Shoulder Complex Exercises To Prevent Injuries

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. (Functional Injury Prevention) and are performed directly after their warm-up and before the core of our weight-training program.

In this article, let’s focus on the shoulder complex, particularly 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 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.

What you will find when you try this circuit is that each exercise has an elemant of external rotation in the shoulder.  Most of this circuit (as stated above) was developed by Mike Winn, a physical therapist and good friend of mine.  He and I both believe that most athletes need to focus more on the external rotators of the shoulder and spend less time training the internal rotators.  There are so many internal movements in sports that most athlete’s internal rotators are strong enough or in relationship to the external rotators, over developed.  Also, the external roators act as decelerating muscles to help protect the shoulder from throwing movements.

If you are not currently doing any type of rotator cuff training, I would strongly encourage you start.  They work, plain and simple!

Hope that helps.

To your health,


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About Jerry Shreck

Division 1 Head Strength Coach at Bucknell University, Specialize In The Art of Injury Prevention Training Techniques God Loving Family Man (Wife-Trina & 2 daughters-Alexis & Aleyda)

8 Responses to “Shoulder Complex Exercises To Prevent Injuries”

  1. Great article. I really wish I had found something like this before I had to have 2 shoulder surgeries. I am going to add it to my workout routine, so I don’t have anymore problems in the future. Thanks.

    • Levi,
      Let us know how you like the exercises. Also, please help by passing this information along to others who might be over looking this type of preventative work. Thank you!

  2. Thanks for posting this information. As a tennis player, this was exactly what I was looking for to prevent shoulder injuries.

  3. Coach Shrek,

    I have two quick questions for you: do you do any other warm up activities whether it be for the shoulders or entire body prior to using the tubing? And what length of tubing do you recommend? 5 ft. or thereabouts?

    • Keith,
      Yes, a dynamic warm-up for the entire body. There are many dynamic warm-up movements but I have a routine I typically do with my athletes. Email me directly and I will forward it to you. Maybe I will shoot a video this week and share it as a post for everyone as well. I usually cut the tubing in about 4 foot lengths.

  4. Just what i was looking for weightlifter;45 yrs old still going strong but looking to balance my shoulders and avoid impingement


  1. Shoulder Complex Exercises To Prevent Injuries | Injury Prevention - August 1, 2011

    […] the original post: Shoulder Complex Exercises To Prevent Injuries ← How You Can Forestall Sports Injuries By Warming Up And Cooling […]

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