Exercises for Shoulder Impingement

Here are 4 exercises I use for shoulder impingement to help improve strength, reduce pain, and improve function of the shoulder. The shoulder is one of the more trickier joints to treat despite shoulder pain being one of the most common things I see in the clinic. I’ve found over the last decade these exercises check all the boxes. If you just hurt your shoulder, start here.

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4 Exercises for Shoulder Impingement

  1. Rows
  2. Scaption/Trap Raise
  3. Single Arm Lat Pull Down
  4. Rear Delt fly

#1 Shoulder Row Exercise

Good for: lats and shoulder blade (scapular) rotators

  • Feet hip width or can stagger them (i.e., pulling with right arm, right foot 6-12″ farther back
  • Low back “flat,” do not excessively arch or round
  • Pull to the hip
  • Hold 1 sec, slowly return to start point
  • 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps

A staple of every shoulder impingement exercise program and targets the muscles that affect the shoulder blade. I like the “pull to hip” version because I want more lat than traps.

Any horizontal row will work, so you can use cables if you are in a gym.

#2 Prone Shoulder Scaption Exercise, a.k.a. Trap Raise

Good For: Scapular rotators

  • Lay on your stomach, arm hanging off the side
  • Lead with the thumb and slowly REACH your arm up at a 45 degree angle (the scapular plane)
The scapular plane is the best position for shoulder strength exercises
Scapular plane
  • Slowly return to the start position

This is a popular exercise for the low trap, but I like it more for the scapular rotators. The scapula has to rotate up FIRST before the low trap can do anything.

You can use the same set-up as exercise #4 Read Delt Flys or a Roman chair if you don’t have a tall table, but I’d start 1 arm at a time until you FEEL the muscles. You should feel this in the serratus first, low trap second.

    #3 Single Arm Half Kneeling Pull Down

    Good for: lat strength and length

    • Palm up, kneel on the SAME side knee as you are pulling
    • Pull the elbow to your side IN THE SCAPULAR PLANE (like #1)
    • Slowly return to the start position
    • Hand should start as HIGH as possible
    • 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps

    I love this exercise because of the ROM it moves you through and the upright posture it puts you in. By having the hand as high as you can and dragging the elbow down, you are working the lat through the ENTIRE range.

    #4 Rear Delt Fly

    Great for: posterior delts

    • Bend forward
    • Overhand grip so start with thumbs facing each other
    • Slowly drag the elbows AWAY from you
    • Return to the start position with control
    • 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps

    This movement doesn’t require a ton of range of motion so just getting the arms to parallel with the body is enough. Higher will get more traps which is fine, but not necessary.

    Don’t aggressively squeeze the shoulder blades together

    What is Shoulder Impingement?

    There are different causes and types of shoulder impingement you can experience, but they all involve compression of irritated tissues in the front or back of the shoulder.

    Even in a pain free shoulder, the tissues are ALWAYS being “impinged,” they just aren’t irritated enough to cause pain. Usually the pain is related to overuse and being under-trained. The goal of any exercise program is to improve strength impairments and improve tissue quality WHILE the structures heal.

    These 4 exercises are geared more toward EXTERNAL impingement, but they can be included in programs for INTERNAL shoulder impingement as well as general shoulder strengthening programs.

    Shoulder Impingement Exercises Summary

    This is a great set of exercise to improve the strength of the shoulder, reduce pain, and addresses typical scapular muscle impairments. These pair well with shoulder stability exercises and upper back mobility exercises. I did leave out pushing exercises. I’ll talk all about that in future articles.

    These exercises are an excellent start to reduce that pain in your shoulder.

    If you want to take your shoulder health to the next level?