Shoulder health is something that everyone always desires and mostly everyone can improve. Keeping your shoulders mobile and strong is the key to keeping them functional for not just benching big weights or overhead squatting, but for daily living as well. Because so many are employed as “desk jockeys”, rounded, slouched shoulders are seeming impossible to overcome with the majority of the day staying put at a desk. Those who are still active will find that shoulder development and activation will be limited unless addressed properly.
Use these 4 moves and incorporate them into your weekly routine a couple times and get your shoulders moving properly and keep them stabilized for all of your upper body lifts.
Exercises For Shoulder Health
✓ Plank Push-Ups
Planks and push-ups are something you’re not foreign to, but combining the moves may seem a little different. Rather than work the core or chest, plank push-ups help get the scapula moving and improves range of motion through activation of the serratus muscles. Many will call these the “boxer muscles” or the finger-like muscles that wrap around your ribs to allow the scapula to move.
Stretching the muscle will pull the scapula and shoulder forward, and retracting will allow the serratus to pull the scapula down and back into its most stable position. The scapula and the shoulder are one-in-the-same, so to free up your shoulder, you must first focus on scapular control.
1. Start this move in the fully extended plank position with your elbows locked
2. Keeping the arms straight, allow the shoulder blades to sink back and down into position
3. Return to the top by pushing yourself back up and engaging the serratus in pulling through movement
Sets and Reps: 3 x 15
✓ Kettlebell OH Holds/Kettlebell Lying Holds
Even if you’re not a Crossfitter, these moves will be some you’ll come back to for years to come. Part of the reason shoulders become so fragile and injury-prone is due to poor placement of the ball of the humerus into the shoulder socket. With sitting hunched over at a desk all day, the posture pattern of the shoulder is hindered. This causes tightness in the chest and front delt region, as well tightness in the rear occupying rotator cuff muscles and traps. The humeral head usually becomes elevated and pulled forward, making it difficult and usually impossible, to get the shoulder to move in the correct plane of motion or be relaxed in the correct space. Using a kettlebell (or heavy dumbbell) will allow the shoulder to be passively pushed back and down into the socket, providing some muscle memory to keep the muscle firing in order for it to stay.
✓ OH Holds
For the OH kettlebell holds, tip a kettlebell upside down and hold it directly overhead
Keeping the elbow locked out completely, allow the weight to passively move the shoulder down into the scapula, all while keeping your core engaged and maintaining proper breathing
Sets and Reps: 1 x 2 minutes each arm
✓ Lying Holds
Same principle applies here, only this time we’re wanting the shoulder to be pushed back into the socket from a lateral plane – Pick a heavy weight and press it up to become perpendicular to the floor
Keep your elbow locked and blocked by the opposite arm and allow the shoulder to just sit back
Sets and Reps: 1 x 2 minutes each arm
✓ Banded Pull-Aparts
Now that we’ve cleared up the shoulder and reset the joint into the correct position, it’s time to strengthen the muscles responsible for it to stay in place. We usually allow our shoulders to become rounded and hunched because the muscles in the back and rotator cuff muscles are not strong enough or trained to keep the shoulders pulled back and our torso upright. One of the best moves to strengthen these muscles are just some good ole’ fashioned banded pull-apart. You’ll hit the rear delts, rhomboids, lats, upper and lower traps as well as some rotator cuff muscles by performing just one lift. Use a higher rep scheme since a majority of these are smaller muscle groups that will take better to lighter weights and lots of reps for blood to enter the area.
1. Take a medium or light resistance band and place in each hand with arms extended out in front of you
2. Begin by retracting the shoulder blades, then pull the band apart while arms are still straight, using only your back muscles
3. Pause for a 1-count at peak contraction and then slowly lower weight back to starting position
Sets and Reps: 3 x 30 reps
Take Home Message
In order to build some big, strong shoulders, you must first make sure they are working properly and are able to keep you stable. Injury prevention is the best way to stay injury-free and be in the fitness game for years to come. Incorporating some SMR techniques mixed with the above stabilizing and strengthening exercises, your shoulders will be ready for whatever life throws your way!