Functional Shoulder Exercises

Functional shoulder rehabilitation exercises

Functional shoulder exercises are sports specific exercises, which more closely relate to day to day activities or sports specific technique. They are all about the coordination of the joint.

They bridge the gap between basic rehabilitation to normal shoulder function and the more specific demands of sports, such as racket sports or throwing events.


What are functional exercises?

  • Functional shoulder exercises aim to bridge the gap between basic mobility and strengthening and sports specific training.
  • Shoulder proprioception exercises are all about the coordination of the joint. Proprioception is our sense and awareness of where parts of the body are.
  • This sensory information comes from tiny sensors which relay information about joint position, tension, and stretch in the muscles.
  • Following injury, this is damaged and needs to be rehabilitated to prevent future injury, as well as restore the athlete back to optimum physical fitness.

Functional shoulder exercises with medicine ball

A medicine ball is a weighted ball, usually made from rubber, or sometimes leather. They are great for functional shoulder rehabilitation and proprioception. This is because they can be thrown against walls and used for catching drills.

Ball catch exercise

This exercise is done on the hands and knees requires a partner. The aim is to improve general scapular and core stabilization.

  • This exercise requires a partner to throw the ball towards one of the athlete’s hands. The athlete catches the ball and throws it back.
  • The partner catches the ball and throws it to the athlete’s other hand. The ball is always thrown in an underarm motion.

Medicine ball rotation from behind

Functional shoulder exercise with medicine ball

This functional shoulder exercise strengthens the rotator cuff and scapular muscles dynamically.

  • The athlete sits with their back to the therapist, with the arm raised and elbow bent.
  • The therapist tosses the ball to the athlete, who catches it, controls the rotation of the shoulder, before reversing the movement to throw the ball back.
  • The elbow must be maintained in an elevated position.

Medicine ball rotation lying

This functional rotator cuff exercise strengthens the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder.

  • The athlete lies on their back with the arm raised to 90 degrees, elbow bent and resting the arm on the couch.
  • The therapist drops the ball from shoulder height and the athlete catches it.
  • This can quickly be progressed so that the ball is immediately thrown back to the therapist.

Medicine ball alphabet

medicine ball Functional shoulder exercise

This Medicine Ball drawing exercise strengthens the deltoid and the rotator cuff muscles. It is a shoulder proprioception exercise.

  • With the arm straight in front and slightly to the side, the athlete holds a small ball in the hand.
  • They then spell out the alphabet with the ball.

Chest pass shoulder exercise

An explosive funcation shoulder exercise, improves explosive strength of the upper body, in particular, the scapular stabilizers, pectorals, wrist flexors, and triceps.

  • The athlete stands one meter from a rebound net or partner and forcefully throws a medicine ball from chest height with both hands.
  • They then catch the rebound and immediately throw it again.

Seated medicine ball rotation

The Medicine Ball Rotation shoulder exercise involves catching and throwing a ball, using internal shoulder rotation to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles.

  • Start in a seated position, with the arm raised to 90 degrees and elbow bent.
  • The athlete catches the ball as thrown by the therapist and immediately throws the ball back, maintaining the elevated arm position.

Overhead toss

When the arms are straight the ‘push’ is performed by protracting the shoulder blades and rounding the back. Bend the elbows to return to the start position and repeat.

This exercise increases the strength of the trunk and shoulders and enhances shoulder co-ordination.

  • Lying on the floor the athlete throws the ball overhead to the therapist and simultaneously moves into a sit-up position.
  • The therapist throws the ball back, behind the athletes head so that the athlete must reach overhead to catch the ball.

Other functional shoulder exercises

Diagonal plane exercises

These exercises use a resistance band to strengthen the shoulder and arm muscles, especially the rotator cuff, chest, and upper back.

  • The athlete holds one end of a resistance band starting with the arm raised out to the side above shoulder height.
  • The arm is pulled down across the body so that hand reaches the other hip.
  • It is important the athlete maintains joint stability throughout the exercise.

Hand walking

Hand walking Functional shoulder exercise

To start with the athlete is positioned with the knees on the floor and hands on the belt. This exercise can also be performed using a stool.

  • Starting the machine at a very slow speed, the athlete walks the hands forward.
  • This can be progressed by increasing the speed and duration of exercise, as well as performing the exercise with the feet on the floor, rather than the knees.

Push-Up against wall

The Push-Up performed against a wall strengthens the chest muscles and a ‘push’ is added, the scapula muscles can also be activated. It can be performed explosively or plyometrically to strengthen the chest and serratus anterior.

  • The athlete stands in front of a wall in the push-up position with the hand’s shoulder-width apart. The feet are positioned far enough away from the wall to cause the athlete to lean in.
  • Keeping the hands on the wall at all times, the athlete pushes the body away from the hands.
  • When the arms are straight the ‘push’ is performed by protracting the shoulder blades and rounding the back. Bend the elbows to return to the start position and repeat.

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