9 Best Shoulder Exercises for Quarterbacks, Pitchers, and Other Strong-armed Athletes

Sep 8, 2022 | Sports Performance, Strength & Conditioning

Football quarterback about to throw a pass during team practice with clouds in background
What if I told you that you could have a faster, farther and more ferocious throw by adding in a few simple exercises to your current training program? Whether you’re a pitcher, quarterback, or any other strong-armed athlete (like javelin thrower or volleyball player), you’ll benefit from these nine crucial shoulder exercises that’ll give you more overhead power and keep your muscles and joints healthy.

Morey Croson is the head speed coach and founder of The Performance Lab of California, where he’s helped athletes of all ages reach their athletic potential. In this blog, he combines his experience as a former collegiate quarterback with his knowledge as a strength and conditioning coach to give you the perfect list of exercises to improve your throwing power and prevent sport-related injury.

Morey Croson

Add Velocity and Distance to Your Throw

Completing a 20-yard pass, throwing a strike, serving an ace. No matter your sport, if you’re an athlete who repetitively moves an object overhead, you’re putting an extremely high amount of stress on your shoulders. You need strength training that not only develops power, but also prevents injury due to the repetitive nature of your sport. This can be tricky, though. It’s difficult to understand exactly what is necessary to improve shoulder strength without limiting mobility.

Your program should build the big muscle groups in the shoulder while also improving mobility and optimizing shoulder mechanics. You need exercises that focus on healthy rotation, stability, and strength.

I’ve come up with a list of the nine best shoulder exercises for strong-armed athletes. Each of these movements will help you develop a more powerful throw and keep your shoulders healthy and injury-free. They can all be easily added to your current strength training routine – think of them as add-ons or supplements to what you are currently doing.

Develop Healthy Shoulder Rotation

1. KB/DB Internal & External Shoulder Rotation

Training external and internal rotation is key when it comes to balance, shoulder stability, and injury prevention. These movements you engage your muscles and control your shoulder position, which is paramount for athletes who participate in throwing overhead. (8-12 reps)

2. Single-Arm DB Snatches

This single-arm power exercise develops lower and upper body coordination. It also develops overhead shoulder stabilization and hip range of motion with the arm in a flexed position, which is key to injury prevention for athletes who use one arm to make a pass, hit a ball, etc. (5-8 reps each side)

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Build Shoulder Stability & Strength

3. Crawls

Ground-based natural movements (like crawling) are a missing element in most people’s exercise regimens. Crawls are great for challenging your core, strengthening the shoulder complex, and improving mobility. The big thing with this one is keeping the knees close to the ground and maintaining a neutral spine. I recommend doing forward and backward to build proper scapular motion. (10-15 yards forward and back)

4. KB Bottom-Up Press

Don’t sleep on this simple kettlebell exercise – the functionality of this movement is tremendous. To maintain the kettlebell in an upright position, you have to externally rotate the shoulder to a higher degree, which requires more activation of the rotator cuff muscles. It’s also a great rehab/prehab tool, as it builds up rotator cuff strength and strengthens your core. (8-12 reps)

5. Landmine Shoulder Press

Single-arm exercises with a staggered stance will help strengthen the shoulder and increase coordination. The landmine shoulder press improves your overhead shoulder mobility, and it definitely translates to your ability to throw the ball with more power. (8-15 reps)

Coach’s Tip: For a guide on how to do landmine shoulder presses and other unilateral overhead presses, check out this blog: Killer Alternatives for the Barbell Overhead Press

6. Turkish Get-Up

The Turkish get-up takes your shoulder capsule through a dynamic range of motion test/workout. During this full-body movement, you are holding a weight directly above your shoulder the entire time, which enhances shoulder mobility and stabilization. The Turkish get-up is great for all athletes as it simultaneously improves coordination, promotes stability, corrects imbalances, and works the glutes, traps, lower-back, hamstrings, triceps, lats, and of course, the shoulders. (4-8 reps each side)

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Grow Those “Show Muscles”

7. Barbell Strict Press

This movement builds strength within the external rotator cuff muscles, which stabilize the shoulder joint and assist in various overhead movements. It works both your anterior and medial delts, as well as your triceps, upper back, delts, and core. This is a great full-body movement that improves your posture and your throwing power. (10-15 reps)

8. Lateral Raise

The medial delt is often neglected when training the shoulder. Priority is typically given to the pecs, anterior delt, rotator cuff, or rhomboids. Isolating the medial delt with this simple lateral raise is an excellent exercise for any athlete looking to put on size and build upper body strength. (8-15 reps)

9. Front Raise

This is an isolation exercise for shoulder flexion. It targets your anterior delts and pectoralis major, making it a great upper body exercise that builds muscle and definition. Shoulder flexion is especially important for athletes who release a ball from a high position, such as quarterbacks or pitchers. (8-15 reps)

These exercises should be done on a weekly basis to build up the entire shoulder complex. There are a variety of different ways to implement these into your workouts, but they shouldn’t replace some of the main lifts in your program for the pecs, shoulders, and back. Instead, they should serve as compliments to them.

That being said, the sets should be dependent on your workout and how many exercises you are doing. For example, you can do one set 4-5 days a week of everything, or you can break it up into 2-3 sets and do it a couple times a week.

Add these into your workouts to develop functional strength that translates to the field, court, or gym. Here’s to healthy shoulders and game-winning throws.

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