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A Strength Session for Building Stronger Shoulders

Our shoulders are complex joints, and we expect a lot from them—this strength circuit will help you build the best foundation.

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We ask a lot of our shoulders—they reach, pull, and push in the swim, we hunch them in a rounded ball on the bike, and then they slump the rest of the day over our computers and phones.

It’s important to realize that shoulders are very mobile, but architecturally shoulders are quite shallow and unstable, and they require a lot of muscular support to balance the tension around this ball and socket joint.

As triathletes, we tend to dominate with the muscles that pull us into internal rotation—like in every swim pull. This shifts the stability of the ball within the socket and creates impingement. That makes it critical for us to improve the external rotators around the shoulder complex to maintain better stability when under load. We must also build a better foundation for the scapula on which the ball and socket joint rests. These exercises will target scapular control for postural alignment and rebuild the external rotation control needed in your shoulders and in your sport.

Do this shoulder workout for triathletes routine two to three times a week and/or prior to a swim workout. With the band exercises, difficulty can be modified by the tension on the band.

Shoulder Workout for Triathletes

1. Kneeling Twist

Start on your knees with your left elbow and forearm on the ground, your right hand on the back of your head, and your right elbow touching your left. Take an inhale, and as you exhale fully rotate your entire upper body to the right so that your chest twists up to the sky. Inhale as you twist back down to allow your elbows to touch again. Perform 3 sets of 15 reps on each side.

2. Scapular Bridge

Place chairs or blocks on either side of you, tight to your torso. Prop your elbows and upper arms on top of the blocks, and push down and back into the blocks so that the front of your chest spreads open. Now push your hips up into a bridge. The key is to maintain your shoulder blades flat on your back while driving from the hips, with your chin slightly tucked. If you feel any tension in your lower back, drop your ribs down until it releases. Hold for 30 seconds, repeat 4 times.

3. Wall Slides

Loop a light resistance band around your hands, and face the wall so that your wrists are stacked directly over your elbows, with elbows are as wide as your shoulders, and the outsides of your hands are resting on the wall. Without arching your back, slide your hands up the wall keeping this exact wrist and elbow alignment, and then lower them back down. Don’t allow your wrists to twist inward or your elbows to drift out. Do 4 sets of 10 reps.

4. 90/90 Shoulder Row

Secure your resistance band in a door and grab the ends so that your elbows are straight out in front of you. Draw your hands in toward your chin, keeping your elbows up at shoulder height. Next, flip your forearms up vertically, without lowering your elbows. Flip your forearms back down, and extend your arms out straight again. Be sure not to arch your back when you flip your arms up. Do 4 sets of 10 reps.

5. Prone Row

Anchor a resistance tube just a few inches off the floor, lie on the ground with your arms outstretched, and hold a band in each hand. Your head should hover just off the floor with your chin slightly tucked, core engaged, and lower back relaxed. Pull your elbows down and into your sides. Make sure that your wrists don’t drop lower than your elbows, and try to keep them slightly higher than your elbows as you pull. Return to start position and repeat. Perform 4 sets of 12 rows.

Jay Dicharry’s book Running Rewired is available from and features many more exercises like these.