shoulder exercise EMG

How to Pick the Best Shoulder Exercises and Know Why

shoulder programI can’t tell you how many times people ask me for a copy of my shoulder program.  You’ve been reading my website for a while now, have you found my shoulder program?  I bet you haven’t!  That is because not one shoulder program is appropriate for everyone.

Rather than rely on one simple shoulder program for everyone, I always try to customize my programs based on each person and their presentation.

Things I will customize:

  1. Emphasis on muscle groups that are weak or inhibited
  2. Sets and reps to emphasize specific muscle groups
  3. Weights for each individual exercise

Pretty basic concepts, huh?  Yet for some reason, everyone is looking for a shoulder program.  There are a lot of exercises out there that you can choose from, think of them like your tool kit and pick certain exercises you want to use to work on a certain deficiency.  This is probably why things like “patellofemoral programs” don’t work, you can’t just have a vague and standardized program for everyone.

Sure, I have a core set of exercises that I like to use, and if you have seen me speak, gone through my online course, or viewed any of my DVDs, you know what they are, but more importantly, you know WHY I picked them.


You can learn to choose the best shoulder program exercises too

In my mind, we need to pick exercises that have been shown to be effective in recruiting muscle activity of the muscles specific to the activity you are training or rehabbing.

shoulder exercise EMGIn essence you need to understand:

  1. The biomechanics of the joint.  You need to know how the entire joint interacts with itself and the surrounding joints.
  2. The biomehcanics and EMG of the muscle.  You need to know the arthrokinematics and influence of muscle anatomy, moment arms, and EMG response to different positioning and movements.
  3. The biomechanics of the activity you are training.  You need to know how the joint and muscles you are training are going to work in the real world.

I know a lot of people tend to think that I place too much emphasis on EMG studies, and maybe I do, but EMG is a piece of the puzzle.  For me, it is most important when comparing muscle activity between two different exercises.  It is one of the factors I consider when choosing exercises.  But there are many more.


How to Build Your Own Shoulder Program and Know Why

Go back and read my article on the rationale behind shoulder exercises, which includes a link to download a free copy of my JOSPT articles on the Current Concepts in the Scientific and Clinical Rationale Behind Exercises for the Glenohumeral and Scapulothoracic Musculature.  This article will help you a ton when designing your next shoulder program, but more importantly will help you understand why you choose certain exercises based on many factors.

For those highly motivated, I go over this ton more in my online shoulder CEU program at and on my DVD with Eric Cressey Optimal Shoulder Performance.

In this day and age of “functional exercise,” which is ultimately important, isolated strengthening exercises are still needed to address deficiencies and imbalances BEFORE we get functional.  This is one of the many principles I emphasize in my upcoming Functional Stability Training program (just to wet your appetite, but this is in it’s infancy, perhaps early 2012).  But for now, I hope this information helps you build your own shoulder program!

3 replies
  1. Bob Panico
    Bob Panico says:

    Great post. I specialize in shoulder rehab. Often I see the patient that has a poor or failed result. Many times that patient has been through therapy that just “ran the playbook”, without individualizing the program to fit their needs or requirements. Shoulders are so complex and need that personalized attention. I cannot stress enough the need to get your hands on the patient – often. Really feel what is going on. Look closely, watch the ROM & movements. Do not assume. Keep it coming Mike! good luck in 2014.

  2. Edward Multerer
    Edward Multerer says:


    I really enjoy reading your weekly newsletter. Great shoulder article in JOSPT.

    I haven’t received the ebook on so ing the patellofemoral mystery. Are you able to send it along c the other bonuses that are complimentary when signing up for your newsletter?

    Thank you,

    Ed Multerer, MPT

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