Shoulder and upper arm strength

The list of exercises below includes strength-focused and specific exercises local to the shoulder and upper arm region but also includes exercises that strengthen the surrounding areas of the shoulders. These are just as beneficial since the body moves as a whole, not as individual compartments. Moreover, muscles often span through multiple regions and so maximal benefit to one region can be brought about by strengthening the whole muscle, not just one portion of it. Strength work helps by making the muscles, joints, and nerves resilient to tension/fatigue and injury, preventing disorders. 

Osteopaths are highly trained and experienced when it comes to identifying the causes of and diagnosing shoulder and upper arm issues, as well as reducing pain and recurrence. For individualised treatment, prescription of exercises suitable for you with a personal, safe, progressive plan, and specific advice about how to reduce your pain and prevent it from recurring, book online or call us to make an appointment.

Please read our disclaimer before: attempting any exercises, reading any information provided or following hyperlinked videos or external resources provided on this website. 

Shoulder press (w/variations)

A great compound exercise to add pushing resilience to the neck, such as hanging up washing.

  • Targets: upper back and shoulders
  • Technical difficulty: easy
  • Requires: any form of weight 


Single arm scapula push up

Improves protraction and stabilisers of the scapula and assists in upward rotation.

  • Targets: serratus anterior
  • Technical difficulty: hard
  • Requires: bodyweight 


Shoulder extension pulls

Focuses on rear deltoid and rotator cuff strength. Helps to improve posture. 

  • Targets: upper back and shoulder
  • Technical difficulty: medium
  • Requires: resistance band or cable machine


Weighted halos

A unique exercise which strengthens the shoulder above the head and can improve mobility and stability. 

  • Targets: upper back and shoulders
  • Technical difficulty: hard
  • Requires: kettlebell 

Downward dog scapula presses

A unique exercise which strengthens the shoulders, shoulder blades and helps mobilise them simultaneously. 

  • Targets: shoulders
  • Technical difficulty: medium
  • Requires: bodyweight only

Steering wheel

Fancy a challenge? This works the rotator cuff intensely. 

  • Targets: upper back, shoulders and neck 
  • Technical difficulty: medium 
  • Requires: any form of weight but a powerlifting plate is best 


Mini pull up

A great way to increase strength in the back and shoulders if not able to perform a full pull up. 

  • Targets: back and shoulders
  • Technical difficulty: medium
  • Requires: bodyweight


Bullfrog shoulder tap

A good exercise to introduce some dynamic stabilisation into the shoulder.

  • Targets: shoulders 
  • Technical difficulty: medium
  • Requires: bodyweight


Bird-dog (w/variations)

A great compound movement to build up posterior chain strength. 

  • Targets: whole body, including neck, shoulders and the whole back 
  • Technical difficulty: medium 
  • Requires: bodyweight or any additional form of weight 


Shoulder shrugs

A great exercise to build lifting resilience to the upper back and shoulders, such as carrying shopping bags. 

  • Targets: upper back and shoulders
  • Technical difficulty: easy
  • Requires: any form of weight 

Rotator cuff progression: external rotation bias

Multiple variations of progressive strengthening work to help strengthen the rotator cuff external rotators, to specific demands.  

  • Targets: external rotators of the rotator cuff 
  • Technical difficulty: easy 
  • Requires: resistance band or cable machine

Rotator cuff progression: internal rotation bias

Multiple variations of progressive strengthening work to help strengthen the rotator cuff internal rotators, to specific demands.  

  • Targets: internal rotators of the rotator cuff 
  • Technical difficulty: easy  
  • Requires: resistance band or cable machine

'Y', 'T', 'W', 'L's prone

A great exercise to target back and shoulder muscle strength discrepancies and neck strength. 

  • Targets: back, shoulders and neck 
  • Technical difficulty: easy 
  • Requires: bodyweight

Resistance band 'Y', 'T' & 'W' row variations w/ added chin tuck

A time effective exercise to develop stronger back and deep neck muscles simultaneously. 

  • Targets: back, shoulders and neck
  • Technical difficulty: medium-hard
  • Requires: resistance band or cable machine


Chest press (w/variations)

A fantastic powerlifting movement, great in building general shoulder and upper arm strength. Grip width and type of weights can make large differences. 

  • Targets: shoulders, chest and triceps 
  • Technical difficulty: easy  
  • Requires: any form of weight

Press ups (w/variations)

A convenient compound and functional exercise that is fun to master. Great to improve general shoulder and upper arm strength.

  • Targets: chest, shoulders, triceps, back and neck
  • Technical difficulty: easy  
  • Requires: bodyweight

Seated rows (w/variations)

A great exercise to develop stronger upper back and neck muscles using a machine at the gym. 

  • Targets: back & neck 
  • Technical difficulty: easy  
  • Requires: row machine

Serratus anterior pushup (w/variations)

A specific exercise which is particularly important if there is presence of shoulder blade dysfunction (dyskinesis) or if shoulder movement brings on shoulder pain or one-sided (ipsilateral) neck pain.

  • Targets: serratus anterior
  • Technical difficulty: easy  
  • Requires: bodyweight

Lateral raises

A great compound movement building up strength through the shoulders, upper back and neck, helping to build lifting resilience.

  • Targets: shoulders, upper back and neck 
  • Technical difficulty: easy 
  • Requires: any form of weight or resistance 

Bent over rows

A great compound movement building up strength through the back, shoulders and neck, helping to build lifting resilience to the neck. 

  • Targets: back, shoulders and neck
  • Technical difficulty: medium
  • Requires: any form of weight or resistance

Lateral pull down (w/variations)

A great compound movement building up strength through the back, shoulders and neck, helping to build pulling resilience to the neck. Variations include: narrow and wide grip modifications, using a resistance band or cable machine or single arm pull downs. 

  • Targets: back, shoulders and neck
  • Technical difficulty: easy 
  • Requires: resistance band or cable machine

Reverse cable/resistance band flys

A personal favourite of mine. Strengthens the upper back, shoulders and neck. Feel the squeeze!

  • Targets: upper back, shoulders and neck
  • Technical difficulty: easy 
  • Requires: resistance band or cable machine

Face pulls (w/variations)

A brilliant exercise to improve posture and strength of the whole mid to upper back, shoulders, neck and rotator cuff external rotators. Feel the squeeze!

  • Targets: upper back, shoulders and neck
  • Technical difficulty: medium
  • Requires: resistance band or cable machine

Australian press up

Aka. A 'New Zealand press up', as I call them here. A great strengthening exercise that is essentially an upside down press up - funny right?

  • Targets: upper back, shoulders and neck
  • Technical difficulty: medium 
  • Requires: solid elevated bar with bodyweight

Bicep 'uppercuts' (w/variations)

Focused loading onto the long head of the bicep - often a cause of shoulder or arm pain. 

  • Targets: long head of biceps, shoulders and upper back
  • Technical difficulty: medium
  • Requires: any form of weight or resistance

Bicep curl (w/variations)

A classic exercise to help fill your shirt sleeves (if you are lucky). 

  • Targets: biceps, forearms, shoulder stabilisers
  • Technical difficulty: easy 
  • Requires: any form of weight or resistance 

Overhead tricep extensions

A simple and easy exercise to build tricep strength. 

  • Targets: triceps 
  • Technical difficulty: easy
  • Requires: any form of weight or resistance 

Tricep push down (w/variations)

A simple and easy exercise to build tricep strength.

  • Targets: triceps 
  • Technical difficulty: easy
  • Requires: cable machine or resistance band