Shoulder Exercises

The Gain Without Pain Workout

Shoulder injuries are among the most common in the gym. Here's how to avoid them.

Gain Without Pain

Try This Workout

If you search for rotator cuff exercises on the Internet, a plethora of generic moves appears. The exer- cises here don’t cover everything, but they are the most effective moves for guys looking to improve their range of motion and the strength of their rotator cuff and scapula.

The rotator cuff is composed of a similar number of slow- and fast- twitch muscle fibers, so your aim should be to increase muscular endurance, and you should vary the tempo. Resist the urge to go heavy: This program is about preventing injury rather than hypertrophy, so it’s a short-term measure that will allow you to gain without pain afterward.

Incorporate the following exercises into your routine for four weeks. They will greatly increase your chances of avoiding injury and allow you to blast your delts safely in the months to follow.

In Weeks 1 and 2, do 3 x 30 reps and adopt a slow tempo of 3 seconds up, 3 seconds hold, 3 seconds down. 

In Weeks 3 and 4, do 4 x 20 reps, adopting a fast tempo of 1 second up, 0 second hold, and 2 seconds down. 


1. Reverse Pallof Press

OBJECTIVE: To isolate activation of the rotator cuff muscles and avoid unwanted contractions of the deltoids.
START: Hold a cable pulley or resistance band by your chest and stand with your right shoulder pointing toward the machine. You should be able to feel tension on the cable.
MOVEMENT: Keeping your shoulders and hips square, press the cable straight out in front of your body, resisting the tendency to rotate toward the machine. The left shoulder should work to stop internal rotation through the movement. Hold, then slowly return your hands to your chest.

2. Step-Away Isometric Cuff

OBJECTIVE: To help the infraspinatus and the teres minor muscles contract in isolation of the deltoids, which is a key component of shoulder stability.
START: Holding a cable pulley or resistance band, stand with your arm by the side of your body and your elbow at 90 degrees.
MOVEMENT: Keep the arm in the starting position and lunge sideways. Focus on preventing the arm from rotating inward.

3. Plank With Ventral External Rotation

OBJECTIVE: A strong core is a key component of good shoulder function, so simultaneously performing a plank with a rotator cuff exercise is doubly beneficial.
START: Adopt a plank position with a resistance band looped around your wrists.
MOVEMENT: Keep your head neutral and back flat and move alternative forearms outward a couple of inches out to the side.

4. Landmine Press

OBJECTIVE: To strengthen the rotator cuff. It provides a better angle for shoulder pressing than overhead presses due to the neutral grip.
START: Adopting a shoulder-width stance, pick up an anchored bar in one hand.
MOVEMENT: Extend the elbow, pushing the weight up, then fully extend the hips and knees to produce maximal force.

5. Overhead Windmill

OBJECTIVE: To stabilize the scapula by making the body work around the stable arm and shoulder rather than the shoulder moving on the stable body (as in traditional shoulder presses). This works the shoulder in a different way by challenging the rotator cuff to constantly activate and stabilize.
START: Press a kettlebell directly upward and maintain an extended arm throughout the exercise.
MOVEMENT: With your legs at a suitable distance apart to allow both hip and shoulder flexibility, turn out- ward the foot on the opposite side to the extended arm and reach down and touch your toes. Keep your legs straight (but not necessarily locked) and your chest out.

6. Bosu Pushup

OBJECTIVE: This staple exercise of shoulder rehabilitation programs improves control of the scapula.
START: Begin in an elevated pushup position on the backside of a Bosu. Brace your core and remain contracted throughout the movement.
MOVEMENT: Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the surface. Pause, then push up. Once your arms are fully extended, continue pressing and drive your shoulder blades toward the ceiling. Return to the starting position.

Graham Burne has bachelor of science degrees in physiotherapy and sports science. He is a clinical specialist and physiotherapist working in the U.K.’s National Health Service, private practice, and elite sport. He is the clinical director of For more information, visit

SEE ALSO: Essential Moves for Strength Training 


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