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Shoulder Rehab Exercises: Bulletproof Your Shoulders

In this comprehensive guide, we’re sharing the best shoulder rehab exercises to help expedite the recovery of your shoulder injury, as well as help your shoulders stay injury-free.

Shoulder injuries can be a debilitating setback, affecting not only our daily activities but also our overall quality of life. Whether you’re recovering from a sports-related injury, a fall, or simply dealing with the wear and tear of everyday life, proper rehabilitation is crucial for restoring strength, flexibility, and function to your shoulder.

I abuse my shoulders daily. Most days I’m either surfing or rock climbing followed by an obscene amount of hours behind my computer (blogging is a hard business 😜). My shoulders are a mess! But they serve me well and I get a lot of joy out of the sports they allow me to perform so in return, I spend a lot of time giving them love back in the form of these prehab shoulder exercises.

Understanding Shoulder Injuries

Before diving into the Rehab for Shoulder Injuries, it’s essential to understand the common types of shoulder injuries. These can include rotator cuff tears, shoulder impingement, dislocations, and tendonitis. Each injury requires a tailored approach to rehabilitation, emphasizing specific exercises and therapies to address the underlying issues.

What are Rehab Shoulder Exercises?

Rehab shoulder exercises are designed to improve your range of motion in the rotator cuffs, pecs, and lats so that your shoulders can move more freely and so that you can maintain proper alignment in your activities.

This Rehab shoulder routine also focuses on bringing up the smaller or often ignored muscle groups, especially in the mid-back, that are responsible for anchoring your shoulder blades to keep the proper alignment in your posture and better range of motion in the shoulders.

A lot of shoulder pain comes from tightness in the chest and weakness in the mid and upper back.  By addressing these two issues, you can often fix a lot of shouder issues or at least keep them from becoming major issues.

For the most part, this prehab shoulder routine consists of alternating a stretch with a strengthening movement.

Download these 2 images to your phone for easy reference:

Tips for improving your shoulder rehab exercise routine:

I like my clients to start their shoulder rehab exercise routine with simple breathwork. Place a block or towel under your mid-back and your arms extended out to the side while slowing down your breath, breathe deeply into your belly, and just focus on relaxing for 3-5 minutes.  

A lot of shoulder pain stems from poor posture so remember to line up the ears with the shoulders, draw the scapula down and slightly together, and keep the neck long.

Hold each of the stretches below for 1-3 minutes while focusing on deep belly breaths. Also, remember to maintain good posture when doing the exercises.

Equipment needed for this shoulder prehab routine:

You need one jump stretch band or any form of light tubing for these exercises plus a dumbbell for the pullover stretch.

13 Shoulder Prehab Exercises

1 | Chest Opener

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  • Lie on your stomach on the ground.
  • Extend one arm either straight out to the side of your body or for a deeper stretch, cactus the arm which means the elbow is at shoulder level and the forearm is on the floor.
  • Use the other hand to press gently on the ground and peel your chest away from the floor.
  • You can also step the top foot behind you to get an even deeper stretch
  • Move slowly and with control

2 | TYI

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  • Lie on the floor with the arms extended out perpendicular to the body (option to hold a light weight of 2-5#)
    Lift the arms 10 times while squeezing the shoulder blades together as the neck stays long.  
    Then raise the arms 45 degrees up and again lift the arms up and down for 10 reps
    Last, lift the arms overhead, turn the thumbs up, and lift the hands 10 times.  If you are tight in the shoulders, it will be hard to keep the scapula pulled down while doing this but try to stay anchored between the shoulder blades and don’t shrug.

3 | Lat Openers

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  • Place hands on a wall or elevated surface like a table.
  • Hinge at the hips and walk your feet back until your torso is about perpendicular to the floor.
  • Keep the palms level with the hips and let the chest drop heavy toward the floor allowing the shoulders to open and to feel a stretch along the sides of the ribcage.

4 | Seated Band Row

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  • Start seated with your elbows at 90 degrees while holding a resistance band wrapped around a stationary object
  • This time when you pull the band, allow your elbows to bend as you squeeze the shoulder blades together.
  • Do 15-20 repetitions

5 | Side Lying Neck Stretch

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  • Lie on a bench, bed, or table with your head hanging off the edge
  • Place the hand of the top arm behind your back (add a weight in your hand for a deeper stretch)
  • Maintain length in the neck as you let the head hang heavy
  • Hold it for 1 minute
  • Then roll to the other side

6 | Band Buddha

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  • Depress the scapula (pinch the shoulder blades down your back and the bottom edge towards each other)
  • Lift your chest and broaden the collarbones
  • Hold a thera band with the palms turned up, thumbs pointing outward, and elbows at 90 degrees
  • Pull the band outward while working on squeezing the shoulder blades together
  • Be sure to keep the neck long and the breath fluid
  • Do 15-20 repetitions

7 | Pullover Stretch

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  • Lie on a bench (or table) with one dumbbell in both hands
  • Extend the dumbbell overhead as far as you can, feeling a nice stretch in the lats
  • Hold it for 1-2 minutes then let the weight fall to the floor

8 | Scapula Squeeze

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  • Start like you did in the seated row, sit on bench or floor holding an anchored resistance band
  • Sit back far enough that your arms stay extended
  • Keep the chest lifted and a long neck
  • Pull on the band by squeezing the shoulder blades together and down. This one is done with straight arms the entire time
  • Do 15-20 repetitions

9 | 1/2 Cow Face with Strap

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This stretches internal and external rotators of your shoulders and protects your rotator cuff.

  • Hold a strap in one hand and reach that hand above your head
  • Bend that elbow so you hand falls behind your neck
  • Reach behind you with the opposite hand with the thumb pointing up and grab the strap
  • Gently pull down with the bottom hand in order to stretch the shoulder of the top arm
  • Hold that for 1 minute then pull up on the top arm allowing the bottom hand to come up the spine and stretch the internal rotator cuffs

10 | Rear Delt Pull

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  • Hold the band with straight arms out in front of your chest, slightly lower than shoulder level
  • Depress the shoulders and keep the chest lifted while pulling the band apart with straight arms
  • Do for 15 repetitions

11 | Handcuff stretch

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  • Interlace your hands behind your back (or use a strap if you need to) and place them on a bench behind you
  • Lean forward until you feel a stretch  
  • Hold for 1-2 minutes

12 | Overhead Band Pull Down

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  • Hold your light resistance band overhead with straight arms
  • Pull the band apart while bending the elbows, bringing the band behind your head while maintaining good posture

13 | Reverse Shrug off Bench

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  • Place your hands on the edge of a bench, fingers pointing forward
  • Walk your feet out as if you were going to do a back dip
  • Sink into the shoulders letting the shoulders creep up to the ears
  • Then depress the shoulders while squeezing the lower scapula together 
  • Repeat 15 times

I hope these 13 Rehab shoulder exercises help you keep your shoulders pain free, healthy, and ready to play! Rehabilitation for shoulder injuries is a multifaceted process that requires patience, dedication, and professional guidance. Remember, every individual is unique, so if you find yourself struggling with a shoulder injury that just won’t go away or you need a better strengthening program, schedule a Discovery Call with Victor. He has over 30 years of experience as a strength coach and can heal your shoulders fast.

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