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More Power on Your Shoulders

Use these exercises to increase durability around the ball and socket—and stay injury-free
©Shutterstock; Illustrations by Kyle Hilton
©Shutterstock; Illustrations by Kyle Hilton


Healthy shoulders provide a platform for the pushing and pulling movements required in a Soldier’s physical tool kit. When working on your shoulder muscles, you have to consider not only the deltoids but the rotator cuff and even the rhomboids, which help stabilize the shoulder blades. Developing these muscles mitigate and/or correct shoulder impingement, tendinitis and dislocation while improving function and helping to avoid permanent APFT profiles.


Lie face down with arms stretched out to the sides, palms down. Slowly rotate onto your left side until you feel a stretch across the chest and into the shoulder. You may stack your legs or continue to rotate until top leg reaches toward ground on opposite side. Sets: 1-2. Reps per set: 10.

Tip: Ease into the first couple of repetitions to ensure your shoulder is relaxed. Hold the first 2-4 reps for a count of 5, then increase pace as the shoulder joint allows.


Stand with feet wider than shoulder width and extend right arm toward ceiling with a kettlebell or dumbbell. Flex forward at the waist, reaching left arm toward ankle or ground just inside left foot. Pause for 2 counts, then actively reach through top arm to pull torso up out of the stretch. Sets: 2-3. Reps per set: 5 on a side, then switch.

Tip: Start with a light weight and increase as shoulder stability and strength allows. Always keep arms stacked to protect shoulder capsule.


Perform with a light to moderate weight kettlebell or dumbbell. Maintain upright posture and begin with weight in front of chest. Pass weight around head for designated reps in one direction, then repeat on the other side. Sets: 2-3. Reps per set: 10.

Tip: Keep elbows high and outside ears, with abs engaged. Focus on smooth movement while anchoring shoulder blades down and together.


Start in the front-leaning rest position, with wrists directly under shoulders, body fully extended, abs drawn toward spine and biceps rotating in the direction of the middle finger. Maintain this external (biceps forward) position as you raise hips, drop heels and stretch chest back toward thighs. Sets: 2-3. Reps per set: 6

Tip: Raise hips as you exhale, pushing flat hands firmly onto the ground to anchor shoulders. Keep abs engaged as you return to the plank position.


Starting in an extended plank, as in exercise 4, align left wrist and left ankle and rotate onto left side, right arm extended toward ceiling. Engage abs and lift hips to maintain a strong position head to toe. Sets: 2-3. Reps per set: Start at 10 seconds per arm and build up to one minute.

Tip: Drop bottom knee to floor or raise top leg. Stack arms vertically, rotating bottom bicep in direction of the middle finger.


These tips will help you shoulder your daily burden:

  • Improve your posture. Be mindful of how you sit and stand all day. Standing tall with chest lifted and open and shoulder blades together helps to correct years of slouching.
  • Balance out your push-ups. In addition to the copious amounts of push-ups we perform, many of our daily activities tend to include pushing. Work on your back muscles just as much or more to bring balance and stability to the shoulder joint.
  • Know when to stop. Don’t work through shoulder pain—it only worsens the problem and often makes it irreversible.
  • Sleep on your back. On your back with arms at your sides, you reinforce an open shoulder position that will allow the muscles to relax.