The Keys to Having Happy, Pain Free Shoulders


This is a topic that we tackled on “Limitless Live” – a live Q & A show Limitless is doing on Facebook every single week. Don’t follow us yet on Social Media? Stop missing out and connect with us below.

Happy shoulders are healthy shoulders. In order for shoulders to be performing at their peak “happiness” or function, one must have full mobility, adequate strength fitting to the demands of their normal activity, and pain-free movement.

When shoulders get “angry”, we can typically boil down the problem to one of those three common themes associated with shoulder health …

  1. Lacking Full Shoulder Mobility
  2. Lacking the Strength for Specific Demands of Sport or Life
  3. Painful or “Sensitive” Movements

Fortunately, one tool stands out among the rest as being a way to improve mobility, supplement strength, and reduce pain: Exercise

Specifically—well executed, purposeful strength training in targeted movement patterns to improve shoulder resilience, decrease pain, and facilitate your lifestyle and physical activities.


As a ball and socket joint, the shoulder is able to perform a plethora of motions and movements (some more beneficial than others.) In our clinic, we consistently see imbalances between anterior and posterior shoulder strength and control. There are numerous reasons why we as humans inherently have these imbalances (another post entirely!) but it really boils down to the fact all of us move, work, play and perform our daily lives in front of us. We work on computers in front of us and throw baseballs forward, not backwards! While the shoulder typically is working in a forward direction (think bench press, dips, biceps curls, pushups, etc) the joint itself craves stability in its posterior aspects, specifically the scapula and rotator cuff musculature. To feed the shoulder what it craves, we recommended implementing more pulling movements. Improving one’s push to pull ratio is an easy way to end shoulder pain before it begins. Supplementing an exercise program with increased pulling exercises, specifically scapular strengthening and row variations is a great start to shaping “happy” shoulders.


Another common theme we see with shoulder dysfunction is elbow position, specifically with pushing movements. When we push, the elbows should not flare up towards the ear but rather, stay closer to the ribs in a neutral position, allowing for improved tracking of the shoulder and decreased opportunity for pinching and jamming of structures. Put simply think of making a “V” with your elbows, not a “T”.


Something we preach everyday to our clients is to be variable with your movement and don’t let the industry standards blur your idea of healthy movement. Utilizing different tools to perform the bench press, rows, and shoulder press is an essential for long term shoulder and general health. Pick something you are comfortable using regardless if its a dumbbell, barbell, or kettlebell and start pushing and pulling! Variability in movement and equipment is essential for developing mobile, strong, and pain-free shoulders while keeping you motivated to pursue your movement goals!

Here are some of our favorite varieties of common pushing & pulling movements to help you keep those shoulders healthy!

So maybe you’ve added more rowing variations, improved your posterior shoulder strength, and modified your elbow position in push and pull movements but still struggle with pain, mobility or strength (maybe all 3?)

Stop in and get assessed by a movement professional here at Limitless Physical Therapy & Performance where we can create an individualized plan for you to address all your shoulder needs.


Matt Zoelling is currently in the final stages of earning his Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Indiana State University. Matt is an Oakland University alumnus, receiving his BS in Health Sciences and is a CrossFit Level 1 Certified Trainer (CF-L1). He is Graston technique IASTM Certified, Rockblades FMT IASTM certified, and a Rocktape certified provider with additional training in Myofascial Decompression (Cupping). In addition to being a CF-L1 coach, Matt has extensive knowledge in exercise science principles with a background in strength and conditioning implementation and programming. He is a born and raised Michigan native, with a love for the great outdoors. His passion is rooted in enhancing lives and human performance through optimizing movement while instilling confidence in his clients to overcome their obstacles.

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Seth King
We help people feel confident and strong so they can return to the activities they love without pain or fear.

Dr. Seth King

PT, DPT, Owner/Founder of Limitless

We help people feel confident and strong so they can return to the activities they love without pain or fear.

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