After my shoulder surgery, I was antsy to get moving again. It had been so long since I felt like I had a good workout that I couldn’t wait to get back into a routine! Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any great workout recommendations online. I searched for exercises after shoulder surgery, exercises without using arms, shoulder surgery exercises – with no luck. Everything was either for physical therapy exercises or for body builders who were exercising through the pain. So I decided to take my own knowledge and write a weekly workout plan for myself! I’m sure someone else out there is itching to do exercises after shoulder surgery, so hopefully this helps!
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I am not giving medical advice. My doctor cleared me at 10 days to engage in light, no-impact exercise that did not use my injured arm. Do not use this information here in place of surgery or physical therapy. I am only using my knowledge as a personal trainer to provide a sample workout plan that does not involve an injured shoulder/bicep.
Exercises After Shoulder Surgery – Guidelines
At this point, I am not supposed to be using any sort of resistance training with my left arm. My orthopedist told me to not hold anything heavier than 1-2 pounds (we’ll pretend I haven’t been lifting my kids a little).
With the exception of “life” activities like putting away dishes and changing diapers, I limit the use of my left arm as much as possible.
With exercise, I absolutely do not recommend using your affected arm. The exact words from my physical therapist were, “When people start feeling better, we see injury because they do something stupid.” So let’s not do anything stupid, ok?
In yesterday’s PT session, I was cleared to do slow, simple, unweighted arm movements. Front arm raise and bicep curl motions.
However, I was also told that these were not exercises I should continue at home daily. So to be extra cautious, I will not be exercising my left arm at this time, even with unweighted movement.
I would much rather wait and let my body finish healing than start exercising too soon and do additional damage.
I would also caution against any running or movements that involve impact to the arm (jumping/plyo, vigorous cardio, etc). The shoulder may still be unstable and impact could damage the labrum or the biceps.
Working Out Without Using Arms
This weekly workout plan rotates leg exercises, core exercises, cardio, and one-arm workouts. So I guess technically these exercises don’t use “arms” in the plural sense, but there are exercises included to workout just one arm! If for some reason you are unable to do those, just omit them.
There have been studies that show exercising one arm or leg while waiting for the injured side to heal can actually prevent atrophy!
It’s like the injured arm has FOMO.
And if you’re worried about having one Popeye-sized arm and one Spongebob arm, don’t. In the time it takes to recover from surgery, you will likely not have such huge gains on one side.
You may notice that it takes a while for the injured arm to catch up though, once you’re cleared for exercise.
Recommended Fitness Equipment
There are a few pieces of home workout equipment that I used to exercise after my shoulder surgery. You don’t have to have these, but they are a few things that I have and like to use:
This compact DeskCycle is easy to store under your desk or out of the way for a quick bike workout while you sit. I used it during my recovery and then passed it on to my mother-in-law so she can exercise in the comfort of her home.
I also have this compact elliptical for an easy seated workout too. Just put it anywhere in your house that you want to exercise (maybe while watching TV) and move your legs!
A wood plyo box like this has different heights depending on how you turn it. Great for step ups, split squats, or even box squats to help you improve form.
These resistance loops are great for increasing strength with clamshells. Your PT may also use them for shoulder rehab when you’re ready.
Resistance bands can be used for therapy and recovery, but can also be used to add resistance to lower body exercises as well.
Weekly Workout Plan after Shoulder Surgery
Ok so here it is! My weekly workout plan so I can keep up with my fitness while I wait for my left shoulder to heal from a labrum repair and biceps tenodesis. Try saying that three times fast.
Want a print-friendly version of this workout plan?
Depending on your level of fitness when you begin, you may want to do just one set of each exercise. My goal is to complete 3 sets of each. For the leg and arm exercises, you have the option to do 3 sets of one exercise before moving on to the next, OR you can complete all of the exercises 3 times like a circuit. Make it work for you!
And guess what – this plan is even great for someone who has two perfectly good arms! Just use both arms to do the exercises on Wednesday and Saturday.
Scroll down to see videos and explanations of the exercises.
Starting off the week with LEG DAY! My favorite! For these exercises, I will not be using additional weight. Bodyweight is enough for me, especially since it will be like starting all over again. Hello DOMS, didn’t miss you at all.
I currently have physical therapy twice per week (Tuesdays and Thursdays) so I chose to keep these days light on the exercise. I do like to get in my steps each day so I can close all three rings on my Apple watch, and it doesn’t take long to fit in a quick one mile walk through my neighborhood. While walking, I am conscious to not swing my left arm too much.
After PT, I choose a few CORE exercises to finish off my day.
There are 10 core exercises at the bottom of the chart. I choose 3-5 exercises and do 30-60 seconds of each exercise, twice. The total time on this is 5-10 minutes, which is plenty!
I wanted to have one day where I have a longer, slow cardio session, and my neighborhood has a 2 mile loop that is nice to walk in the mornings. When the weather gets too cold, I’ll stay inside and use a stationary bike.
Because this takes a little longer, I may not always include a full arm workout on Wednesdays. I may just do one set of every exercise, or I may do a couple of sets and just pick a few.
I use 3, 5, and 8 pound dumbbells for these exercises. The good news is when you’re only exercising one arm with lighter weights, it goes a little faster!
This is basically a repeat of Tuesday. I make sure to choose different core exercises today.
After your shoulder heals, try these 27 Plank Variations to really challenge your core!
Another leg day! This one has movements that can really challenge your balance, so take it slow and focus! You’ll feel all kinds of stabilizing muscles tomorrow and Sunday that you didn’t know you had.
Same arm exercises as Wednesday, but I try to make sure I go through each exercise at least twice — three times if our day isn’t busy. Saturday is a good day to push the kids in the stroller for a mile.
Sometimes I like to just walk up and down the stairs at home, so that’s an option too.
Rest. Always have at least one day of rest. Stretch gently to relieve sore muscles, and let your body heal.
Check out my other fitness tips and home workouts!
Questions about any of these? Leave a comment or send me a message!
Amanda is a mom of 4 living a mostly crunchy lifestyle outside of Atlanta, GA with her husband, 2 dogs, and a cat. As a former special education teacher who also has her personal training certification — Amanda really enjoys teaching others how to do things!
When she’s not working, Amanda enjoys DIY projects, exercising, photography, hiking, and long walks through Target.