Weightlifters, powerlifters, and functional athletes are all at risk for injury. Injury is an inherent risk that we all must face on a daily basis. Weightlifters spend much of their training day in an overhead position, snatching, jerking, and pressing. Powerlifters apply high amounts of stress on their shoulder complex through bench pressing, low bar squats, and assistance work. Even functional fitness athletes, who in addition to doing very similar movements as weightlifters and powerlifters, find themselves increasing the volume and intensity on numerous other exercises that can elicit optimal fitness with a side of injury.

The shoulder complex lies at the foundation of nearly every exercise that we perform. The shoulder complex consists of multiple joints that are stabilized by connective tissue, all of which allow for range of motion during movement:

  • Glenohumeral Joint
  • Sternoclavicular Joint
  • Scapulothoracic Joint
  • Acromioclavicular Joint

Needless to say, all of these joint are critical for optimal shoulder health and performance.

As athletes, we must demonstrate superior shoulder range of motion (ROM), stabilization, and controlled movement under high loads and velocities, all of which must be trained through movement patterning, connective tissue adaptations, and muscular development. So of the most dominant connective tissues and muscles involved in the shoulder complex are:

  • Levator Scapulae
  • Rhomboid Major + Minor
  • Supraspinatus
  • Infraspinatus
  • Teres Major + Minor
  • Trapezius

Corrective and Strengthening Exercises

A dedicated approach to shoulder movement patterning and strengthening allows for the overall development and injury resilience. Neglectful training practices, structural and muscular imbalances, and overuse can result in nagging and sidelining injuries. Here are some of my top go-to exercises to restore shoulder ROM and improve shoulder performance.

Scapular Movement Training

The scapulae must be able to freely move while staying stable via muscular and neuromuscular control. Scapular depression, elevation, retraction, and protraction (and everywhere else in between) is necessary for most athletic endeavors. By learning how to mobilize these movements under finite control, you may decrease your susceptibility to injury.

Retraction Rows

Retraction of the shoulder blades (scapulae) are needed in most pulling, squatting, and pressing movements (not including pullers who embrace thoracic rounding techniques). By stabilizing the shoulder complex via retraction, increased stability allows for improved performance and injury resistance.

Y-T-W Drills

Often seen with baseball and football players who are professional overhead athletes (pitchers, throwers, and quarterbacks), these drills should find their way in nearly all weightlifting, powerlifting, and preventive shoulder programming. Increasing (ROM), strength, endurance, and finite control of posterior shoulder will increase joint stability in snatching, jerking, pressing, and other overhead pulling/pushing movements.

Multi-Directional Pull Aparts

This amazing exercise increase scapular stability, strengthens the posterior shoulder and rhomboids, and helps to balance high amounts of pressing with various pulling angles.

See For Yourself…

Check out these lifts, and the amount of muscular control and activity that is occurring in these high level athletes.

220lb Seated Strict Press

Talk about scapular control. Take a look at the firing of his entire back!

434lb / 197kg Snatch

If you have ever wonders how much your posterior shoulder, traps, and scapulae must work to prevent collapse, take a look.

265lb Powerlifter Repping Out Pull Ups

Look at that scapular control and movement. Stronger back equates to stronger everything!

484lb / 220kg Bottoms Up Overhead Squat

The ability to stabilize nearly 500lbs from a narrow snatch position is something else. Scapular retraction, external rotation, and the traps are all firing!

A video posted by Ma Strength (@mastrength) on

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured Image: @mikejdewar on Instagram


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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.