An Athlete-Approved Workout For Stronger, Healthier Shoulders

For a beach volleyball player, shoulder strength is crucial. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to pass, set, and spike as much as the game demands. But you don’t have to be an elite athlete to benefit from strong shoulders. Becoming a mom has made me realize that shoulder strength is also integral to everyday activities too, like picking up your kids, lugging groceries, and raking leaves.

And here’s the thing: Lifting heavy weights isn’t a prerequisite for strong shoulders. Below are four exercises that I do to keep all the tiny muscles in my shoulders healthy and strong. Two require just your bodyweight, the other two a resistance band, which means they can be done just about anywhere.

Are you ready to get started? Let’s get to it!

A Simple Workout for Strong, Healthy Shoulders

When I do this shoulder routine, I like to run through every exercise once and then go back through for a second set. As you get stronger, you can add in additional reps or extra sets.

IYTW’S
This four-part exercise helps improve shoulder strength and stability through small, targeted movements. Perform it lying face down, chest elevated, and neck relaxed on an incline bench or a physioball. Complete 10 reps of each movement before moving on to the next.

How To:
I :
1. Lying face down with arms extended straight overhead (so that your body forms an “I”) and thumbs pointing toward the ceiling, lift both arms to ear height.
2. Squeeze your shoulder blades together.
3. Inhale and raise your arms up a couple of inches. Try not to force the movement.
4. Hold for one second, then relax your shoulder blades, and lower your hands back down to the ground. That’s one rep.

Y :
1. Move your arms out to a 45-degree angle (so that your body forms a “Y”), keeping them at ear height. If you’re using a physioball, center your abs on the ball.
2. Squeezing your shoulder blades together, raise your arms up a couple of inches.
3. Hold for one second, then relax your shoulder blades, and lower your arms back to ear height. That’s one rep.

T:
1. Extend your arms perpendicular to your body (so that your body forms a “T”). If you’re using a physioball, you may need to scoot your body up on the ball so you’re more horizontal and your spine and neck are aligned.
2. Squeezing your shoulder blades together, raise your arms up a couple of inches.
3. Hold for one second, then relax your shoulder blades, and lower your arms back to ear height. That’s one rep.

W:
1. With your arms still perpendicular to your body, bend your elbows to 90 degrees (so that your arms form a “W”). If you’re using a physioball, you may need to move your body a few inches down the ball.
2. Squeezing your shoulder blades together, raise your arms up until they’re even with your back.
3. Hold for one second, then relax your shoulder blades, and lower your arms back to rib height. That’s one rep.

EXTERNAL & INTERNAL ROTATIONS
These rotations are a staple in my workouts and pre-game warmups. As you get stronger, you can continue to progress by adding greater resistance or doing the moves faster. Complete 15 reps of each movement, running through the entire set twice.

How To: External Rotation
1. Attach a resistance band to a pole, or something similarly sturdy, at waist height.
2. Standing sideways to the attachment point with your feet shoulder-width apart, grab the band with the hand furthest from the attachment. Your arm should be at a 90-degree angle and your elbow touching your side. This is your starting position.
3. Keeping your your elbow glued to your side, push your shoulders blades down and back and pull the band away from your body.
4. Slowly, bring the band back to the starting position. That’s one rep. Complete all reps on one side before switching arms.

How To: Internal Rotation
1. Keep the resistance band attached to a pole at waist height. Stand sideways to the attachment point with your feet shoulder-width apart, but this time grab the band with the hand closest to the attachment. This is your starting position.
2. With your elbow glued to your side, pull the band in towards your stomach.
3. Slowly bring the band back to the starting position. If this feels too difficult, move towards the anchor point to reduce tension on the band. That’s one rep. Complete all reps on one side before switching arms.

SCAPULA PUSH-UP
This exercise will strengthen the muscles around your scapula (aka shoulder blades) which can help pull your arms backwards, improving posture. When done correctly, a scapula push-up also targets your arms, legs, and core muscles. Complete 10-15 reps.

How To:
1. Get into a straight-arm plank (or start on your knees and work your way up to a full plank). Your body should be in a straight line with your gaze towards the ground.
2. Keeping your arms straight, squeeze your shoulder blades together, which will lower your torso slightly.
3. Driving your hands into the ground, actively work to push your shoulder blades apart and your body back up to plank position. That’s one rep.

STANDING BAND ROW
This exercise strengthens the muscles that draw the shoulder blades back. The resistance in the band can be adjusted by moving further away (more difficult) or closer (easier) to the attachment point. Complete 10 reps.

How To:
1. Attach a resistance band to a pole, or something similarly sturdy, at chest height.
2. Grab one end of the band with each hand, palms facing each other, and step back to create tension (resistance) on the band. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. This is your starting position. If you need more assistance, you can perform this move from a staggered stance.
3. Keeping your shoulders relaxed and low, pull the band towards your chest and hands towards your rib cage, driving your elbows straight back.
4. Pause briefly and squeeze your shoulder blades together before slowly return to start. That’s one rep.

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