeable far earlier because it impairs performance.

A simple way to check to see if your shoulders are tight would be to perform the movement shown above, with your palms facing up.   If you can get your knees to the ground without your backside shoulder coming off the ground, you're likely good.

If not, the first step for you is mobility exercises.   You'll return to full range of motion, allowing you to train harder and perform better in time

2.  Improve The Stability Of The Surrounding Muscles.

The smaller, rotator cuff muscles that hold your scapula in place, along with the larger trapezius and lat muscles above play a big role in stabilizing the shoulder joint.  

Band and bodyweight strengthening of the smaller muscles creates a stabilizing force when reaching overhead, and in fast arm actions (they help to decelerate the arm).  

Many baseball players want to skip the first step and move right to this to improve their throwing velocity, but that is misguided.   All the stability in the world won't matter if your range of motion is restricted and you place undue stress on muscles that aren't designed to handle bigger loads.  

Mobilize first, then stabilize.   Always.

3.  Avoid Training Induced Shoulder Problems

Too many athletes follow poor programming that overdevelops pressing muscles on the front (the 'mirror' muscles) and underdeveloped the pulling muscles on the back.

Over time, this creates tightness in the chest and anterior shoulder area, which literally pulls your upper arm bone a bit forward in the joint.   The obvious result is restricted shoulder movement.

The good news here is that, assuming it hasn't already led to a rotator cuff tear, by revising your workout program to put a much greater emphasis on pulling strength you can slowly reverse this problem over time.

Of course, the smartest strategy is to just learn how to train properly from Day 1!

4.  Strengthen shoulder muscles

After all of this is in place, actual strengthening of the shoulder muscles is most beneficial.  Overhead pressing and pulling, multi-directional dumbbell raises and other basic strength movements done with excellent technique can be executed without issue.

For overhead throwers, I'd recommend limiting your overhead movements during the times of year when you put extra strain on your shoulders in your sport.   This also applies to basketball players to a lesser extent, as well.

The irony is that in our younger years we are almost certainly mobile, and have no training-based imbalances to fix.   So workouts that emphasize stability and shoulder strength are really the only areas of need for the youngest athletes in our program.

Of course, with year-round sports programs and poorly executed team training workouts that create problems at earlier and earlier ages, things unfortunately are not that simple for every kid today.

And for adults who love to work out, there may come a time when you have to put your favorite shoulder exercises on the shelf for a bit and hammer away at the first three categories.


No matter whether you are a fitness enthusiast looking to train your best, or an athlete who needs shoulder health and strength to perform their best, these progressions will always be your guide to pain-free performance.

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