Shoulder Health: YTW Exercises

The shoulder is a very complex joint in the body.  It is among the most mobile joints that we have as it can move through many planes of motion.


Diagrams show the functional arcs of shoulder motion (shaded) compared with the normal anatomic range of motion in (A)

forward flexion and extension, (B) abduction, (C) cross-body adduction, (D) and external rotation with the arm abducted at 90.[i]

The skeletal structure of the shoulder joint itself is not as strong as one might think.  In actuality the head of the humerus (the long bone in your upper arm) sits in a rather shallow socket.  This type of joint, called a ball and socket joint, is the reason that we have so much range of motion in the shoulder.  However, to allow for controlled range of motion and to keep the ball in the socket we have ligaments, muscles, and muscle tendons working together to keep everything in place.  The 4 muscles – supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis, collectively known as the rotator cuff muscles – are the most important in facilitating proper shoulder movement.  Of course, they are not the only ones as large muscles such as the deltoid and the trapezius also help in moving our shoulders.  The rotator cuff muscles are often overlooked in training in favour of the larger, more ‘visible’, muscles.  It is these 4 muscles, however, that greatly influence how healthy our shoulders really are.


Image of the 4 Rotator Cuff muscles.[ii]

A healthy shoulder is both strong and mobile.  The surrounding muscles, including the rotator cuff muscles, allow for flexibility while protecting the joint and keeping it strong through all ranges of motion.  However, when we perform many of our daily tasks, and even when we train, most of our movement is forward facing.  This means that some muscles in the shoulder see more work than others, which can lead to imbalances down the road.  One quick series of exercises that you can add to your routine to help with overall shoulder health is the YTW series.  These exercises can be done lying on a bench or even using a TRX.


YTW series using very light weights while slightly elevated lying on a bench.  (A) Y movement, (B) T movement, (C) W movement.[iii]

YTW Exercises: What to Remember

Regardless of whether you are doing these exercises with free weights or on a TRX, keep in mind that these are not “all out” maximum effort movements.  The focus is on form and shoulder positioning.  This ensures that the proper muscles are firing and that the posterior muscles are strengthened properly through their full range of motion.  If your goal is to use free weights, start with bodyweight only (no dumbbells) to ensure that you get the movement down correctly.  If you decide to use the TRX, remember that the more upright you are the less of your bodyweight will be used as resistance.  In each variation start light and keep form a priority.


YTW exercises completed on a TRX.  The greater the angle of the body the more bodyweight is used by the individual and the more difficulty increases.

Cues to Remember:

  • Position shoulders back and down
  • Start with hands forward and lift hands into position in one controlled smooth motion
  • Squeeze shoulder blades back and down
  • Keep core tight. Do your best not to extend at your low back; if this happens, lower the weight so that you are not compensating by using other muscles
  • Keep the resistance light and work your way up to 3 sets of 10 -15 reps for each movement.

Keep in mind that these exercises will not fix an injury.  If you experience shoulder pain you should be examined to ensure you heal your shoulders properly.    Since these movements work on the smaller supporting muscles, either employ them in your warm up routine or perform them after your main workout is done as an assistance exercise.  Remember to always focus on good form when training and when in doubt seek out help from a certified trainer.  We’re always here to help!

Ravens Personal Training: Move Better. Live Better. SOAR HIGHER.

[i] Defining functional shoulder range of motion for activities of daily living (PDF Download Available). Available from: [accessed Dec 21, 2016]

[ii] Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy, 4th ed.


Monday, January 16, 2017 in
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