How to Strengthen your Shoulders

Do you suffer from reduced range of motion, strength & shoulder mobility? You’re not alone! According to the Cleveland Clinic, shoulder pain accounts for nearly 20% of visits to the doctor’s office. Its commonality is not altogether surprising when you think about the daily demands we place on our shoulders – the strength and flexibility to reach, hold, lift, carry, press and pull.

Whether you’re a CrossFitter, athlete or regularly participate in some kind of sport the two most common causes of shoulder pain tend to be from:

There are a variety of causes of the impingement syndrome from muscle strength and flexibility imbalances, capsular tightness, neurological effects and so on, but the result is the irritation of tendons, bursa, and other tissue which causes inflammation and pain.

Tendonitis, on the other hand, can be caused by a sudden injury or the repetition of a particular motion over time. With adequate rest, tendonitis can be taken care of relatively easily. Staying away from the painful motion should allow the inflammation to run its course and the tendon to heal.

There are two things you can do to keep your shoulders healthy and to help you avoid impingements, tendonitis or something more serious.

  1. Mobilize – do a little every day. Consistency is key!
  2. Strengthen – ensure you are including strengthening exercises that target your smaller stabilizing muscles. Don’t just work the larger muscle groups!


The most common causes of limited shoulder mobility tend to be tight or shortened muscles (particularly in the pecs, lats & rotator cuff musculature), impingements, improper shoulder blade movement, or poor thoracic spine mobility.

Use can easily improve your mobility & flexibility over time by consistently taking time to stretch after you work out. Here are some of the ways in which I maintain my mobility:

  • Yoga classes – yin yoga or hot yoga are my favorite styles for a slower pace
  • RomWod – great if you’re at home or traveling & can’t make it to yoga or want something quicker to do
  • Foam roller & mobility tools – see below for recommended equipment
  • Muscle stimulator to – Marc Pro Plus or Compex are great!
  • Hot bath with Epsom salts
  • Massage with a PT


For improved shoulder strength, check out my video below. This is also a great warm-up routine for some of the weaker stabilizing muscles in the shoulder girdle.

Portable Equipment

Mobility bands are inexpensive and a great piece of equipment for adding resistance to your workout without investing in a set of weights. They’re light and take up very little space making them super portable. I rarely travel these days without throwing a mobility band in my suitcase or carry-on bag!


I use a foam roller every morning to help mobilize my spine and work out the kinks from whatever weird positions I’ve assumed during the night! This smaller TriggerPoint grid foam roller is great quality and due to its hollow-shape, you can easily loop a strap through it which makes it super practical to take on your travels.


I also love to use a lacrosse ball to really get into any tight spots around my lats and between my shoulder blades. The double massage ball is great to use along the full length of your spine.


When I was at the CrossFit Games last year I stumbled across Compex in the Vendor’s Village. I hadn’t ever used a muscle stimulator machine before so I was intrigued and had them hook me up to one of their machines with wireless technology. I couldn’t believe how crazy my quads were twitching! They felt truly felt amazing after. Jason and I have a Marc Pro Plus which we love and use most days. The wires are super long on it but having a wireless machine like the Compex would be amazing! Plus it has a few more features allowing you to use it for warmup, workout and recovery.


What exercises and portable equipment do you use to help keep your shoulders strong? Share the knowledge so we can all benefit and stay injury free! 🙂


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