In the gym it’s pretty common that I see people rub the front of their shoulder after bench
pressing, or end a set of overhead presses early because of a pinch in their shoulder.
It happens all of the time. Maybe you can relate?
For most gym goers, something in their shoulder starts to feel “off” long before it starts actually hurting. Unfortunately, this gets ignored most of the time.
It’s your body’s way of telling you something isn’t moving and functioning how it should.
If we start focusing on proper shoulder motion early, we have a good chance at preventing lots of overuse injuries in the gym.
The shoulder joint is made for mobility. The actual groove the humerus sits in is quite shallow, compared to hip for example.
A healthy shoulder needs to have the good stability while also being mobile.
There are over 20 muscles that interact with the shoulder joint, as well as several bones that have to move cohesively during normal shoulder motion.
Poor posture, tight muscles, and stiff joint capsules can all contribute to poor shoulder mechanics.
No wonder so many people have shoulder problems!
Before we get too doom and gloom, here is some good news.
With a few mobility and strengthening drills, you can be well on your way to a pair of strong and healthy shoulders!
I’m going to demonstrate 8 of my favorite unconventional exercises to challenge the entire shoulder complex in new ways.
This is a great exercise for working your serratus anterior as well as external rotators of the humerus. These muscles tend to be under-developed in the general population, so this will be a tough movement for many of your clients.
The main goal of the I,Y,T exercise is mid and low trap activation. Upper trap dominance can wreck our shoulders over time if left unchecked. For our shoulder blades to move properly, all of the three trapezius muscles must work as a team. Don’t let your shoulders elevate towards your ears during this exercise.
The two rotator cuff muscles responsible for external rotation are the infraspinatus and the teres minor. External rotation with a light towel squeeze effectively targets these two muscles, while minimizing deltoid involvement. This is an excellent addition to a corrective exercise program or general shoulder warm-up.
Like I mentioned earlier, many of us are upper trap dominant. This means we naturally like to be in scapular elevation, and have a hard time depressing our shoulder blades. Scapular depression is the critical first step of a proper pull-up, not to mention vital in our pursuit of healthy shoulders. Here are a few ways to strengthen and integrate this motion specifically into pull-ups.
This exercise strengthens the supraspinatus, one of the rotator cuff muscles. For this movement, the dumbbells are raised in the scapular plane, which is up and out at around a 45 degree angle. The supraspinatus is most active when the shoulder blade is positioned this way. Squeezing the ball with the back of the head and neck helps further isolate supraspinatus without upper trap taking over. (This is due to a concept called reciprocal inhibition).
This is great for building scapular stability as well as core strength. Your rotator cuff, serratus anterior, and spinal stabilizers will all be challenged in this exercise. Try to keep your hips from rotating to maximize your core involvement.
Like before, this exercise engages the shoulder girdle and core musculature. The scapular punch is designed to focus on serratus anterior, while the roll-out challenges your dynamic core stability. Don’t let your hips sag at any point during this exercise.
This is deceivingly one of the most difficult on the list, if done with good form. Your glutes and hamstrings are forced to integrate with your core and lower traps. When lowering down into the single leg deadlift, keep your hips as level with the ground as possible. With the dumbbell raise, make sure your shoulders don’t rise up toward your ears. You won’t need heavy dumbbells to feel the burn on this one.
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Doctor of Physical Therapy Candidate, Corrective Exercise Specialist, Certified Personal Trainer
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