Why You Need Shoulder Exercises

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These home shoulder exercises can be done with minimal equipment, even with household items like water bottles and soup cans, to strengthen the shoulder muscle.

The deltoid is one muscle that covers the entire shoulder joint, just like an epaulette, but is often referred to by its three aspects, or parts: the anterior (front), medial (middle), and posterior (rear) deltoid.

Why are shoulder exercises important?

Along with the muscles of the back and the chest, the shoulder is central to upper body strength. However, because of the highly mobile shoulder joint, it is also vulnerable to injury and is at risk with daily activities as well as with exercise. The rotator cuff, for example, may be injured over time by the cumulative stress of simple day-to-day activities. Some exercises have been shown to create shoulder issues.

Avoid the overhead press

The overhead press, in which you lift the weights from your shoulders overhead toward the ceiling, is often recommended in workout routines and exercise classes but has several drawbacks.

  • This exercise requires advanced technique, and performed improperly has been associated with shoulder impingement.

  • Overhead work may cause tension in the neck and strain the rotator cuff.

  • If you have osteoporosis, it is not advisable to lift weights overhead for risk of stressing the vulnerable vertebrae of the spine.

  • Keeping the weights below shoulder level is a safer alternative.

Safe and effective exercises

Shoulder Blade Squeeze

Brace your shoulders with the Shoulder Blade Squeeze. The shoulder joint is highly mobile and needs to be stabilized to reduce the risk of injury. The Shoulder Blade Squeeze trains you to anchor the shoulder blades for safe body mechanics.

  • Stand with your legs parallel, slightly wider than hip width apart.

  • Elongate the sides of the torso, separating the ribs from the hips.

  • With your arms by your sides, turn your palms forward.

  • Pull your shoulder blades together, and hold.

  • Reach your hands toward the floor, lowering the shoulder blades.

  • Then squeeze the shoulder blades together one more time in the lowered position.

  • Pause, then release and repeat 3-5 times.

    Shoulder Blade Squeeze: Home shoulder exercises – video 1


Standing Front Raise

This variation of a shoulder raise has been found to be the safest movement to strengthen the front of the shoulder without injury.

For enhancing bone density, it is always preferable to do exercises in a standing, or weight-bearing, position.

  • Stand with your legs parallel, slightly wider than hip width apart.

  • Hold a 3-5# free weight (or a water bottle or soup can) in each hand, palms facing in.

  • Brace your shoulder blades by drawing them down and together. (See the Shoulder Blade Squeeze above).

  • Exhale to raise the weights to shoulder height, leading with your thumbs.

  • Keep your arm in a wide “V”, 30 degrees forward of the midline of your body.

  • Pause briefly, then inhale to lower the weights slowly to the start position.

  • Do 10-15 reps for one to two sets.

Standing Front Raise: Home shoulder exercises – video 2


Side-lying Shoulder Trio

It can be tricky to work the shoulders without causing neck tension.  This trio of exercises targets the medial and posterior deltoid, and the rotator cuff, in an easy sequence.

All exercises are performed in a side-lying position to minimize stress to the neck and upper back. Lie on your side with hips stacked, shoulder to the ceiling, both knees bent at 45 degrees forward of the body. Rest your head on a small pillow or folded towel.

In each exercise, before you begin moving, brace your shoulder blade by drawing it in. Do 10-15 reps for each of the three exercises, then turn over and repeat the whole sequence with the other arm.

1) Lateral raise

  • Hold a free weight at your hip with your palm down, elbow straight.

  • Exhale as you lift the weight to shoulder height, with your arm straight by not stiff.

  • Pause briefly, then inhale as you lower your arm to the start position.

2) Reverse fly

  • Hold the free weight in front of your body at shoulder level, palm down, elbow straight.

  • Exhale as you lift the weight to the midline of your body above your shoulder, palm facing forward.

  • Pause, then inhale as you lower your arm to the start position.

3) External rotation

  • Bend your arm so there is a right angle at the elbow and “pin” it to your side.

  • Hold the weight with your palm down.

  • Exhale as you rotate the weight to the ceiling.

  • Pause, then inhale as you return to the start position.

Side-lying Shoulder Trio: Home shoulder exercises – video 3


For step-by-step photos of more than 200 exercises, please refer to Strength Training Exercises for Women by Joan Pagano (DK Publishing, 2014)

Disclaimer: The information presented in this article should not be construed as medical advice. It is not intended to replace consultation with your physician or healthcare provider.


  • Joan Pagano

    Joan Pagano has specialized in strength training for women since 1988 – training, teaching, and writing books on the subject, including Strength Training Exercises for Women (DK, 2014). When the health benefits of strength training started making headlines in the 1990s, and in particular how weight training could protect the bones and prevent osteoporosis, it was a natural segue for her. At that time, Joan was developing and delivering fitness training guidelines for osteoporosis to national audiences of exercise professionals. Currently Joan is recognized by the industry as a leading authority on exercise program design for osteoporosis. She is certified as an Exercise Physiologist by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and is on the Ambassadors Leadership Council for the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Visit Joan at: www.joanpaganofitness.com/

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