By Matthew Basso
When you’ve been in the fitness industry for a considerable amount of time, it becomes very clear that shoulder-joint health is super important. I don’t know any active person that hasn’t suffered from either an official injury or at least discomfort in the neck and shoulder area.
Shoulders, or the joints associated with your shoulders, are amazing. You have so much mobility and move so dynamically in that area of your body. Stop and think about how many positions you can get your shoulders in compared to other joints. However, because the shoulder joint is so mobile, it sacrifices stability. This tradeoff means taking the time to strengthen your shoulders is paramount.
When I consider the shoulders in training programs, I approach them as part of the core. It’s very easy for people to become shortsighted and think that abs are the only part of the body that makes up the core. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Additionally, because one should always look at one’s body as a unit that wants to work together, one has to realize if he or she lacks shoulder stability or rotator cuff strength, he or she may also suffer from other weakness throughout the body. Believe it or not, poor posture caused by neglected shoulder-joint work can manifest itself through hip or back pain.
One fancy term used to describe how the shoulder joint works is scapulahumeral rhythm. This term is used because the scapula and the humerus, two major parts of the shoulder joint, move together in patterns to help joint actions occur. When the rotator cuff muscles are strong, they help support the shoulder joint by holding the head of the humerus tightly in the glenoid socket as the humerus moves. Furthermore, when the deltoids are strong your arms can move well when away from the body.
I’ve simplified a lot about the shoulder above. I don’t want this to become an anatomy lesson. There are actually many more tendons, ligaments, smaller joints and an array of connective tissue that play serious roles in all the movement and health of the shoulder joint. However, the point is simply to illustrate that the shoulder joint is complicated, often not trained properly and essential to core strength and overall health.
For me, training and working out are not just about looking better. Regular exercise should help you feel better and move better, too. A proper training program should help you to stay active and possibly even continue to play sports that you enjoyed in your youth.
With those thoughts in mind, I have listed here my go-to shoulder movements. Whether for strengthening or mobility, these exercises are a regular part of my programs. I use them myself and with all of my clients.
Shoulder Warm-Ups: This first group of exercises I use to get my shoulders ready for more challenging movements. These exercise include techniques to fire up the thoracic spine as well. Remember what I said before, your body wants to move together as one unit. If you want quality shoulder mobility you have to address your entire core.
Thoracic foam rolling
Stability ball shoulder stretches
Stability ball spine stretch
Prone external rotation
Scaption Raises: I prefer these to lateral raises, as the angle of your humerus when your palms are facing inward creates a better path of movement for your shoulder joint. In some cases, when your arms are completely extended out to your side, you cause impingement in the shoulder.
You can use scaption raises with light weights when warming up and heavier weights when training for strength.
Dumbbell Y Press: This is a great exercise for strength and stability. It’s very similar to a dumbbell overhead press, except that you will extend your arms up and slightly outward away from your body. Because you’re not going directly overhead with the dumbbells, you will use lighter weights for this. It won’t take much to activate your shoulders with this movement.
Barbell Overhead Press/Shoulder Press: When you’re looking to strengthen your shoulders, there is no substitute for this movement. Progressing to higher weights with this movement will not only make your shoulders lean and strong, but it also works your core intensely. Recalling what I said before, your body works best when it works together as a unit. Being able to press overhead well is a clear indicator of a strong core.
Try these exercises if you’re looking to strengthen your shoulders. Start with the warm-ups and use light weights at first. Slowly build into the exercises. If you’re doing them for the first time, you probably don’t need to do too many sets. Take your time and focus on technique. Be conscious of connecting your core with the movements as well.