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No Pain, All Gain–with These 6 Shoulder Exercises

So we started from the bottom (our feet), now we’re here. (Sorry, I’m having fun with these cheesy openers.) But in all reality, I get more members and clients talking about and dealing with shoulder pain than any other problem area in the body. Why? 

There’s a lot going on in here – one of two ball and socket joints in the body (your hip being the other), your shoulder is designed to move in a lot of different directions. And the Mayo Clinic lists 21 different causes of shoulder pain.

Rule #1: if you have acute or chronic shoulder pain, you might need to see a doctor, physiotherapist, surgeon, etc.

If you can do the following stretches and exercises without increasing your pain and causing damage to tendon/ligament/muscle then have at it!

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I tend to see issues from poor posture, too much desk work, lack of use in full range of motion (ROM), and imbalances between the different muscles that pull on/stabilize the joint. If any of these may be the culprit for your ailment, the exercises and stretches below will work wonders for you as they have for me and many of my clients!

Self-Myofascial Release (foam rolling)

This is a great place to start because you’re helping break down adhesions, increase range-of-motion (ROM) and getting a feel for where the problems are!

General guidelines for SMR: work slow and on small areas at a time (only rolling muscles, not bones). Use a wall and place the trigger point ball on the areas shown below. You’re searching out tender spots in your muscles. When you find one hold there for 30 seconds. And listen to your body!


No Pain, All Gain–with These 6 Shoulder Exercises No Pain, All Gain–with These 6 Shoulder Exercises

 Note: Your discomfort level should be maximum 5 out of 10. Adjust this by the amount of pressure with how hard you lean into the ball/wall.)

Shoulder Exercises

Prone T flies

Prone T Flies

Lie on your stomach and place your forehead on the floor to keep your neck in alignment. Draw your belly button towards your spine and slide your shoulder blades away from your ears. Tip: think about drawing right shoulder blade into your left back pocket and left shoulder blade to right back pocket, like an X on your back. Keep your arms in a T-position as you squeeze between your shoulder blades to raise. If you feel tension or effort in your neck don’t go up as high. You want to activate the muscles in your upper back not your neck. 

Work up to 3 sets of 20 reps.

Progress to Swimmers


Similar set up but the challenge for this one is to keep your shoulders away from your ears and your elbows straight as you complete the circle. The more ROM you have in your chest and shoulders the higher you’ll be able to keep the arms off the floor. Ensure you're not using your low back to lift your chest. 

If you feel really good, you can progress this one by holding light plates or dumbbells in your hands. Do the rep slowly. On the way back to putting your hands behind your back, squeeze your shoulder blades, trying to bring your elbows together before you drop your shoulders and elbows to the floor at the end of the rep.

Work up to 10 reps.

Barbell Angels

Barbell Angels

Lie on your back and find neutral spine, like our dead bugs. Start with the barbell at the top of your head and with your elbows at a 90 degree angle. You want to keep your elbows sliding along the ground as you roll the barbell away from your head. Only go as far as you can keep out of your neck. Your ROM will increase over time. Do the reps slowly so you can keep you elbows on the ground.

Work up to 10 reps or total exercises time of 60 seconds.

Progress to Wall Angels

Wall angels

These are WAY harder because you have to work to maintain your posture! You still want the back of your hands and elbows to skim the wall but you’ll notice that your back wants to arch. Stay focused on maintaining a neutral core by bringing your ribs to your hips. You also want that pelvic tilt, which drops your tailbone down towards the floor. Keeping your knees soft will help achieve this.

Work up to 10 reps or total 60 seconds.

Supine Banded Pull Aparts

Supine banded pull aparts

Lie on your back and brace your core for a neutral spine, with your shoulders down from your ears and a long neck (think bringing your chin towards throat). Adjust how much tension is on the band based on completing the reps with straight arms. Watch and feel what’s happening in your wrists - you want to keep your wrist neutral.


Progress to Wall Plank Trap 3 Lift

Wall plank

What a boring name, I know. This one is awesome for any throwing sport, and especially for desk jockeys.

Set your feet so you can have your elbows directly in line with your shoulders. Prepare your posture from the ground up: feet hip width, soft knees, pelvic tilt so tailbone drops towards the ground, brace your core (ribs to hips) and then have a proud chest, to give your shoulder blades a flat platform. The same muscles you’d use in a plank should be working in this exercise too. As you perform the movement you want to keep your shoulders depressed and retracted. The muscles that will pull your straight arms away from the wall are your lower traps.


Be patient, don’t use your shoulders to muscle this one. Done right, you’ll get an awesome mid-back burn and properly balanced traps. Success here will help with ROM and strength in overhead lifts! 

Alright folks, this concludes the 3 blogs I wanted to offer on pain management and the homework exercises I recommend. Most of my clients have commented that it’s nice to see me perform the exercises I have them doing, so let me wrap it up by saying this:

Give your body what it needs (pain is a cry for help!) so that you can enjoy doing more of the stuff you want/love to do! Fitness is a life-long journey so you need to have lots of tools for working out and taking care of your body when you’re at different levels. Every pro athlete suffers injury and has to recover. Every sedentary and out-of-shape person has to start somewhere to get to where they want to be. It’s unrealistic to be pain-free and in wicked shape all the time, so enjoy the ride.

And as always, if you need help, motivation, fresh ideas, or a new goal, ask a Steve Nash trainer! Every member gets a complimentary goal goal assesment with one of our trainers, so don't hesitate to ask! 

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