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Agile Athlete: Upper Body Exercises for Lacrosse

It’s no secret, Lacrosse Players need to develop elite strength to take their game to the next level. 

At every level, players are bigger, stronger, and more explosive – and whether players are looking to add muscle or just play stronger and more physically – Lacrosse Players need to be consistently focused on getting stronger.

But regardless of the level, when we see a lot of Lacrosse Players head into the gym – they default to either bodybuilding exercises or low ROI exercises that just aren’t going to develop the strength and power that translates to their field.

Between footwork, wall ball, shooting, and skill sessions – Lacrosse Players have a ton of development demands. That’s why we want to make sure that every exercise in the gym serves a purpose and is valuable to develop the traits we need to take our game to the next level. No fluff.

So, we decided to put together the top 10 upper body exercises that should be in every Lacrosse Player’s workouts.

Let’s dive in.


Movement Type: Vertical Press

This exercise could be considered one of the best all-around upper body exercises for Lacrosse Players. While players have likely seen the classic “shoulder press” – using a bar, machine, or even DBs with suboptimal form can lead to A LOT of shoulder dysfunctions.  

This variation puts players in a strong position through the torso so that they can press overhead with a lot of discipline – ultimately allowing them to load up more.   


Movement Type: Horizontal Pull

Again keeping with the half kneel theme, this row variation lets athletes create a super-braced torso before they start to pull. We’ve listed two variations here, but both should be included in Lacrosse Players’ workouts.

The HK Row is a perfect row-based exercise to let players start to get heavier and really load up, while staying in a strong position. By moving the angle of the cable up, this exercise becomes lat dominant. Unilaterally challenging the back muscles is super valuable for Lacrosse Players to not only develop more functional strength, but also return symmetry to their notoriously imbalanced shoulders and back.


Movement Type: Horizontal & Vertical Press

Lacrosse Players love chest exercises. If it was up to most players, workouts would be 5 sets of Bench Presses, some ab exercises, and then some wall ball. While the incline press is still a chest press, the incline forces more recruitment of the shoulders and develops the upper pecs more. 

We like this for Lacrosse Players because it creates a more functional recruitment pattern than a traditional bench press. On-field movements never require a strict chest-based push, and this allows players to develop a more integrated push-based strength. 


Movement Type: Horizontal Press

Building on the Incline Press, we still want to give Lacrosse Players a classic chest exercise – but with a twist. 

Because the classic Bench Press uses a fixed bar – there’s very little movement variance. While this is good to really load up and get heavier, it’s not ideal for an athlete who needs to develop a strong and stable upper body. 

Shifting to DBs, this exercise allows both arms to be targeted equally (not the strong side compensating for the weak), and also challenges players to stabilize against movement variance. Adding the “alternating element” exaggerates this effect – where players need to now stabilize one DB at all times. 

Ironically, challenging the stabilizer muscles like this almost always produces a heavier Bench Press result.  


Movement Type: Vertical Pull

These exercises are classics for a reason. They might be the single greatest exercises for developing integrated upper body strength. While they don’t recruit push-based muscles, they place an intense demand across the majority of the upper body. 

For reference – chin-ups are palms in, pull-ups are palms out. This subtle difference changes the muscle recruitment patterns. Chin-ups recruit more biceps, while the pull-up subtly shifts more recruitment to being more lat dominant. 

For players who can’t perform either exercise, we always start with an “Eccentric Chin Up” – this variation involves a player jumping or stepping up to the start position and then controlling their body on the way down (for ideally 5 seconds). This forces players to control their movement and rapidly develop upper body strength.  We’ve worked with female Lacrosse Players who go from being unable to do any chin-ups to crushing out 5+ in just a couple of months with this technique.


Movement Type: Horizontal Pull

The off-bench row is another classic pull-based exercise – but it’s foolproof and effective. Setting up in a three-point stance with one arm on the bench, we cue players to pull as if they’re “putting the weight in their pocket” – giving us the ideal activation pattern. 

This is an awesome exercise to start to get heavier with, along with adding that eccentric element (3 seconds down) that really packs on muscle.


Movement Type: Horizontal Pull

These exercises are two different exercises with the same goal – deliberately target the rotator cuffs and shoulder stabilizers. 

While these aren’t fun, heavy exercises – they’re super valuable for Lacrosse Players. Between the overhead nature of Lacrosse, and the fact that players spend so much time with an asymmetrical shoulder position (s

You can see a demo of the banded “No Money’s” here.


Movement Type: Push 

This exercise might not be found in the average Lacrosse workout program – but it should be. It’s one of the all-time favorites for Lacrosse Players to develop functional rotational strength. 

While “functional” gets thrown around a lot, this exercise truly lives up to the term. This is because it doesn’t just target a muscle group, but challenges entire kinetic chains to express power. 

Often when working with a college or professional player who hasn’t seen this exercise, they’ll immediately love it because they can feel the same rotational demands as shooting. 


Movement Type: Carry 

Lacrosse Players have a love/hate relationship with Suitcase Carries. They start out fun, you get to carry a heavy weight, you can feel your abs flexed, have a crazy forearm pump – but they quickly turn into an absolute battle

While most athletes have likely seen the farmers carry (two weights in each hand – also an awesome exercise for grip, traps, and upper back) – the Suitcase Carry ramps this up even further by creating an intense core demand as you stabilize against lateral flexion.

For Lacrosse Players, this exercise is unbelievable because the core (low back, obliques, etc – not just abs) demands and forces players to create an intensely braced position. 


Movement Type: Carry/Isometric 

While Suitcase Carries is an intense full-body exercise that leaves your traps, lats, forearms, and 12 other places you’d next expect to be sore – the Waiters Walk is extremely different.

This exercise still involves walking with a weight, but instead of going heavy – we want to go lighter and really focus on shoulder stability. This is super valuable for Lacrosse Players to develop strong stabilizer muscles and build bulletproof shoulders. 

This stabilizer focus pays huge dividends to not only injury-proof their shoulders and address imbalances – but also allow the primary upper body muscles to express more strength and power without being inhibited by weak stabilizers. 


So these are the upper body exercises that should be in almost all lacrosse players’ workout programs. 

The next inevitable question is – what’s the best upper body workout for lacrosse players? And the reality is, there isn’t one. 

Whether we’re working with a u-12 player or a college senior – we consistently recommend full-body workouts to athletes instead of upper/lower or body part specific. While this is worthy of its own article – we want to ensure players are hitting every movement pattern each workout. 

For each of these exercises, we’ve added one of four movement categories: vertical push, horizontal push, vertical pull, and horizontal pull.  This is where the art and science of creating a structured Strength & Conditioning program come in – because we want to create workouts that use these movement types & exercises to create synergistic effects. A good rule is to include the opposite movement patterns in each workout. For example, if you’re using a vertical push should use a horizontal pull in the same workout (or better yet set).

We want to ensure that we’re getting at least two exercises of each category in any given week, and a minimum of opposing push/pulls (e.g. vertical push, horizontal pull) in most workouts.

If you’re looking for a structured strength & conditioning program that’s built specifically for lacrosse players, our programs are designed with perfectly integrated workouts to make sure you’re building the strength that translates!