Shoulder-Strengthening Exercises

7 exercises to try and how they can help you prevent injury

If you have pain in your rotator cuff, it may help to do shoulder strengthening exercises at home.

The muscles that make up your rotator cuff can be prone to inflammation and tears if you do the same overhead motions too often. Making sure these muscles are strong enough is aAn important way to reduce tears or rotator cuff injury.

This article explains how to do seven different exercises to build strength in your rotator cuff muscles.

Get your healthcare provider's OK before starting these exercises if you have or are prone to shoulder discomfort or injury. These exercises can be done two or three times per week or as directed by your practitioner. Be sure to stop the exercise if pain in your shoulder, shoulder blade, or arm gets worse.

Strengthening Your Shoulders

Your rotator cuff consists of a group of four muscles. They perform several functions, including:

  • Helping to lift your arm away from your body
  • Rotating your arm in its socket
  • Stabilizing your shoulder during overhead motions

Generally, these muscles act as dynamic stabilizers while you are lifting your arms up and away from your body.

If you have weakness in your rotator cuff muscles, you may have various problems with your shoulders. These may include:

These problems can limit your range of motion and keep your upper body from functioning as it should. Working to keep your rotator cuff muscles strong may help you avoid these problems.

Stronger rotator cuff muscles are better at supporting your shoulder joint and are less likely to become injured. When you regularly stretch these muscles, they also become more flexible. Flexibility improves your range of motion, which can also help prevent injury.

Be sure to check in with your healthcare provider before you start doing these exercises. A visit or two with your local (or online) physical therapist can help you make sure you're doing the exercises properly and they're safe for you.

Exercise One

  • Lie on your stomach on a table or a bed.
  • Put one arm out at shoulder level with your elbow bent to 90 degrees and your hand down.
  • Keeping your elbow bent, rotate your shoulder so that the back of your hand raises up towards the ceiling.
  • Lower the hand slowly.
  • Repeat 10 times.
  • Perform with opposite arm.

Exercise Two

  • Lie on your side on a bed or the floor.
  • Place your upper arm at your side with your elbow bent to 90 degrees, and your forearm resting against your chest, palm down.
  • Rotate your shoulder out and raise your forearm until it is level with your shoulder.
  • Lower the hand slowly.
  • Repeat 10 times.
  • Perform with opposite arm.

Exercise Three

  • Stand with your arms slightly behind you with both thumbs down.
  • Raise your arms up, pretending that you are emptying a can with each hand.
  • Lower the arms slowly.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Exercise Four

  • Cross your right arm over your torso so your hand is pointing left.
  • Bend your left arm and hook it over your right arm.
  • Gently pull the right arm towards your body.
  • Hold for 20 seconds, then switch arms.
  • Repeat four times.

Exercise Five

  • Begin on the floor in a kneeling position, keeping your knees apart and your back straight.
  • Reach up with your arms towards the sky.
  • Slowly bend forward until your chest touches your thighs.
  • Keep reaching with your arms until your elbows and palms are flat on the floor.
  • Hold for one minute, then slowly return to the starting position.

Exercise Six

  • Stand in a doorway and reach out to either side of your body about shoulder height.
  • Press each hand against the door frame.
  • Slowly shift your weight forward, keeping your back straight.
  • Slowly shift your weight backward, keeping your back straight.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Exercise Seven

  • Place one hand on a level surface such as a table and let your other hand hang at your side.
  • Lean forward and gently let your free hand swing forward and backward.
  • Repeat with a side-to-side motion.
  • Repeat with a circular motion.
  • Return to your starting position and repeat with your other arm.
  • Repeat two times on each side.

Increasing Intensity

You can make any of these shoulder-strengthening exercises more challenging by adding weights.

Start light—usually a two 2 or 3 pound dumbell is enough to create resistance. You can also add resistance by performing shoulder exercises with a resistance band.


Shoulder exercises can help your rotator cuff muscles become stronger and more flexible. This can help prevent injury and improve problems like rotator cuff tears and shoulder bursitis.

It's always best to begin an exercise routine slowly with easy exercises. As time goes on, you can add weight to increase the intensity.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Harvard Health Publishing. Rotator cuff injury.

  2. Heron SR, Woby SR, Thompson DP. Comparison of three types of exercise in the treatment of rotator cuff tendinopathy/shoulder impingement syndrome: A randomized controlled trial. Physiotherapy. 2017;103(2):167-173. doi:10.1016/

By Laura Inverarity, DO
 Laura Inverarity, PT, DO, is a current board-certified anesthesiologist and former physical therapist.