Strength & Power

Best Shoulder Exercises for Lacrosse Players

Best Shoulder Exercises for Lacrosse Players 

For lacrosse players, the shoulders are everything. 

They need strong and powerful musculature around the shoulders to express power. They need mobile shoulders to allow for better movement patterns and increased range while shooting and passing. They need stable shoulders to fight off the intense physicality of a lacrosse game. 

Essentially, strong and healthy shoulders are invaluable for lacrosse players. 

And while most players only start paying attention to their shoulders when they get cranky from too much work or start to have chronic pain from tightness and restriction, taking a proactive approach to developing a healthy shoulder can allow lacrosses to not only stay healthy – but also maximize their performance. 

In this article we’re going to look at the exact exercises that lacrosse players can use to develop bulletproof shoulders, improve their range of motion, and develop the strength that will actually translate to the field. 

Let’s dive in. 

Shoulder Pre-Hab Exercises for Lacrosse Players 

We do pre-hab exercises today so that we don’t need to do rehab exercises tomorrow.

Let’s start by recognizing that shoulders are intensely intricate joints. There are at least 8 muscles that stabilize the shoulder, including 4 muscles just in the “rotator cuff.” While many lacrosse players focus on getting stronger shoulders with push and pull based exercises, or even muscle specific exercises, it’s often not enough to challenge or even activate some of these small muscle groups. 

That’s why we like to use band exercises and do intentional activation work on the shoulders. Our goal is to both activate these small muscles (with the intention we’ll be able to recruit them more effectively in future exercises/movements) and also strengthen them. 

This type of work is often called “shoulder care” and is used religiously by baseball players to ensure that they’re protecting their shoulders, strengthening these small muscles, and returning balance to potentially asymmetrical firing patterns.  

This can take as little as 5 minutes before lacrosse or a workout – but can pay huge dividends for lacrosse players. 

Here are the “must have” pre-hab & activation-based shoulder exercises for lacrosse players. 

Pre-Hab Exercise #1: Banded Pull Aparts

This one is a classic – but for good reason. 

The truth is, nearly all of us have rounded shoulders today. Whether it’s been at a desk all day or sitting around with poor posture, these forward-rounding shoulders wreak havoc on the upper body by pulling the shoulders out of alignment. 

This is especially true for lacrosse players. 

Not only do we love to bench press, but the over-head nature of lacrosse naturally amplifies the tight anterior muscles that pull the shoulder forward. 

While the primary goal of most upper-body mobility work is to release those muscles – it’s also important to strengthen the muscles that pull the shoulders back. Not only does this help restore shoulder posture, but it also helps develop strength in the support musculature that helps stabilize the shoulder – ultimately allowing for stronger, more powerful, and more bulletproof shoulders. 

Focus on a lighter band, but adding higher volume (more reps) with a focused intention on pulling the shoulder blades back and squeezing.  

Pre-Hab Exercise #2: Banded No Moneys 

Strange name, but effective exercise. 

This external shoulder rotation exercise is a favorite amongst baseball players and pitching coaches because it directly challenges those small rotator muscles that are often neglected. 

Its value comes in being hyper-specific. There are very few muscles where you can intentionally activate and feel the rear delts and these small rotator muscles fire – but they’re all incredibly important for lacrosse players. 

This is an exercise that’s best done with intention and really focusing on feeling those muscles activate and creating that “burn” without breaking form. 

Pre-Hab Exercise #3: Half kneel Banded Pull to Rotational L

This is actually an exercise we created specifically for lacrosse players. 

Here we combine a shoulder retraction and then external rotation – two movements that not only compliment each other well (think about drawing your shoulder back for a shot) but also are rarely challenged together in exercise. 

We also love having this exercise both unilateral and in a half kneeling position because it challenges lacrosse players to get super intentional with their movements and really focus on motor control and activation. 

Pre-Hab Exercise #4: Half kneel Banded Ys 

This exercise is similar to the previous but challenges slightly different muscles. 

In addition to challenging the muscles of the rotator cuff, the Romboids, and the Rear Delts – it also challenges the low traps. This is super valuable because most trap based exercises focus on the upper traps and also fail to challenge athletes to truly control their shoulder blades. 

In this exercise, we’re looking for a smooth movement that ends in a position similar to where your top hand would be shooting from. It’s important here to not “shrug” the shoulders and keep your shoulder blades down and back. 

Shoulder Mobility Exercises for Lacrosse Players 

Shoulder mobility is a complicated topic for most athletes. If an athlete is too mobile in their shoulders without the requisite strength and motor control of the range they’re susceptible to shoulder injuries. 

But the opposite is also true. An athlete with tight and restricted shoulders will be in chronic pain, build up compensations, and of course – be susceptible to injury. 

While being hyper-mobile is common in pitches or volleyball players, it’s not nearly as common in lacrosse players.  If we see 100 lacrosse players for a movement screen, we could probably expect to see 3-4 that are hypermobile (usually female players), 10-15 that have healthy range, and the rest having some sort of restriction. 

Chances are that if you don’t know what group you’d be in – you’re tight and restricted. 

So, how do lacrosse players increase mobility in their shoulders? The good news is that it doesn’t take much work to make a noticeable difference in shoulder mobility. With just a handful of exercises done daily, lacrosse players can see a massive improvement in a short time. 

Let’s look at our top 5 shoulder mobility exercises that all lacrosse players should be doing!

Shoulder Mobility Exercise #1: Shoulder Dislocations 

This exercise looks simple, but is shockingly effective. 

Using a stick, broom, or better yet a band – this exercise creates a mobility demand through the front of the upper body including the chest and anterior shoulders. 

Even with a couple of slow reps, players will quickly find where they’re most tight and start to feel tension release. For many players who have been sitting all day, this is likely through the pectoralis muscles – while players who have been hitting the wall or shooting a lot will likely find this creates more release through the front of the shoulders. 

Either way, it’s a phenomenal exercise for opening up an area where lacrosse players hold a lot of tension.  

Shoulder Mobility Exercise #2: Banded Shoulder Extensions 

This exercise is the exact opposite of the Shoulder Dislocators, but has a similar effect. 

With most lacrosse players being highly restricted through the front of their shoulders, we noticed that many players can barely put their hands together behind their back and then lift them off their butt. 

This is something that shouldn’t be challenging, and the shoulders are designed to be able to get parallel with your arms straight behind you. 

So while we can assume you’re nowhere close to this, it’s a good test to remind you to work on shoulder extension. 

You should feel a massive release through the front of the shoulders and even the chest with this exercise. 

Shoulder Mobility Exercise #3: Banded Lat Stretch 

The lats hold a ton of tension.

While they can be considered the powerhouse of the back or upper body, and responsible for your “pull-based” strength, they often get tight and restricted by overuse and poor posture. 

Lacrosse Players are guilty of this to an extreme. 

Not only will a shooting or wall session leave you tight here, but you’re probably guilty of poor sitting postures that put chronic strain and tension on your lats. 

Regardless of the cause of the problem, this stretch is the answer. 

With a band attached to a pole and sitting your hips back and to the side – the goal of this exercise is to completely open up your side body. Getting into this position usually feels incredible and 

Shoulder Mobility Exercise #4: Shoulder Slide to Flips to Lift 

This is an exercise that you likely haven’t seen before. 

Here we’re intentionally focusing on the end range of movement. We’re actively trying to lift our hand as high as possible here, and then find where we’re restricted to go any further and flex against that end range. 

This can also be taken to the next level by hitting that end range and then completing a circle back to the start position. We like starting lacrosse players with this variation because they release just how restricted they are in getting into that overhead position and controlling it

Improve this and unlock more range of motion to express power from in your shot. 

Shoulder Strength Exercises for Lacrosse Players

You can’t shoot a cannon from a canoe. 

This is a popular phrase among strength coaches, and while it usually applies to feet and core muscles – it can also be applied to shoulders. 

The truth is, if you’re trying to improve your shot power, without improving your shoulder strength, you’re both putting yourself at a disservice and at risk for an injury. 

Any good Strength Coach isn’t naive to the fact that you can’t just lift your way to a harder shot. But if you’re actively trying to improve your shot velocity, you need to be strengthening the shoulder muscles that contribute. 

This isn’t just weighted balls or silly “functional” lacrosse exercises. It’s intentional strength work that allows you to develop the foundational strength that will translate. 

Let’s look the “must have” exercises we’ve put in all of our workout programs for lacrosse players and that should be in your training too:

Shoulder Exercise #1: Half Kneeling Shoulder Press

When it comes to strength-based upper-body exercises – this might be the best. 

While there’s so much attention on push-based exercises being horizontal (i.e. bench press, push-ups, chest press), the vertical press is rarely focused on with the same intensity. 

This is largely because there’s a lot more risk with heavy shoulder presses. In fact, many strength coaches will even avoid from pressing overhead for athletes because the risk-to-reward ratio isn’t high enough. 

This is understandable. A lot of athletes try to push heavier and heavier ultimately leading to failed reps and poor movement mechanics – and when you’re lifting too heavy and fail a rep overhead, the opportunity for a shoulder injury is high. 

But this exercise takes all the benefits of pressing overhead and forces the athlete to get ultra braced and controlled. 

Unlike the traditional “shoulder press” that bodybuilders use, there’s no longer any room for “cheated” reps by driving through your legs or grossly compensating through your lower back. 

Being in the half kneel position keeps athletes fully braced through the core, while staying in an elbow-forward position eliminates the risk of compensating by flaring out and loading up structures that are meant for shoulder stability not being overloaded with heavy weight. 

While players can start light and strict with their movement, more advanced players can also begin to load up more safely.  This is an exercise that we use in literally every one of our lacrosse workout programs.

Shoulder Exercise #2: Half Kneeling Lat Pulldown 

If the Half Kneeling Shoulder Press is our favorite push-based shoulder exercise, this exercise is our favorite pull-based shoulder exercise. 

This is another exercise that we consider mandatory in every workout program for lacrosse players. 

The lats (latissimus dorsi) really are the powerhouse of the back and upper body – and need to be a training priority of lacrosse players. 

And while most players are probably using chin-ups to challenge this muscle group, we love the Half Kneeling Lat Pulldown because it creates a unilateral strength demand. Training with a single arm here is so valuable because there’s often huge strength discrepancies between the left/right side of the body in lacrosse players. 

This exercise not only allows for strength development, but it also allows us to challenge asymmetries in the body that lacrosse naturally develops and seek to create a more balanced upper body. 

Shoulder Exercise #3: Face Pulls 

This is definitely a sleeper pick – but hugely valuable for lacrosse players. 

All Lacrosse Players should have heavy pull-based exercises like chin-ups or off bench rows in their program – but if they’re specifically focused on developing their shoulders, they also need to focus on targeting the small muscles of the back that support shoulder strength and stability. 

This is an exercise we put in all programs for lacrosse players – almost weekly. 

This exercise mainly hits the rear deltoids, rhomboids and middle traps. It also improves the musculature of the rotator cuff. Together is insanely valuable for lacrosse players to develop the strength they need to improve their shoulder posture, biomechanics, and strength/power expression while shooting. 

This doesn’t need to be heavy, but it does need to be intentional and controlled. 

We like to see players using higher reps for this exercise and focusing on movement quality – where they squeeze their shoulders blades back, hold for a couple of seconds, and then slowly control back. 

Shoulder Exercise #4: High Plank Shoulder Touch 

Shoulder stability is insanely valuable for lacrosse players. 

In such a high impact game, strengthening the stabilizer of the shoulder is what allows players to avoid contact-based injuries. 

But this isn’t just for injury prevention, developing these muscles allow players to shoot harder, express strength better, and optimize their movement mechanics through the upper body. 

This exercise is perfect for youth lacrosse players who need to start developing shoulder control to NCAA and pro players who need to strengthen these muscles and build stabilization endurance. 

Shoulder Exercise #5: Bear Crawls 

The High Plank Shoulder Touch is great, but Bear Crawls are greater. 

This exercise should be mandatory in every lacrosse players workout program. 

It takes shoulder stability to the next level by forcing players to stabilize through different positions and angles. 

Both the High Plank and the Bear Crawl aren’t just good shoulder stability exercises, but also extremely effective in creating upper body control, core strength, and overall improved movement quality and the ability to find and maintain higher quality positions. 

Shoulder Exercise #6: Push Up to Opposite Foot Touch 

Building on the concepts used in the Bear Crawl, this exercise is another sleeper pick that is phenomenal at developing strength in the shoulder through various ranges of movement. 

It’s rare for an exercise to create a strength demand through such a wide range motion like this exercise. Going into a downward dog-style position allows for players to challenge their overhead strength and then also control their body weight as they transfer their weight back into the push up position. 

It’s important players stay slow and strict with their movement quality here – but if done, this exercise could pay huge dividends in strength, muscular endurance, and motor control through the shoulders. 

Wrapping It Up

From the constant contact to the repetitive movements, lacrosse is tough on the shoulders. 

While a younger player may not feel it yet, any lacrosse player who isn’t actively looking after their shoulders will have pain, restriction, and potentially injury at some point of their career. 

Activation exercises, mobility exercises, and intentional strength & stability exercises are essential for lacrosse players to build bulletproof shoulders and also optimize their movement and performance on the field. 

The next question we’ll often hear from lacrosse players is should I create a “shoulder day” workout?  While it’s common of ambitious players to want to attack a common weakness or high value area, it’s important to recognize that these exercises should be integrated into a full-body workout program. 

All of our workout programs at Relentless Lacrosse use shoulder exercises like this within workouts to ensure that lacrosse players are building a balanced body and developing the strength that will translate to improved performance on the field. If you’re creating your own workout programs, try to focus on getting each one of these exercises each week in your program – while doing something for shoulders daily. 

Get out there & get relentless!

kyle kokotailo hockey training
Kyle Kokotailo

Kyle is a Lacrosse Performance Specialist who’s worked with hundreds of lacrosse players including 100+ NCAA male & females players and dozens of NLL and PLL pros. A former elite hockey player, Kyle earned his degree in Kinesiology at the University of Toronto before becoming a Strength Coach that specializes in athlete performance. Today, he runs Relentless Lacrosse where he works with players across the world.


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