Pilates Shoulder Exercises

By Josh Baum
Plank pose builds shoulder muscles.
Plank pose builds shoulder muscles.

Pilates is an excellent exercise system for golfers who want to improve their swings. The purpose of most Pilates exercises is to strengthen and tone the muscles while developing keen control of those muscles. If you are experiencing inconsistency in your golf swing and want to try to cultivate a tendency toward more controlled, fluid movement, Pilates exercises that focus on the shoulders may help give you the strength and control you need.


The plank is a very basic Pilates move, and a great way to build the shoulder muscles. To begin this exercise, you should get on your hands and knees on an exercise mat. Plant your palms flat on the mat and position your arms so that they extend directly downward from your shoulders, but don't lock your elbows. Stretch your spine to elongate your body, then extend both of your legs behind you and balance on the balls of your feet as you would if you were doing push-ups. Make sure that your arms are perpendicular to the floor and that your head, back, hips and legs form a straight line. Maintain this pose for as long as you can, counting the seconds, then slowly return to your knees for a short rest. Repeat this exercise up to 10 more times, and try to extend the amount of time you can hold it by performing this exercise on a regular basis.

Leg Pull Front

Leg pull front builds on the plank exercise to strengthen the shoulders while teaching you to learn improved muscle control. Begin this exercise by assuming the plank pose as described above. Start breathing deeply, then lift one foot a few inches off the ground. Try to hold that leg in place while keeping the rest of your body perfectly stable. You will feel tension in your shoulders and abdominals as you hold this pose. Count the seconds as you maintain this position as long as possible while breathing deeply, then slowly return to your original position. Repeat this exercise up to nine more times, alternating legs each time, and try to increase the amount of time you can hold it over the long-term.

Arm Reach and Pull

This is a simple, no-impact shoulder exercise that is perfect for warming up before golfing or before more rigorous exercise. Perform this move by standing up perfectly straight with your feet together, your spine elongated and your chest pushed slightly outward. Raise your chin slightly, relax your shoulders and let your arms drop to your sides as you breath deeply, then raise your arms straight out in front of you so that they are parallel to the floor. As you inhale deeply, stretch your arms and fingertips forward and extra inch or two and hold this position throughout your breath. Your shoulder should move forward slightly, but not up. Exhale deeply as you pull your arms back. On the next inhale, slowly push your shoulders back as if you were trying to get your shoulder blades to touch. Hold this pose through the end of the breath, then exhale deeply as you push your arms and shoulder forward again. Repeat this exercise, alternating between pushes forward and pulls back, up to 19 more times.

Magic Circle Shoulder Stretch

This move requires a special piece of Pilates equipment called a Magic Circle. It is affordable and can be purchased anywhere that Pilates equipment is sold. It is essentially a flexible plastic ring that provides some gentle resistance when it is squeezed from either side. To perform this exercise, stand up perfectly straight with your feet spread shoulder width apart. Grab the Magic Circle behind your back with both hands. Raise your arms behind you so that your upper arms are parallel with the floor and your forearms are perpendicular with the floor. Breathe deeply as you slowly squeeze the circle toward the center and slowly release the tension in a controlled, deliberate and fluid motion. Try to pulse it five times, then drop your arms to your sides for a short rest. Repeat this exercise for four more sets of five pulses, but try to gradually increase the number of pulses and the number of sets over time.

Pilates Push-Up

The Pilates push-up is an advanced move that might be difficult if you don't already have a fair amount of full-body strength, but it is a great workout for the shoulder. Begin this move standing perfectly straight at the end of an exercise mat. Inhale deeply as you raise your arms above your head and point them toward the ceiling. Exhale deeply as you slouch forward in a controlled manner, dropping your head and your arms forward while curving your spine forward and down. Reach down until your hands touch the mat, then inhale deeply as you walk forward on your hands until you reach the plank position described above. When you assume the plank position, hold it for two deep breaths, then inhale as you slowly bend your arms and drop down for the push-up. Keep your elbows as close to your sides as possible while you drop down and touch your nose to the mat, then exhale as you push back up to the plank position. Inhale deeply as you walk your hands backwards until your legs are almost upright, and curve your spine just as you did when you began to bend down. Exhale as you lift your hands off of the mat and slowly stand up straight in a controlled manner. Repeat this exercise up to four more times.

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