Strong shoulders are key for everyday life and are often not thought about. That’s why it’s important to do shoulder exercises at home or in the gym to ensure you’re continually building your shoulder strength.
They are incredibly mobile joints and have a huge range of motion. However, this can make them vulnerable to injury.
Often, we see people working on all the large muscle groups in their shoulders. Whilst this is great as it will help to give you power, ignoring the stability muscles will lead to problems in the long run.
Building shoulder strength at home is easier than you think as you can use your bodyweight. Bands can be a great help and are really easy to store in a draw so won’t get in your way and can accelerate your progress!
You cannot cover all these muscles specifically, but there are lots of shoulder exercises that you can do at home to help.
The home shoulder exercises we have put below try to cover a bit of everything including your overhead push.
They are suitable for anyone who is injury free and we have flagged up modifications if we can for all exercises.
Remember, it is great to start somewhere. So even if you just do the first couple and take your time with the rest, you will get stronger shoulders!
What is really important to understand when you are doing shoulder exercises at home is that when you work your back you also work your shoulders.
We have muscles which originate from the trunk and attach to the shoulder and ones which originate from the shoulder girdle (scapula or clavicle) and attach to the humerus (arm bone).
The extrinsic muscles include
- Latissimus dorsi
- Levator scapulae
The intrinsic muscles include
- Teres Major
- Rotator cuff
Muscles like trapezius often get a bad reputation for being ‘tight’ and so causing problems with posture and headaches. Because we have spent a lot of our time dragging our shoulders down and back, often the upper fibres and levator scapulae are actually weak which is why they are stiff all the time!
If you actually strengthen them and allow your scapula to sit in its normal position, then often these will automatically get looser.
Most of us also know what the rotator cuff is. This group of muscles surrounds the humeral head and is really important in helping to stabilise the arm within its socket.
Shoulder exercises you can do at home
1. Quadruped with banded L
Quadruped in itself is a fantastic shoulder exercise which you can do at home. It works all the muscles around your shoulder as you are in weightbearing and also challenges your stability!
All you need for this shoulder exercise is a light loop resistance band which goes around your wrists and something soft to kneel on.
Start by coming onto all fours. You can do a few cat cows to warm your spine up and make sure you know where your middle ground is.
With your index finger pointing straight up your mat and hands underneath your shoulders, keep your weight backwards into your legs a little bit.
Have your hands wide enough apart that there is a little bit of tension on the band before you start.
Press into the ground to lift out of your shoulder and let one hand hover off the floor.
Reach the hand forwards, back underneath you then out to the side. Keep repeating this movement, making sure you are always pressing into the ground with your static arm to stay lifted out of your shoulder. You can change the order of this to keep you challenged.
Repeat forwards and outwards 8-12x before switching to the other side.
Try to maintain your neutral spine throughout the movement and keep the scruff of your neck lifted towards the ceiling.
This exercise is great for anyone who wants to build upper body strength, improve their posture, or start to improve their ability to weight-bear. This is particularly important if you have osteoporosis or osteopenia!
You can modify so that you are doing it in a light fist which will take some of the pressure off your wrist. Remember, unless you have an acute wrist problem, try to do this in short sharp bursts to help strengthen your wrists.
This at home shoulder exercise isn’t suitable for anyone with acute shoulder problems or post shoulder surgery unless you have checked with your treating physio.
2. Quadruped with banded circles
Our second version of quadruped will ensure that you are really working the stability muscles around your shoulders.
Again, on all fours with the light resistance band around your wrists, find your neutral spine.
Stand into one hand and push the ground away so that you allow your opposite hand to hover off the floor.
Start to make small side plate size circles in one direction, keeping the static arm straight and pressing into the floor.
Repeat 8-12x in one direction, before changing to the opposite side.
Again, this exercise can be modified so that you are on a soft fist to take some of the pressure off your wrists. Please either check in with us, or your treating physio if you have shoulder pain before doing these.
Along with the previous at home shoulder exercise, these are both great to do as a warm-up to any heavy lifting or sporting activity. By maintaining your head and upper back up against gravity, your posture will also get better. Brilliant if you sit at your desk a lot! If you are a new mum, this will also help you with upper back and shoulder strength which will help you to lift your baby, or toddler, with more ease!
3. Kneeling shoulder shrug
How many times have you complained about a tight neck or tight upper traps?! Have you ever thought that they may be weak?
This at home shoulder exercise is going to work one of the biggest muscles in your back and around your shoulders, the traps!
If you spend your life dragging your shoulders down and back, this one is definitely for you!
Start by kneeling and pressing your feet into the floor to send your pubic bone forwards and create some stability around your pelvis.
Hold onto a light weight, face your palm forwards and take your arms out to around 45 degrees.
Shrug your shoulders up, pause, then slowly lower your shoulders back down again.
Repeat this 8-12x
Try to send the tips of your shoulders to the top corners of your room rather than your ears as you shrug.
This is an amazing exercise if you want improved posture, better upper body strength and if you want your shoulders to feel looser!
It is easy to modify as you can do in sitting and you can also do without weight and add in very light weight to progress. You can also do this in high kneeling, sitting or standing.
If you struggle with migraines or tension related headaches, just check in with us first.
4. Knee hovers to side plank
Knee hovers to side plank is a great shoulder exercise to do at home as it will work all the muscles around your shoulders.
It is also a brilliant way for you to get into bigger movements like a side plank!
Start on all fours, with your toes tucked underneath. As you exhale, press into your arms and hover your knees off the floor. Take your left hand into the middle, trying to keep your knees low to the ground. Then press into your left arm and start to rotate the body, and legs, to the left. You will end up with your legs apart, facing the left side of the room and your right arm up towards the ceiling.
Rotate back to all fours, bring your right arm into the centre and rotate to the right.
Keep repeating 8-12x on each side.
Try to do it slowly so you are working well against gravity. The question is, can you turn the body around the arm whilst weight bearing on one arm.
This is an amazing exercise for overall upper body and shoulder strength. That means it will help improve your posture, ability to lift objects, and it is weight-bearing without flexion so great if you have osteoporosis!
If you have an acute wrist or shoulder problem this exercise is not for you and you will need to work towards it. However, you can modify it by simply doing a thread the needle.
Jackrabbit is a great way of working on your push and pull as well as weight bearing! This is a great exercise to do at home for your shoulders and works every bit of them!
From all fours, walk your hands out and tuck your toes underneath.
Pull the heels of your hands towards your toes so that you pull into a plank position. Then push back through the heels of your hands into a hover. Pause, then repeat this movement.
Try to keep the spine in its neutral position.
Repeat this 8-12x
This is a great exercise to really work on your shoulder muscles at home and also get you ready for plank positions.
It is suitable for everyone as you can change the plank to a quadruped position which will reduce the weight going through your upper body.
If you are looking for a challenge, then twist is it!
This is a fully integrated Pilates movement which requires lots of shoulder stability and strength!
Start sitting on your side. Your underneath leg should be a little bent and the top leg over it with your foot around mid shin. Hands are forwards onto the mat with the underside hand further away than you think.
Press into both feet and hands to send your pelvis up into a slightly twisted downward dog. Pause at the top trying to send the weight back into your feet as you open your sit bones.
Press into your underside hand and pull it towards you to twist to come to side plank. Your feet will both be on the floor with your top hand reaching towards the ceiling.
Push into the arm, send your hips up and back and come back to a one arm downward dog position, trying to thread the needle with the other hand.
Try to stay out of the bottom shoulder.
Repeat 8-12x before changing sides!
The trick of this exercise is to push away with the supporting arm to send your hips up.
This is a really challenging movement so if you have any acute injuries we recommend trying some of the earlier pieces and working on your walk outs. This is mainly suitable for people who have no medical conditions and are looking for a challenge, or who are at the very end stage of their rehabilitation.
How can Complete Pilates help you with at home shoulder exercises?
At Complete Pilates our entire team has extensive training in Clinical Pilates. Each of our clinicians have specialties and this includes shoulder injuries!
If you have an injury, pain, or simply want to improve your posture, one of our physiotherapists or clinical Pilates instructors can assess your injury and determine exactly what is going on and how we can help.
You then get a programme which is tailor made for you.
We understand that not everyone can afford 1:1s so we also offer some online Pilates classes. Our classes include:
- Back to basics: this is great for anyone who has an injury, is in pain, wants to move slower or simply wants to check back in with the fundamentals of movement. It is also suitable if you are pregnant or post-natal.
- Intermediate and advanced classes can be a real challenge. This is the class for you if you are looking for overall strength and mobility whilst finding a challenge.
If you have any questions about any of the exercises and whether they, or others, may be suitable for you please get in touch.
Otherwise if you would like to see us face-to-face for a Pilates class or a 1:1 online appointment to see how we can help, simply book in for your new client offer of two 55 minute sessions for £100.