The Thrower's 10 Essential Exercises

If you are an athlete who participates in a sport that requires overhead motions like throwing—which includes baseball, softball, and racquet sports—you know the amount of stress this places on your shoulder. This can lead to shoulder pain, wear-and-tear injuries to your rotator cuff muscles, and even decreased performance.

Injury prevention is paramount to helping you stay involved in your sport longer and with less lost time. One way to help prevent injuries while playing overhead sports is to maintain adequate range of motion and strength in your shoulders and arms. 

These "Throwers 10" exercises can help you maintain adequate mobility and stability for participation in your sport. They also help keep your arms healthy to perform everyday household tasks that require reaching overhead. For best results, do them 2-3 times per week. 

Before trying these exercises, be sure to speak with your doctor to make sure that exercising is safe for you to do. A visit to your local physical therapist may also be in order to learn the best exercises for your specific condition.


Shoulder Exernal Rotation

Man performing shoulder external rotation with resistance band

Brett Sears

Shoulder external rotation with a resistance band is a simple, yet effective exercise to strengthen your rotator cuff muscles. 

To perform the external rotation, secure a resistance band around a doorknob. Stand sideways to the door, and grab the band with the hand furthest away from the knob. Keeping your elbow bent at​ 90 degrees and tucked into your side, slowly rotate your arm out.

Hold the end position for a few seconds, then slowly allow your arm to return to the starting position. 

Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.


Shoulder Internal Rotation

Man doing shoulder internal rotation with resistance band

Brett Sears

After performing external rotation, continue strengthening your rotator cuff muscles with shoulder internal rotation. 

To do this move, grab the resistance band with the hand closest to the door knob. Keep your elbow bent and tucked into your side, and rotate your arm in toward your navel. 

Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.


Shoulder Abduction

Man doing shoulder abduction exercise with resistance band

Brett Sears

The shoulder abduction exercise strengthens the shoulder muscles that help support the joint during overhead activities.

Start with your arm at your side. While holding the band, lift it out until your arm is parallel with the floor.  Hold this position for a couple seconds and slowly return to the starting position. 

Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps.


Shoulder Diagonal Patterns

Man doing diagonla patterns using a resistance band.

Brett Sears

Strengthening your shoulder muscles with diagonal patterns is an effective way to use various muscle groups at the same time. This mimics actual motions that you may encounter while participating in sports like baseball or tennis, making it a functional exercise.

To perform diagonal patterns, fasten your resistance band to the top of a door, grasp the band above your head, and slowly bring your hand down toward your opposite hip in a diagonal motion.

While your hand is moving across your body and down toward your hip, rotate your hand as if you were putting a sword in a sheath. Hold this position for two seconds, then slowly release to the starting position.

Repeat the exercise for 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.


Sidelying External Rotation

Shoulder sidelying external rotation.

Brett Sears

An alternative way to strengthen your rotator cuff muscles without a resistance band is to lie on one side with your arm bent at 90 degrees and your elbow on your side.

Start with your hand in front of your navel, then slowly rotate your shoulder so your hand moves up towards the ceiling. Hold the top position for a couple seconds, then slowly lower back to the starting position.

Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.

This exercise can be made more challenging by holding a 1-3 pound dumbbell in your hand.


Prone Scapular Stabilization Exercises

Woman doing prone "T" exercise c

Brett Sears

The shoulder blade, or scapula, is an important player in the mobility of your shoulder. Therefore, it is essential to have good muscular control of your scapula during overhead activities.

There are four exercises that can help to improve scapular stabilization and control. All are performed while lying face down on a bench or bed with one arm hanging off.

  • Prone "T": Straighten your arm to your side (as in the image) while trying to move your shoulder blade closer to your spine.
  • Prone "Y": This position is like the prone "T," except that your arm will extend halfway between being straight out and up next to your head, or in a "Y" position.
  • Prone "I": Your arm is fully extended forward, so your elbow is next to your ear.
  • Prone row: Let your arm hang to your side. Bend your elbow and lift the hand up, as if pulling a rope. Squeeze your shoulder blades during this exercise, as if bringing them closer together.

Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions of each exercise.

A ​3-pound dumbbell can be used to add resistance to these scapular stabilization exercises.


Towel Internal Rotation Stretch

Man doing towel internal rotation stretch

Brett Sears

The towel shoulder rotation stretch can be done to help improve overall shoulder mobility. This is important in the follow-through phase of a throwing or serving motion in baseball and tennis.

Perform this exercise by placing a towel behind your back and grasping it with one hand over your shoulder and one hand behind your back. Gently pull upward on the towel to stretch your lower hand across your back and up. Hold this position for a few seconds, then slowly release. 

Repeat this exercise 10 times.


Biceps and Triceps Strengthening

Man doing bicep curls with resistance band

Brett Sears

The biceps and triceps muscles in your arms help to bend and straighten your elbow. Both muscles cross both the elbow joint and the shoulder joint, so both are essential in shoulder and arm mechanics during throwing activities.

Biceps curls and triceps presses can be performed with resistance bands or free weights. Either way, it is important to use proper form, which involves keeping your upper arm in a fixed position and your spine straight.

Do 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps of each exercise on each side of the body.


Wrist Flexion and Extension

Man performing wrist flexion exercise

Brett Sears

Strong forearms and wrists are essential to help control the position of your arm and hand as you throw a baseball or serve a tennis ball. They also help in everyday tasks such as sweeping and mopping.

To do a wrist extension, hold a 2-3 pound dumbbell with your arm resting on a table, your hand over the edge. Lift the back of your hand toward the ceiling while keeping your forearm on the table. Hold this position for a second, then slowly lower.

To perform wrist flexion, turn your hand over so you are holding the weight with your palm up. Slowly lift your palm up while keeping your arm against the table. Lower slowly. 

Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions of each exercise.


Wrist Pronation and Supination

Man doing wrist exercises

Brett Sears

Wrist pronation and supination refers to the motion of turning your wrist over. Pronation is when your palm is facing down toward the floor, while supination refers to your palm being up, as if holding a bowl in your hand.

Hold a small 2-3 pound dumbbell with one end of the weight in your palm. Rest your forearm against a table and slowly turn your wrist over and back. Control the motion as you move from pronation to supination.

Do 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.

The Bottom Line on Overhead Exercises

If you are looking to maintain strong rotator cuff, forearm, and wrist muscles to help prevent injury during overhead athletics like tennis and baseball, the Thrower's 10 exercises may be for you.

Of course, not every injury can be avoided, but by keeping your arms strong and mobile, you may be able to reduce the likelihood of injury while participating in overhead sports.

Be sure to meet with your doctor or physical therapist to be sure that the Thrower's 10 exercises are safe for you to perform.

1 Source
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  1. Chu S, Jayabalan P, Kibleer WB, Press J. The kinetic chain revisited: New concepts on throwing mechanics and injury. Adv Sports Med Concept Controversies. 2016;8(35). doi:10.1016/j.pmrj.2015.11.015

By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 15 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.