Most upper body exercises utilize the muscles, joints and tendons of your shoulders in some fashion. Sports that require overhead motion, such as swimming, basketball, baseball, volleyball, and tennis will also put physical demands on your shoulders.
Unfortunately for many people, this results in overuse injuries to muscles and joints of the shoulder.
Structure of the Shoulder
The visibly round muscle of the shoulder is known as the deltoid. This muscle is smaller than some of the main muscles of the body in the chest and legs.
Because of its smaller size it is often more susceptible to injury.
The rotator cuff is a group of muscles that are responsible for turning the humerus bone of your arm internally and externally. The rotator cuff muscles also provide support for your shoulder during movement.
These muscles are known as the suppaspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapulapis, and teres minor. Due to the high range of motion required to move the shoulder, they often fall victim to injury.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, “The rotator cuff muscles enable the shoulder joint to produce numerous motions, while maintaining a balance between mobility and stability.”
Many recreational and professional athletes suffer from chronic shoulder pain due to rotator cuff tears and impingement. These painful injuries can make routine activities that require use of your shoulder very difficult. To help prevent injury, you should incorporate shoulder stability and strengthening exercises into your fitness routine.
Safe Shoulder Exercises
The following exercise will help build a foundation to improve athletic performance, while minimizing the chance of injury to the shoulder.
These movements will also help isolate and strengthen your rotator cuff muscles.
1. Isometric Movements
Start in a standing position and raise your right arm at your side to shoulder height and bend your elbow 90 degrees.
Have a partner provide resistance on your wrist and elbow, while you try to internally rotate your arm. Hold this position for 15 seconds, and then relax. Do this same movement with your left arm.
For the next exercise, remain in the standing position and internally rotate your right arm so that your forearm is at a 45 degree angle with the floor. In this position, your partner will provide resistance against your wrist and elbow.
Hold this position for 15 seconds, and then relax. Do this same movement with your left arm.
2. External Rotation Exercise
Start this exercise in a face down position on a bench with a light dumbbell in your right hand. With your elbow extended off the bench, flex it 90 degrees, so that your forearm pulls downward.
In this position, externally rotate your arm so that your forearm is parallel with the ground, and then move it back to the starting position.
Perform 15 repetitions of this exercise with both arms.
3. Seated Rotation Exercise
Start this exercise in a seated position with a dumbbell in your right hand. Hold the dumbbell vertically out in front of your body with your elbow bent.
In this position, rotate your arm up and towards your right side. Perform 15 repetitions of this exercise with both arms.
4. Lateral raise
Start this exercise in a standing position with a dumbbell in your right hand. Slowly raise your right arm with the dumbbell until it is level with your shoulder, and then lower it back to your side. Perform 15 repetitions of this exercise with both arms.
Avoid These Exercises to Avoid Shoulder Injury
First and foremost, remember that your shoulder muscles are easily prone to injury from overuse. Unlike some of the major muscles of the body that can require a dedicated day of training, the shoulders can be effectively trained by incorporating exercises into your existing routine.
1. Wide Grip Bench Press
Wide grip presses can often lead to shoulder impingement. When performing a bench press movement, keep your elbows tucked close to your sides. Your elbows should remain in a straight line with your shoulders. This will decrease the strain on your shoulder muscles during the movement.
2. Behind the Neck Shoulder Press
Many overhead movements increase your chances of shoulder injury. If you decide to incorporate an overhead press movement, its best to avoid lifting weight behind the neck.
This range of motion often increases the stress on the muscles and joints of the shoulders. Instead of bringing the weight down onto your shoulders, you can press it from your chest.
3. Upright Rows
This exercise should also be avoided by anyone with shoulder pain. During this movement, your shoulder is placed in an internally rotated manner. This position puts undue stress on the shoulder and can result in impingement.