5 Exercises for Healthy Shoulders

By Brittany Risher |

These simple moves will improve posture, increase mobility, and ease tension in your upper body.

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Smartphones, tablets, and other devices may be great for staying informed and connecting with friends and family, but they’re not so great for your posture. The hunched-over position we often assume, combined with the natural pull of gravity, leads to problems that go beyond aesthetics.

If our shoulders roll forward, it causes the neck and upper back to shift forward, leading to pain and discomfort. The domino effect continues by shifting our balance and gait and ultimately closing off the rib cage, making it harder to breathe. To help counter these effects and strengthen your shoulders, we turned to fitness expert David Jack for his favorite exercises.

Pick two or three of the moves below to work into your daily routine, or add all five to your normal warmup. Done consistently, they’ll help you stand taller and feel more capable as you go about your everyday life. But remember: Follow any instructions from your doctor, and if you feel any pain doing these movements, adjust or stop. Safety first, always!

Ready to get started? Here’s how to perform each exercise.

1. Out, Return, Down, Up

This movement works your shoulders through multiple planes of motion to strengthen several muscles.

How to do it: Stand tall with good posture, arms by your sides. Using slow, controlled movements, lift your arms out to the sides with palms facing down, forming a T shape with your body. Next, bring your arms in front of you. Reverse the movement back to the T shape, and then lower your arms to the starting position. Do 10 reps.

Make it harder: Hold light weights for added resistance.

2. Out, Return, Down

This movement also works multiple shoulder muscles but targets the trapezius, the muscle at the top of your back.

How to do it: Stand tall with good posture, arms by your sides. Using slow, controlled movements, lift your arms in front of you with palms facing down. Bring your arms out to the sides, forming a T shape with your body. Pause, then lower your arms to the starting position. Do 10 reps.

Make it harder: Hold light weights for added resistance.

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3. Kneeling Reverse Fly

This movement strengthens the muscles that help open the shoulders and pull them back, giving you better posture. It also works your core since it requires stability.

How to do it: Kneel on your right knee with your left foot flat on the floor in front of you. With a straight back, lean forward slightly but keep your front knee behind your toes. Engage your core, and extend your arms toward the floor with palms facing down. Using slow, controlled movements, lift your arms out to the sides, rotating your palms to face up. Pause, then return to the starting position. Do 10 reps.

man kneeling on floorMake it easier: Use a mat, folded towel, or small pillow to cushion your knee.

Make it harder: Hold light weights for added resistance.

4. Forward Butterfly Circles

This movement is deceiving. It may not seem like an exercise at first, but it fires up your deltoids and improves range of motion in the shoulders.

How to do it: Stand tall with good posture, and engage your core. Keeping your arms extended as much as comfortable and palms down, make large forward circles with your arms. Do 20 reps.

Make it easier: If you feel any pain, bend your elbows more so your arms aren’t as extended. You can also make smaller forward circles until you get a feel for the movement.

5. Diamond Down, Y Up

This two-part movement works the muscles in your upper back and shoulders (scapula, trapezius, and deltoids) in different but equally important ways.

How to do it: Stand tall with good posture, and engage your core. Keeping your back straight and your neck neutral (don’t stick your chin out), hinge forward slightly at the hips. With palms facing down, extend your arms toward the floor and hands toward each other so that your pointer fingers and thumbs form a diamond shape. Using slow, controlled movements, retract your shoulder blades and bend your elbows to form a W shape with your arms. Pause, then return to the starting position. Do five reps.

For part two of this exercise, stand tall with good posture, and engage your core. With hands up and palms facing forward, bend your elbows by your sides to form a W shape with your arms. Extend your arms toward the ceiling to form a Y shape. Pause, then return to the starting position. Do five reps. Repeat both movements four times for a total of 20 reps each.

Want More Tips for Your Upper Body?

Check out these great resources:

Full-Body Workout Routine for Beginners