Two Exercises, plus progressions, that Strengthen your Shoulder Stabilizers

There are of course more than just two exercises that strengthen your shoulder stabilizing muscles, but I wanted to focus on these two in this blog post as they are great additions to your current shoulder stabilizer exercise regimen. Your shoulder stabilizers work by dynamically stabilizing the ball (the head of your humerus) within the socket (the part of your shoulder blade called the glenoid)–no matter position your arm is in. What makes these two exercises so great is that they involve lots of small movements that train your stabilizers to be reactive by forcing them to do their job in a variety of positions.

It’s not to say that some of the other shoulder stabilizer exercises you are doing are not effective, but the exercise you are doing are probably in the category of a predictable movement pattern and life is anything but predicable. These predictable exercise could even be good prep for the two exercises discussed in this post. Dynamic exercises are stimulating the muscle in a way similar to how you will be using them, and mostly specifically as a reaction to something else happening-like when your shoulder still needs stability while you’re thinking about–and doing–beats on the trapeze or catching that awkward bag as you stuff it in the overhead bin, for example.

**Quick Note: It’s important to feel comfortable with forearm plank on the ball before trying either of these plank variations. I also suggest trying Stir the Pot in kneeling forearm plank first to ensure you have good plank form and can focus on the circles.

Add These Exercises?

1) Stir the Pot: Why this is a great exercise is because it’s turning on your core, the place from which all movement originates, and it’s placing a huge demand on the shoulder girdle stabilizers as they respond to the unstable surface.

Things to think about while doing this exercises:

  1. Maintain engaged core to ensure good plank form.
  2. Start with small circles and as you gain strength and familiarity with the exercise start to make the circles bigger.
  3. Make sure the circles are slow and controlled.
  4. And no matter how hard it gets, never let your low back arch.

Progression for Stir the Pot

If you want to challenge your core and your shoulder-stabilizing muscles even more, grab a friend and try the ‘Kick the Ball’ Plank Exercise: Same set-up as the previous exercise, but now grab a friend to kick the ball (Gently…this isn’t a game of kickball-you’re not trying to kick a home run. That’s a sure way to knock your friend off the ball and probably straight on to their face. Please don’t do this. No hurting your friend. BUT, also kick the ball enough to challenge them).

This exercise is strengthening your shoulder-stabilizing muscles via a small and somewhat unexpected force coming in from different angles as your friend kicks the ball and your muscles have to react to it to keep your form on top of the ball. The muscles aren’t turned on 100% while waiting–they can’t be–but when your friend kicks the ball they have to instantly turn on to ensure you don’t roll off or become misaligned.

Things to think about while doing this exercises:

  1. Have your friend kick randomly at the ball.
  2. Start with less force in the kicks and as you gain strength and familiarity with the exercises your friend can kick with some more force, being mindful this is not a kickball game.
  3. And of course maintain an engaged core and shoulder girdle. No slouching in the low back or shoulders.

2) Arm Bar: Before your start: First start this exercise with no weight at all in your hand and just work on the movement pattern. What you can do is balance a yoga block or your shoe on the palm of your hand or fist (no grabbing the block/shoe-just balance) and this will help you see how stable your shoulder is being as you move through the movement pattern. Once you have the movement down add a weight (dumbbell or kettlebell) that is not too challenging. You don’t want to just dive right into heavy weights. You may need to start with a 5 or 8 pound weight and that’s ok. You’re here to build your stabilizer muscles, not beat them up and possibly hurt yourself.

Set-up: Lie on the side you want to have the weight in your hand with the dumbbell or kettlebell on the floor. Grab with that hand and slowly roll to your back with both hands holding the weight and elbows bent and close to your body. Once on your back, pack your shoulder (meaning your arm bone-humerus-pulled into the socket so that the scapula-shoudler blade-itself is flat on the floor) press the weight up so that your wrist is in a neutral position and the weight and wrist are stacked over the shoulder. Keep your eye on the weight in your hand. Bend your leg, the same leg as the hand that is holding the weight. The other leg is straight and on the floor and the arm that is the same of that leg is straight overhead.

Things to Think about while doing this exercise

  1. Keep core engaged.
  2. Keep your eyes on the weight.
  3. Keep weight stacked over shoulder throughout the exercise.

This exercise really challenges the proprioception of your shoulder girdle while increasing thoracic spine and hip mobility, two places most of us need more mobility. The Arm Bar also really works the core, because you really need the core engaged to keep the shoulders working in unison with the hips.

**Quick note: only roll as far as you can with your chest towards the ground, do not move into places that do not feel good or that are painful. If you feel pain you should have a medical professional look at it and find out what the cause of the pain is. Because although these are good exercises to build strong and stable shoulders and core, you should not be working in pain or trying to self treat without knowing what specifically the issue is. So please, please have those things checked out-that goes for any pain.

Progression for the Arm Bar

1/4 Get-up: Before you start: Just like with the Arm Bar, try this with a yoga block or shoe on the palm of your hand or fist to ensure you understand the movement pattern before you add a weight.

The set up is mostly the same. Lie on your side, as you did above to grab the weight and roll to back. Pack your shoulder and press the weight up so that your wrist is in a neutral position and the weight and wrist is stacked over the shoulder. Keep your eye on the weight. Lie with one leg bent and one leg straight and out at about a 45 degree angle from your body. The arm not holding the weight will be out to the side at an angle that is about parallel with the straight leg.


  1. Keep core engaged.
  2. Keep your eyes on the weight.
  3. Keep weight stacked over the shoulder throughout the exercise.
  4. Keep the straight leg on the floor throughout the whole exercise and be mindful not to have the bend knee fall inwards.
  5. Press out of the bottom shoulder when in the ‘up’ position.

progression of the 1/4 Get up

The Arm Bar and the 1/4 Get-up both seem really simple but there’s actually a lot going on in both of these exercises. Stabilizing a load up over your body requires a ton of activation in the all the muscles around your shoulder girdle (especially your rotator cuff) and your core…not to mention the requirement for good mobility through your thoracic spine! And then, even with all of that just to hold the weight in place, you now have to move your body! This turns each of these exercises into a huge mobility and dynamic stability challenge!

As always, please reach out via the comments or contact us if you have any questions or would like to work with us on designing a program for you. Be Well,~~~Theresa