Pain Free Working

13 Desk Exercises to Strengthen Your Shoulders

Strong shoulders look good on anyone. However, a lot of us have weak shoulder muscles due to the fact that we constantly move our arms or hold them forward with activities such as driving, working, using our phones, side sleeping, and the like. Over time, our shoulder muscles can become tight, dormant, and weak. When our shoulder muscles become weak, we’re at risk of injuries.

When we experience shoulder injury or discomfort, it could greatly affect our range of motion. It’s important to take action right away and prevent further damage. To reinforce your shoulder joints and muscles, something that you can incorporate into your daily life is shoulder strengthening exercises. We’ve rounded up the best shoulder exercises that you can do anytime, anywhere!

Parts of the Shoulder

First things first, it’s vital to understand the group of muscles that make up the shoulder area. Our shoulders are made of three muscle groups: the anterior deltoid, lateral deltoid, and posterior deltoid.

The anterior helps you move your arm up and down and it’s also responsible for your shoulder flexion. The lateral deltoid helps to raise your shoulders to the sides of your body when your shoulder is internally rotated. Lastly, the posterior deltoid, located at the back of your shoulder, is responsible for bringing your arms and hands from the sides of your body to the midline. 

Exercising can help you in maintaining your deltoids in tip-top shape. Additionally, exercises help in promoting increased stability and reduced risk of muscle damage. 

Common Shoulder Injuries

The most mobile joint in the body is the shoulders. While they are very flexible, they’re also not very stable and can be easily injured. Here are some of the most common shoulder injuries that you should know.

Shoulder Sprain

Also known as acromioclavicular joint (AC joint) injury, a shoulder sprain happens when the ligaments stabilizing the joint are stretched or partially torn. Severe injury can lead to dislocation or separation of the collarbone and the shoulder. 

Shoulder Strain

A shoulder strain normally occurs with overuse of the muscle or when the shoulders remain in one position for a long time. The muscle or tendon can get stretched or torn. The pain is obvious when lifting or reaching arms overhead, reaching behind, doing pushing-pulling exercises, and so on. This is common in individuals who slouch on their desks, use the computer, use their mobile phones, or who have poor posture. 

Rotator Cuff Injury

The rotator cuff muscles are located on the upper arm. These muscles allow you to raise and rotate the arm. If the tendons of the rotator cuff are torn, it can be difficult to move your arm up and away from your body. When people age and become less active, the tendons begin to degenerate and lose strength, leading to a rotator cuff tear. Middle-aged or older adults tend to be at risk for rotator cuff injuries. 

Frozen Shoulder Pain

Frozen shoulder syndrome occurs when there is stiffness and pain that limits your movements. This is caused by abnormal bands of tissue (adhesions) from old injuries.

What Can I Do for Weak Shoulders?

You can improve your shoulder stability, strength, and even your posture by doing shoulder-strengthening exercises. The great thing about shoulder-strengthening exercises is that a lot of them can be done without using weights. Additionally, these exercises only take a few minutes and can be done anywhere, even while you’re in the office or waiting for a bus ride home.

What is the Best Exercise for Shoulders?

If there’s only one exercise that you’re able to squeeze in your day, it is the classic straight arm circles. This is a workout that all of us have probably done in PE class at some point. The basic, classic arm circles are often used as a warm-up but when done correctly, they can significantly strengthen your muscles. 

To do this simple, great exercise, start by extending both arms out to the sides. Keep your elbows straight, and start making circles. Try to keep your shoulder blades low as you do. You can modify the size and direction of your circles however you want but the duration is the key to making this exercise work. Try to do 30-second small circles forward, 30-small circles backward, and then 30-second large circles backward and forward respectively. Repeat as necessary. 

How Can I Strengthen My Shoulders at Work?

Overhead athletes, fitness enthusiasts, exercise beginners, employees — anyone can benefit from shoulder strength training. If you’re experiencing any sort of shoulder injury or simply need to optimize strength and coordination, these simple exercises are for you. Try them out! Do note that some of these exercises require a towel or a resistance band.

Shoulder Blade Squeezes

To start, sit in your chair with your feet flat on the floor. Shift your weight forward a little to avoid rounding your back. Keep your ears, hips, and shoulders aligned. Next, raise your arms to shoulder height, elbows bent, palms forward. Move your arms back, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold for 10 seconds, and then return to starting position. Repeat 5 times.

External Rotation

You’ll need a light resistance band to do this rotator cuff warm-up. An external rotation exercise also strengthens the upper back and the teres minor, the muscle responsible for laterally rotating the arm at the shoulder joint.

To do this, tie the band around a pole, doorknob, or any stable object. Hold the band with your elbow bent at your side. Externally rotate your arm as you keep your elbow close to your side. Slowly return to the start position and repeat. Remember, there should be no rotation of the upper body or hips.

Internal Rotation

Similar to the external rotation, this exercise requires a light resistance band. Tie the end of the band around a doorknob or a stable object. This time, grab the other end of the band with the arm that is closest to the pole. Remember, keep your elbow bent in and your forearm parallel to the ground. Move the band across your body as far as you can, focusing on the internal rotation. Repeat on the other side.


Lean forward and place one hand on a counter or table for support. Let your other arm hang freely at your side. Next, gently swing your arm forward and back. Repeat the exercise by moving your arm side-to-side, and then repeat in a circular motion. Afterward, repeat the entire sequence with the opposite arm.

Serratus Push-Ups

This exercise can reduce chronic wear and tear. As a start, place your palms against the wall as if you’re about to do a regular push-up. Lock your elbows and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Next, push up. Repeat as much as you want. 

Anterior Shoulder Raises

This is perfect for individuals who have a tight, limited range of motion. Begin with your chest up. With your hands together and thumbs pointed up, move your arms straight upward, ending as high as you possibly can while keeping your shoulder blades together. Slowly lower your arms down to release. Repeat as much as you can.

Shoulder Joint Lateral Raises

If you experience dull, aching pain around your deltoids, lateral raises can help you out. This one requires the use of two water bottles. You can change how light or heavy the load of the bottle will be by filling it with as much water as necessary.

To do this exercise, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart as a starting position. Hold one water bottle in each hand, palms facing towards you. Raise your arms until shoulder height. In a controlled motion, lower the bottles back to your side. Repeat. 

Water Bottle Stabilizer

Just as its name says, this requires the use of a water bottle or a lightweight if you have one. As a starting position, pick up your bottle with one hand and stretch your arm straight out in front of you. Make sure your hand is at shoulder height. Hold the bottle steady for 30 to 60 seconds, and then switch sides to repeat. Do three sets per side.

Elbow Extension

Stand tall with your weight evenly distributed over both feet. This is your starting position. Next, raise one arm and bend your elbow with the weight behind your head. Support your arm by placing your opposite hand on your upper arm. Slowly straighten your elbow and bring a bottle or a weight overhead. Hold for 2 seconds before slowly lowering your arm back down behind your head. Repeat. 

Incline Push-Ups

An incline push-up exercise is a great alternative to being in an upside-down or vertical position. To do this exercise, start in a plank position with your hands shoulder-width apart on a bench, chair, or desk. Lower your chest down to the desk and push back up. Repeat. 


Body-weight dips are one of the best things to strengthen the upper back along with push-ups and pull-ups. Traditional dips are usually done with a set of handles to allow you to lift your entire body weight, but this movement can also be done with a chair or a bench.

To start, place your hands shoulder-width apart on the edge of your chair. Keep your body close and gently lower yourself down. Push yourself up to return to starting position. 

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

For this exercise, you can use mini dumbbells that are easy to store at your desk. You can also make use of water bottles. Most of the time, a dumbbell press is performed standing. However, doing this exercise seated allows you to drive more action to your deltoids.

Sit upright on an incline bench or on a chair and placed the dumbbells on your shoulders, try to keep your muscles away from your ears. Next, brace your core as you press each weight overhead until your elbows lock out. Carefully lower the weights. Rest and repeat.

Bottom Line

Strenuous activities and excessive, repetitive, overhead motions can place a lot of stress and pressure on the shoulder. Once we start feeling pain, the mobility of our shoulders can become impaired and weak.

Strengthening exercises can help reinforce our shoulders, increasing stability, improving our range of motion, and building a strong base to solidify shoulder movement. As always, if you feel any discomfort doing any of the workouts, it’s best to seek the advice of a physical therapist.

Tricia Montano

Tricia founded Pain Free Working in 2019 due to suffering from degenerative disc disease in her L5-S1 from working an office job for the past 18 years. She and her team strive on finding and reviewing the best office equipment to help fellow pain sufferers find relief and to enable people like her to do their jobs comfortably.