Top 5 Exercises for Super-Strong Shoulders

By Brandon Richey

Have you experienced shoulder problems secondary to traumatic injury and are frustrated with trying to figure out the problem?

You could be experiencing discomfort in your lifts and you are noticing that it’s hurting your progress and bleeding your power both in the weight room and in the field.

Today I want to do my best to help.

A Little About Your Shoulder

First of all, your shoulder joint is a unique joint in that it is a ball and socket joint that is designed to run a full 360 degree range of motion (ROM). With this being said, it is a unique ball and socket because the design makes it a sort of floating ball and socket.

Well there are 4 articulations of the shoulder joint. This means that there are essentially 4 joints that make up the entire “shoulder joint.” They consist of the following:

  • Glenohumeral Joint: Consists of the ball head of the humerus and the glenoid cavity of the scapula
  • Acromionclavicular Joint (AC): This is where the clavicle meets the acromion of the scapula
  • Sternoclavicular Joint (SC): This is where the clavicle meets the chest bone, or sternum
  • Scapulothoracic Joint: This is where the scapula, or shoulder blade attaches at the ribs behind the chest

So how does this help? Why does this matter?

All of these joint attachments involving the shoulder consist of the shoulder girdle. Being that the girdle is essentially a type of floating ball and socket with these 4 attachments there is greater potential for things to go wrong.

This all can be brought on by life demands involving movement dysfunction from training, life, or sport.

This is why I want to offer up the following 5 mobility and stability drills to help you develop rock hard shoulders to take on whatever life tries to throw at you. I would recommend progressing through the steps as they are presented here until you get a handle on the movements.

Top Movement #5: Band Pull-Aparts on a Foam Roller

I’m a big proponent of band pull-aparts, but by lying on the foam roller we add in a couple of other benefits.

First, by lying on the foam roller we create a greater deficit to pull our hands from out in front of us all the down to the floor in a greater ROM.

Because of this you’ll be getting a full retraction of the shoulder, as well as a nice stretch at the front of the shoulder and at the pecs. This is will be a game changer if you’re experiencing some postural imbalances that inhibit your presses and punches.


Make sure to lie centered on the foam roller from your head to your butt. Keep your arms straight out in front of your while maintaining tension on the band at both the start and the finish. Work to pull the band with the end ROM being the pinky side of your fist on the floor.

Perform 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.

Top Movement #4: Isometric Band Holds

A common denominator for shoulder pain and movement restriction typically may involve the lack of external rotation of the head of the humerus (Glenohumeral Joint). These isometric band holds will fix that problem and they are much more challenging than they look.


When executing these make sure to keep your elbows tight into your side and point your thumbs away from the midline of your body. As you move your hands apart, hold the end ROM for 5 seconds. Maintain tension on the band at all times.

Perform 3 to 4 sets for 5 reps holding the end ROM for 5 seconds each time. Try only incorporating these a couple times a week as they are a bit more intense.

Top Movement #3: Downward Dog Yoga Stretch

Another common restriction in movement is lacking a full ROM with shoulder flexion.

Not being able to fully lift the arm straight above the head is certainly going to cause problems let along if you go and try to do it with a weight in your hand.

Downward Dog is a great prerequisite to have before you do any form of overhead lifting.

It enables you to get into position to actively stretch out the entire shoulder girdle expanding your rib cage while getting some good traction on the spine.


Begin performing the downward dog yoga stretch by getting into an upright push up position. Make sure your feet are slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Lift your butt to the sky while simultaneously working to pull your heels towards the floor.

Work to pry the shoulders by trying to pull your armpits to the ground when the hips are in the up position. Hold this position for about 5 seconds and lower the hips to the ground to relax and stretch out the abdominals.

Perform 3 to 5 sets of these for 5 reps prior to overhead lifting.

Top Movement #2: Crab-to-Reach (Thoracic Bridge)

This drill is great for stretching the front of shoulder girdle and is intensified by performing a hip thrust. Start this drill in a strict crab crawl position and lift one hand off the ground to bring the opposite leg across the body to firmly plant on the ground bringing you into a sort of crab crawl position with one arm off the ground.


Once in position perform a hip thrust and tighten the lat of the grounded hand to stabilize the shoulder. Hold the stretch for about 3 seconds and transition to the other arm to perform the same movement.

Perform 3 sets of 5 repetitions on each side.

Top Movement #1: Half Turkish Get-Ups

If there is one rock solid drill to address both shoulder mobility and stability while being a staple lift for MMA and Combat performance it is the Turkish Get-Up. However, for today’s purpose we’re only going to utilize a portion of the Get-Up to focus on greater shoulder stabilization and for getting a great stretch.


Begin this half get up by pressing the kettlebell overhead and going into a reverse lunge. From here windshield wiper the leg with the knee on the ground towards the loaded arm so that you can side bend and place the free hand firm to the ground.

Once the free hand is on the ground pause in this position and allow the hand with the kettlebell to stretch the shoulder. You should have 90 degree angles at every joint with the ankles and knees. Hold the stretch for a couple of seconds and come out of the half get up.

Make sure you’re confident in your ability to stabilize the weight and your body in this movement before adding it in.

Perform 5 to 10 half get ups on each arm. With higher volume I would recommend alternating the load back and forth between each working rep.

In Closing

Shoulder health is imperative for performance and you shouldn’t have to struggle through your training in order to get stronger and to ramp up your MMA, Combat, or any other fitness needs.

Do you have a shoulder routine of your own?

What are some of your favorite shoulder opener movements?

Have you had a shoulder injury that’s since healed?

How did you get it back to health?



SEALgrinderPT coach Brandon Richey is a certified strength and conditioning coach, author, and founder of Brandon Richey Fitness.

He has worked with thousands of athletes over his 17 years of experience, developing fitness training programs for beginners to professional and D-1 level collegiate athletes at the University of Georgia.

He also trains MMA and Muay Thai athletes, both professional and amateur.


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