Total Gym Dynamic Shoulder Exercises

Dynamic Shoulder Exercises for Prevention and Performance: Phase III

If you’ve been following the shoulder strengthening workouts outlined in Phase I and Phase 2, then you’ve probably experienced an increased awareness of how your shoulders move and where you may compensate (i.e. hiking the shoulders up toward your ears). You should now be ready to increase the challenge with some dynamic movements.

The Phase 3 routine can be a standalone program or incorporated into a lower body routine. You should aim to complete the exercises at least two and up to four times a week. In this phase, you are focusing on both muscular endurance and strength. For endurance, perform 12-20 repetitions in a 45-60 second time period. For strength, perform 6-12 repetitions in a 45-60 second time period. Intensity is about 65-75% for endurance and 70-85% for strength. With all the exercises below, the higher the rails are, the higher the intensity. Start at the lower middle third and assess if you need to raise or lower the height accordingly. Remember the importance of maintaining proper form!

Phase 3 Shoulder Workouts

Pull Up – Lat Bars & Pulleys

Lie on your belly facing the tower and hold the lat bars, pull up accessory, or pulleys with your elbows straight and arms reaching toward the tower. Bend the elbows into the sides then return them overhead.

1. Visualize drawing the elbows out and down into the sides to help avoid excessive shoulder elevation.
2. Be careful not to push the hands down toward the floor to compensate.
3. The upper back can gently lift off the glideboard throughout or during each repetition for an added focus on the upper back.


Lie on your back facing away from the tower holding one handle in each hand. Knees can be bent with your feet resting on the glideboard. Reach back toward the tower while keeping your elbows straight, then pull the arms straight over toward the mid thighs.

1. End the movement at the mid thighs versus at the hips. The tendency is to bring the arms too far toward the floor creating increased stress on the shoulders.
2. Initiate the movement by sliding the shoulders away from the ears and the ribs toward the hips.
3. To facilitate greater strengthening of the spinal muscles, lift the hips off the glideboard entering a bridge position.

Overhead Press

If available, use the press bar or wing attachment at the base of the Total Gym. Lie on your belly facing away from the tower with the chest at the bottom edge of the glideboard, elbows bent and hands aligned with the shoulders. Then press the arms overhead.

1. Initiate and focus on drawing the shoulder blades down the back.
2. Avoid excessive extension of the spine. In other words if you are feeling this in your lower back, you might be compensating by lifting your chest off the glideboard too much.
3. As you lower yourself back to the start position, focus on sliding the shoulder blades down the back.

Seated Backward Cuban Press

Sit facing the tower holding a handle in each hand and reaching your arms toward the tower. Pull the arms up and back, bringing the hands toward the armpits, similar to the movement of a high elbow row. Keep the upper arms still and rotate the forearm up so that the palm of the hand faces the tower and the arms form an “L” shape (external rotation of the shoulder).

1. To learn the exercise, break the exercise up into high elbow row and external rotation. As you learn the movements, start to vary the tempo of the exercise.
2. Avoid hyperextension of the back or leaning backward, especially with external rotation.
3. Pay attention to your wrists and make sure they stay neutral (not turning one way or another). Focus on gently pushing the knuckles up and back to avoid excessive wrist flexion.

Inverted Supine Cuban Press

Face the tower in an inverted supine position and hold one handle in each hand. Perform on one side at a time to help ensure full range of motion. Start with a straight arm, initiate the movement by bending the elbow. Allow the hand to slide alongside or slightly above the torso, similar to an upright row movement. Keep the elbow bent, rotate the forearm up and back, forming an “L” shape with the arm. Press the arm overhead. Reverse the movement.

1. Keep the shoulder sliding away from the ears.
2. Avoid excessive movement of the trunk to compensate.
3. To ensure full range of motion, keep the buttocks at the top edge of the glideboard. The legs can be bent in the air or resting on the rails to self-spot.

Seated Lateral: Abduction with Triceps Extension

Sit lateral to the tower, holding the handle closest to the tower with the hand closest to the base. Bring the upper arm up and out to the side, like performing an upright row. Then extend/straighten the elbow toward the base and/or sky.
Think of the fencing move of pulling a sword out of the opposite pocket and to the sky.

1. Keep the shoulder sliding away from the ears, especially as the elbow straightens.
2. To focus on the triceps, maintain an upright row and only bend and straighten the elbow.
3. To vary the exercise, perform the movement with a straight arm. In other words, pull up and across the body along an imaginary diagonal line.


Remove the base. Stand facing tower and place the hands on either side of the glideboard. Note that the hands can also be flat on the glideboard. Hold the plank position for 45 – 60 seconds.
NOTE: The higher the incline, the easier the exercise (if facing the tower).

1. To increase the intensity the exercise, the incline can be lowered or the exercise can be performed inverted.
2. Try a variation of this exercising by performing the movement on your forearms.
3. A dynamic variation is to move back and forth from a forearm plank to a plank position for 45 – 60 seconds. The glideboard can be open or closed.

Plank with Shoulder Flexion/Extension

With the base removed, stand facing tower and place the hands on either side of the glideboard or flat on the board. Focus on moving from the shoulders, and press the glideboard up the rails then back down.

1. To increase the intensity the exercise, the incline can be lowered or the exercise can be performed inverted.
2. As with the normal plank, try doing this exercise on your forearms for variation.
3. For a dynamic variation, move the glideboard up the rails while lifting a leg. Then alternate sides.

Side Arm Plank

Remove the base. Entering into a side plank position can be accomplished a few different ways. One is to stand sideways to the base and bend the knees and place the hand or forearm closest to the tower onto the glideboard. Another transition is from a plank position. Bend the knees then place a hand or forearm toward the middle of the glideboard, then enter into a side plank position. The knees can remain bent on the board, straight and lifted off the board, or scissored off the board. Focus on pressing the hips up toward the sky and shoulders away from the ears.
The higher the incline, the easier the exercise (if facing the tower).

1. Ensure the elbow and shoulders are aligned. The tendency is for the elbow to push up toward the tower, losing the shoulder stabilization.
2. Keep the hips stacked. Avoid the hips rotating forward or backward, as that will affect shoulder alignment.
3. Press through the entire hand or forearm to assist with activation. Avoid locking the elbow out if on your hand.

As you begin to feel more confident with all these exercises, start to mix up the routines. The idea is to have a balance between working the front and back of the body, and to sprinkle in some side work like lateral raises. Remember, strong shoulders help decrease strain to the wrists and neck, and help to assist in spine stabilization.

Elizabeth Leeds, DPT

Elizabeth Leeds, owner of Seaside Fitness and Wellness, combines her background in physical therapy, personal training, and Pilates in her practice and teaching. As a pelvic floor physical therapist working at Comprehensive Therapy Services in San Diego, her passion for pregnancy and postpartum is seen in her mission to empower women with knowledge and understanding of their physical changes, and how to address them to prevent future issues. Additionally, Elizabeth is a Master Trainer and developer for Total Gym’s GRAVITY education.

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