Injury Prevention – Shoulder

Five Simple Exercises to Keep Your Shoulders Injury Free

How to Strengthen the Small Inner Muscles of the Shoulders and Stay in Play

By Jerry Shreck, ATC/L, NCSF-CPT, Coordinator of Fitness Facilities/ Head Strength & Conditioning Coach,
Bucknell University

No matter what your discipline or philosophy of exercise is, if you are not doing injury prevention exercises, you could be at risk. Because let’s face it, injuries happen in all sports and activities. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to help prepare and thus avoid these injuries by simply strengthening the small intrinsic muscles of the shoulders, hips, and ankles.

As the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at Bucknell University, I work with a number of athletes, and part of my job is to help them remain injury free. To accomplish this, we use a series of Functional Injury Prevention Exercises. These exercises are commonly referred to by my athletes as the F.I.P. and are performed directly after their warm-up and before the core of our weight-training program.

In this article, let’s focusing on the shoulder complex and the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles and tendons (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor), which stabilize the shoulder joint. When strengthening these muscles, heavy weight and/or excessive resistance are not required. In fact, too much resistance calls in the bigger muscles that surround the shoulder joint and takes the focus off of these smaller rotator cuff muscles. Defeating the purpose. So I like training these muscles using tubing and/or light five to ten pound weights.

Some of the most common exercises are internal and external shoulder rotation. Internal rotation involves keeping the elbow close to your side, bent at 90 degrees and then rotating your arm toward your body. External rotation is just the opposite: you rotate your arm away from your body. See the photos below for examples of internal and external rotation exercises using tubing.

Internal Rotation

internal rotation

External Rotation

external rotation

Internal and external rotation exercises are a good start for shoulder health for the common person, but athletes tend to require a more complex circuit in my opinion.

A friend of mine, Mike Winn (Physical Therapist from Evangelical Sports Medicine Center, Lewisburg, PA), developed a shoulder circuit I use with my athletes almost weekly. I believe this circuit has increased the integrity of our athletes’ shoulder strength and has helped decrease the amount of overuse injuries associated with many sports. This circuit is a series of five exercises using rubber elastic tubing.

The Exercises

The first exercise is “Thumbs Out.” This is done with one tube held at arms length with your palms up. To begin, start with your arms parallel to the floor and your thumbs pointing out. Then horizontally pull your arms out to your sides as you retract (pinch) your shoulder blades together and return back to the start position under control.

thumbs out

The second exercise is “Thumbs Up.” Grab a second tube and secure each tube under your feet, so you will be holding one in each hand. Bring your arms forward about 30 degrees. With your thumbs pointing up, raise your arms up until they are parallel with the floor.

thumbs up

The third exercise is “Thumbs Down.” It is the same movement as Thumbs Up but you will switch your grip with the bands, so your thumbs will be pointing down when the arms are parallel to the floor.

thumbs down

The fourth exercise is “High Rotation.” You will start in the same position as Thumbs Down. Then raise your elbows high like an upright row. When your upper arms are parallel to the floor, externally rotate from the shoulder until your forearms are perpendicular to the floor. Return to the starting position in reverse order under control.

high rotation

The fifth and final exercise is “High Diagonals.” In the Thumbs Down starting position, keep the bands under your feet but switch the bands into your opposite hands. Then cross your arms so your thumbs are pointing into your hips. Extend your arms out away from your body and externally rotate the shoulder as you raise your arms across your body and out above your shoulders. Reverse the order in a controlled manner to restart for the desired number of reps.

cross over

I typically have my athletes perform this complex shoulder circuit once or twice a week as part of their Functional Injury Prevention series of exercises. They will perform one to two sets of 10 to 12 controlled reps. For these exercises to be helpful in preventing injuries, the techniques of each exercise must be mastered. I can’t stress this enough.


I truly believe in Functional Injury Prevention Exercises and think it is a necessary portion of every strength and conditioning program. Think about it. The healthier your body is, the less likely you are to miss opportunities because of injuries! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at For more information on injury prevention visit