5 Best Exercises To Strengthen Your Shoulders

shoulder mobility
Want to move a barbell overhead with no pain?

Shoulder pain sucks. Shoulder pain often comes from too much volume, too many high skill movements (butterfly/kipping pull ups, etc) for what your shoulders can handle. As a result your soft tissue gets irritated.

I delt with some serious shoulder pain for a hot minute too…I could barely take the blanket off of me in the mornings it was so locked up. And shoulders are the most commonly injured/hurt area for most crossfit athletes, let us show you how to fix/prevent/get your strength back.

Now, today we won’t be giving you a complete recipe to fix your shoulders but we will give you some knowledge and some tools to get you on the right track.

I’ll be discussing:

Shoulder banged up? Join our mobility program to come back stronger and healthier than ever. Reclaim your strength and make your comeback a reality with our mobility program.

Rotator Cuff Injuries

Your shoulder does a lot of different things.

  • rotate internally
  • externally
  • abduction
  • adduction

And as your shoulder moves through those different planes of motion they work together to provide strength and stability in the joint. You may have heard your shoulder being a “ball and socket joint”.

Two main types of rotator cuff injuries:

  1. Acute – this comes from a direct incident. Wiping out on a bike and landing on your shoulder.
  2. Chronic – which is likely what you are being faced with as an athlete can happen over time. Let’s talk more about that:

In Crossfit so many movements demand a LOT out of the shoulder. With all of the overhead movements, kipping and swinging around on the rings and repetitive movements puts a lot of stress on your rotator cuff. Which often leads to muscle imbalances.

So what do you do?

  • improve your range of motion
  • improve your shoulder strength and stability
Want to be able to do these without pain? Keep reading

Why Resting Your Shoulder Might Not Be Best

I know everything in you tells you to just rest and things will get better. Well, there is a difference in resting and avoiding pain.

You should not do things that hurt and cause more pain for your shoulder, but you should continue to move, exercise, and work on your shoulder for a few reasons:

  • prevention of muscle atrophy
  • improve joint mobility (movement is medicine)
  • there are other techniques to reduce inflammation (hot/cold therapy)
ice bath
Ice baths are great for helping reduce inflammation.

Ice baths are 1/10 of the essential things for health and performance I believe should be done on a weekly basis.

Work On Improving Your Strength

We are huge believers on:

  1. Intensity over volume
  2. More is not always better
  3. And strength needs to be a much higher priority before you start worrying about kipping and or butterfly pull ups

As you get exposed to crossfit and all of the gymnastics skills what do you want to do? You want to practice, get better so you can be able to perform more workouts RX.

A few weeks of that you end up with a tweaked shoulder and you are set back.


In most cases a lack of strength, too much volume in too fast amount of time and a lack of progressing slowly.

crossfit competition
Improve your range of motion and stability and you will unlock a ton of new skills.

Butterfly Pull Ups & Toes To Bar

One of the questions I get asked probably more than anything is how to do butterfly pull ups and get better at toes to bar.

The first question I write back every time is:

“how many strict pull ups can you do”?

Me, every time.

Because you see, kipping is not a short cut to do more reps, it’s a work capacity thing to go faster in your workouts to get a greater metabolic effect.

CrossFit Gymnastics

Many athletes are purely relying on the hip and the shoulders and rotator cuff is just taking a beating. And what other sport demands a mad amount of t spine mobility like crossfit does?

So what happens if you lack thoracic spine mobility?

Well, just like when you lack range of motion anywhere…your body compensates. And when we are on the pull up bar it will add more stress to your shoulders from most likely your lats being too tight which causes the shoulder to rotate.

This is the order of priority we like to teach things:

  1. Mobility first. Training mobility first, improving your end range of motion strength will help get into better positions and not compensate in other areas.
  2. Master the technique and create good movement patters
  3. Get really strong.
  4. Then begin to add strict gymnastic skills then progress to kipping.

Let me give you a few exercises you can walk away with to work on your shoulder health.

How To Fix Your Shoulder Pain

You will notice that the exercises below aren’t just stretches but rather exercises to help improve strength and stability.

First thing to do is soft tissue work. Lets get your body to relax a little bit so when we begin to stretch and strengthen your body is more willing to and not “holding on” to tension.

Start off with tissue work of:

Then we can stretch out the tissue/muscles. I did a deep dive on how to improving your shoulder extension too (which will help) you can check that out.

shoulder extension
Me showing a PAILS and RAILS mobility drill

Stretch Your Lats

If there was just ONE stretch for your lats I would tell you to do, it would be this one. It allows you to work on so many elements that will help to improve shoulder health.

  1. Work on external rotation
  2. Improve the lengthen of your lats
  3. Teaches you the importance of keeping your rib cage down

I mean this stretch right here is MONEY for helping you loosen up your lats.

The go to lat stretch

Okay, we did some soft tissue work. We showed you the best lat stretch on the planet.


…let us show you some drills to help strengthen your rotator cuff.

mobility program
Let us help you move pain free again.

Rotator Cuff Strengthening Exercises

In this article I obviously can’t treat or give you the specific set of exercises to help you in your specific scenario. But with my experience I can provide you with exercises that will certainly benefit you and your rode back to healthy shoulders.

Half Kneeling Shoulder Car

This exercise is great to get the shoulder to move internally and externally.

Perform this exercise for a 2 sets of 10 per side daily.

Single Arm Row

If you are a reader of ours you know that we are huge believers in unilateral strength.

Meaning, single arm and single leg strength. Because you aren’t able to compensate by shifting and allowing other muscles to take over.

Your lats are the biggest muscles in your upper body and we want these to be STRONG. Add in the little trick to help you feel your lats more.

You will feel this in your lats a lot more.

Side Lying Banded Negatives

Lets get into some of the nitty gritty exercises now.

Just like with strength training how we should:

  • train isometrics
  • train tempo
  • and work on eccentrics

The same applies when trying to strengthen your shoulder and improve your mobility. Add in this side lying banded negatives:

Focus on control

Prone T Spine Reach Backs

When we are addressing shoulder mobility and shoulder health remember how we talked about the importance of isometrics and also t spine mobility?

That’s why I love this exercise. We are asking you to do a squeeze your shoulder blades together as hard as possible (isometric) while the opposing arm is working on shoulder extension. This drill is amongst one of my favorite shoulder mobility exercises.

A great shoulder strengthening and mobility drill

KB Windmill

We love the windmill because it challenges t spine rotation and stability of the shoulder UNDER load (meaning weight).

And that’s really key.

To get your shoulder healthy again you want to make sure that you can load it when possible…but starting with a lot of stability work first.

Things that really challenge all the “little” muscles around the joint to encourage those to help stabilize.

To be quite frank, I could go on and on listing out a ton more shoulder mobility drills.

  • exercises that focus on strength
  • drills that focus on eccentrics
  • mobility work that prioritizing stability

But it would be too general to just list out a ton of things you COULD do for your shoulder. I would suggest if you are really wanting to move pain free again in your shoulder.

Let us help you and join our mobility program where we can help you get stronger and move pain free again. But I understand now everyone can/is willing to do that.

If that’s the case for you I would encourage you to check out some of our other blogs like this one on shoulder mobility, and I provide a ton of free content and resources to help you move pain free.

Want my best fitness tips? 🚀

Join our list and receive our best workouts tips every Tuesday 🤙🏻


Rotator cuff injuries suck.

The reason your shoulder is probably irritating you is because too much volume is too short amount of time. We see this in crossfit athletes all to often and the key for you as a fitness athlete or a weekend warrior is to...

...correct your muscle imbalances, do more stability training and slip in some of the exercises I showed you above.

shoulder mobility exercises
Get your first week of classes free.

Join the program thousands of athletes (includes NFL athletes) who trust our programming to get them stronger, faster and improve performance. 

We believe in pushing the boundaries of fitness and surrounding ourselves with life minded individuals.