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5 Exercises To Remove Shoulder Pain And Bulletproof Your Shoulders

Updated: Feb 7, 2023


A lot of what we’ve been taught about fixing our issues or pain work short term but don’t really provide a long term resolution. Issues caused from previous trauma, unhealthy lifestyle, lack of movement, poor repetitive movement or even the wrong training methods for keeping fit, strong and healthy can all result in poor shoulder mobility.

In this article you’ll learn the 3 biggest mistakes people make when trying to fix shoulder pain and discover 5 simple exercises to restore correct function and build long term resilience in your shoulders.

3 Biggest Mistakes When Trying to Fix Shoulder Issues

#1: Where the pain is, isn’t where the problem is.

Most pain solution or mobility techniques focus on working the area where the pain is located, or nearby areas. This approach misses the bigger picture of overall joint & tissue relationships. The beauty and complexity of movement can be described like playing the piano. One key played over and over by itself wont make music, only when all the keys are played together in harmony and synchronicity that music, a masterpiece, a work of art is created. That’s what movement should be.

As a rule of thumb, where the pain is, is not where the problem is. Therefore if you’re just looking where it’s painful, you’re missing the rest of the picture. It would be like going to the movies and watching the screen through binoculars. You’ll see bits and pieces but you’ll know there’s more to it but you won’t be able to see it.

The human body works as one unit. Affect one thing and you will affect another. Knowing which thing to affect first is the key to fixing mobility restrictions that may be causing pain.

#2: Doing generic shoulder isolation exercises

Doing generic isolation exercises, for example this rotator cuff exercise which I think almost everyone I've ever spoken to has been told to do. Although they might help you in some ways, they don't actually address the poor movement patterns of your shoulders and more often than not just leave you looking for more answers.

Lack of movement is one major underlying sources of chronic pain. Most people instinctively know this but don’t do anything about it. When you’ve been sitting for 5 hours without moving and your back or neck (headache) starts hurting, that’s it’s way of telling you to move.

Many active individuals would say they get plenty of movement, but even active people who work out frequently grew up sitting at school, driving cars and riding in subways to get from point A to point B, and working at a computer. In modern society, we do not move in order to survive.

Good movement requires good mobility. Many people aren’t sure what mobility is so here’s the difference between MOBILITY vs FLEXIBILITY

Mobility is your ability to control the articulation of your joints through their full range of motion while under the influence of a force (ie gravity or load).

Flexibility is your ability to passively lengthen muscles or tissues. Ie lay on your back and get someone else to lift your leg as high as possible to feel your hamstring stretch to it’s end range. That’s your flexibility. Then try to actively lift your own leg back to the same position with out any help (thats your mobility). You may find a discrepancy between the results. That means you’ve got some work to do.

If you are hyper mobile, you will require a greater amount of motor control and stability work through your movement.

If you are super tight, you will require a greater amount of “release” & “flexibility” work.

#3: Old school training methods to 'strengthen' your shoulders.

I think we’ve all been there at some point, going to a traditional gym, sitting on a machine and pushing out rep after rep in the hope to sculpt our muscles to become the best version of ourselves… yes this is ultimately what enables us to completely mess ourselves up and lose all confidence in our movement and strength.

However, methods like this can actually reinforce already-existing poor movement patterns that cause injury in the first place, and ultimately completely messes our shoulders up.

Understanding The Shoulder

3 bones (Scapula, Clavicle, Humerus), 4 if you include the ribcages' influence on shoulder mechanics. Held together by many ligaments, tendons, cartilage, nerves and muscles all working together to produce movement or pain.

Because of the arrangement of all it's parts it can be considered a "floating joint" as the scapula is floating (not directly attached to) on the rib cage and only has one mechanical attachment (Clavicle to Sternum) to the rest of the skeleton via the Sternocalvicular joint. The complexity of the shoulder joint means it relies heavily on proprioceptive awareness to know where it is in space and time.

A common mistake made when trying to rehab or strengthen the shoulder complex is looking at it's parts in isolation and working on them individually without integrating the change back into the whole system.

Pain can be the result of your tissues (muscle, tendon, fascia, ligament, nerve, cartilage, bone etc) being agitated because of a disruption to their normal function (dysfunction). This disruption can be caused from trauma (injury) or habit (repetitive postures/movements).

Pain is usually driven by movement (or lack there of). From this perspective I see pain as the result of a movement or tissue dysfunction which would also mean there is a movement pattern dysfunction. Movement is infinite, and just like a pianist can't create music with only one key, we cannot fix a movement patterns by looking at just one muscle or part.

The shoulder joint can be considered a proprioceptive compared to that of the knee or elbow. Proprioception is made up of Interoception (your internal awareness of your body in space) and Exteroception (your awareness of the external environment around you and your interaction with it).

Understanding movement

As we evolve from our infancy, there are specific movement milestones we must hit before we're able to progress to the next. Ie crawling helps to develop the bipedal coordination in preparation for walking.

If you're here reading this, it probably means at some point your good movement pattern has been interrupted due to trauma, injury, poor movement, lack of movement, dysfunctional adaptation or a combination of.

The #1 focus for this program is to restore optimal and efficient movement patterns to your system. As a result of restoring your movement through mobility drills, activation exercises and awareness insights, pain usually diminishes.

The process we go through involves 3 parts.

1. Re-set the parts

2. Re-train the patterns

3. Re-load to build resilience

A common shoulder issue is "overuse" of particular parts, causing excessive wear and tear of those parts which lead to things like tendonitis and/or bursitis. In our modern society it is more commonly the anterior part of the shoulder that is worked more than the posterior part. Ie. Driving a car, working at a computer, hanging out washing, cooking or cleaning the dishes. Almost everything we do in our day to day life involves flexion (lifting your arm in front of you) of the shoulder.

Consider now that for every overuse injury (REACTION) there must be an underuse problem (ACTION or more accurately put IN-ACTION). And according to the law of forces and levers the inaction would be opposite to where the overuse issue (pain) is occurring.

To explain this in terms of force or stress management we need to look at how NEWTONS 1st & 3rd LAWS apply to the human body.

  • Newtons 1st Law states that every object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force. Basically if you don't stimulate/challenge your body to change and adapt in a positive way, it wont.

  • Newtons 3rd law states that for every ACTION, there is an equal but opposing REACTION.

In human anatomy we use the term AGONIST (contracting) and ANTAGONIST (relaxing) muscles to describe the balancing relationship of muscles which work together but opposite each other to create fluid movement.


  • Biceps - Triceps in flexion and extension at the elbow

  • Pectorals when pushing - Everything on the posterior shoulder

  • Subscapularis - Infraspinatus in internal and external rotation of the humerus

  • Trapezius - Latissimus Dorsi in elevation and depression

  • Levator Scapual - Serratus Anterior in scapula anterior/posterior tilting

In my experience, I have much more success when addressing the underworking issue VS looking at the overworking (usually painful) part.

Addressing the underworking issue means teaching your brain that it's

  1. Still there (conscious awareness) and

  2. How to use it (conscious control), then

  3. Strengthening it so you don't have to think about it (subconscious control).

To understand your shoulder issue, the first step is to identify the underlying cause. To do this we first have to test your ability. That's what I created the At Home Shoulder Mobility Self Assessment for. Get it here

Need more in depth help with your shoulders?

Try the 3 Phase Bulletproof Shoulder Program online here... can be done at home with minimal equipment.

5 Exercise To Relieve Pain and Strengthen Your Shoulders

1. Pectoralis Major Release

Your Pec Major is an internal rotator of your arm which works in conjunction with your Latissimus Dorsi.

If one is dominant or inhibited, the other has to do more work and as a result builds more tissue (muscle & facia) tension. For example, if your lats don't activate correctly, your pecs will work more to "pick up the slack". As a result you will get tight and strong pecs and weak and short lats. Releasing your pecs gives your shoulder more ability to retract, which puts it into a more neutral position from which all of your muscles will be happier to produce force.

2. Latissimus Dorsi + Teres Major Release

Your Latissimus Dorsi and Teres Major both work to internally rotate your Humerus. These are important for the proprioception of your shoulder as your Lat is telling your brain where your pelvis is and how to move your shoulder in relation to it and your Teres is telling your brain how to move the humerus in relation to the scapula.

Having good functioning of these two muscles is important for optimal shoulder health.

If you have a desk job it’s common for the Lats to become short, tight and weak as a result of gravity constantly pulling our shoulders down and forward (weak posture).

When this happens the Teres Major “picks up the slack” for the work the Lat isn’t doing. As a result the Teres will become tight and overworked, usually painful to manipulate. As this happens, the rest of the rotator cuff muscles will respond accordingly.

If you’re an athlete and your lats become inhibited due to an injury, in time the same pattern will occur.

Releasing these muscles will give your shoulder an opportunity to find a new space/range when you reach your arm overhead.

3. Upper Trapezius Release

The role of the Upper Trapezius (Upper Trap) is to elevate the shoulder, upwardly rotate the scapula and extend the neck.

To understand why the role of the Upper Trap is hindered in a lot of people we need to look at the common posture many of us spend a lot of time in. The seated posture where our shoulders are forward (driving a car), head is falling forward (hours at a desk) and spine is excessively rounded will cause the Upper Trap to be stretched long at the distal end (shoulder) but also tight at the proximal end (neck/head). And due to the many hours spent in this position, it adapts and becomes strong which then when asked to perform under load, will be confused about it's role and perform incorrectly which will then cause something else to work incorrectly, this affect is usually termed Upper Trap dominant.

We could also assume a person who is upper trap dominant would also usually Latissimus Dorsi inactive, relative to the upper traps. It's like the Upper Traps like to do 80% of the work and Lats only 20%.

This is one big reason why many people constantly experience upper shoulder and neck tightness/tension/pain/headaches.

Releasing the upper traps will give your upper shoulder the feeling of "space" in which it can articulate better, allowing all tissues to work easier with each other instead of fighting against each other.

Need more in depth help with your shoulders?

Try the 3 Phase Bulletproof Shoulder Program online here... can be done at home with minimal equipment.

4. Stick "Dislocates"

Don't worry, nothing actually dislocates.

Stick dislocates are a great exercise to test out your awareness and confidence in your shoulders while your hands are moving behind through circumduction.

Using the stick to restrict your hand/forearm demands the scapula to move.

To perform:

Start with your hands out as wide as possible so the stick will just touch your hair as you pull it over to your back. Press the stick forward (protraction) as you begin to raise the stick in front of you (flexion phase) Start to shrug your shoulders as the stick passes over your head. Then work to press the stick backwards, pulling your scapulas together as much as you can as you pull the stick to your lower back/glutes. Once you get to your glutes, reverse the movement and pull it back over to the front.


Breathe in as you take it over to your back, hold your breath when the stick is behind you and only start to breathe out as the stick passes back over your head.

What you're observing:

How mobile your scapula is when your hand/wrist is restricted. The ability of your Pecs to lengthen while your Lower Traps and Rhomboids shorten (contract).

5. Bench I's T's Y's

The Set Up:

Lay on a bench (or can be done on the floor but with limited range) face down. I's - hands on the ground beside you with fingers pointing down towards your feet end.

T's - arms out 90 degrees from your body.

Y's - arms above your head creating a Y position.

The Movement:

I's - pull scapulars back and together, then pull hands up off the ground and behind you as far as you can and keeping shoulders away from ears as much as possible.

T's - pull scapulars back and together while pulling your hands off the ground (like you're a bird flying).

Y's - reaching (big emphasis on REACHING as far as your can) your fingers/arms forwards as far as possible then reach your thumbs to the roof as high as possible.

The Intention:

I's - activate and strengthen lower trapezius and rhomboids

T's - activate and strengthen rhomboids and mid trapezius

Y's - activate and strengthen upper trapezius initially then lower trapezius secondary.


Breathe in through your nose as you lower your arms, breathe out through your mouth as you lift your arms.

Your body is an amazingly complex but smart machine which needs constant stimulus in order to adapt and change. If we let gravity become the only stimulus, we will lose that battle every time because gravity is constant and unrelenting.

“A tight muscle rarely sings, a taught muscle usually does”

Ian O’Dwyer

These are exercises that can be done daily. But as with any exercise you should consult a good practitioner (if you don't know one, reach out to us and we can recommend you to our trusted practitioners) prior to partaking in any exercise and if you feel pain while performing, do not continue. Movement should always be pain free.

Still got questions about your shoulder issues?

Start here with this At Home Self Shoulder Mobility Assessment...

Need more in depth help with your shoulders?

Try the 3 Phase Bulletproof Shoulder Program online here... can be done at home with minimal equipment.


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