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Best shoulder exercises

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Here are some of the best shoulder exercises and additional tips to ensure the joints remain healthy and don’t degenerate prematurely. Please note, it is worth consulting with your exercise physiologist, personal trainer, or health professional as to the absolute best shoulder exercises for your current condition. There is a wealth of information on how to best exercise the shoulder muscles, this article should be merely a starting point for those suffering shoulder pain or weak shoulder complexes.

The shoulder joint allows a lot of movement, however, this movement comes at the expense of stability and security, and is often the cause of many dislocation and instability conditions. The shoulder joint is a “ball and socket” joint, and is supported by a network of ligaments and muscles. More specifically, the shoulder joint is supported and controlled by four muscles known as the rotator cuff: supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis. These small, but very important stabilisers are easily overloaded and injured due to poor exercise design and technique.

best shoulder exercises

Many of the following injury reduction techniques focus on reducing the load on these small joint stabilisers, namely the rotator cuff.

Tip 1 – Limit overhead exercises: for the “irregular gym go-er”, these exercises (eg. the military press) can be the most likely to lead to shoulder impingement syndrome. This is a painful condition of the shoulder whereby poorly coordinated overhead movements irritate the supraspinatus tendon, resulting in painful inflammation about the joint. The safest overhead press is the Arnold Press, one of the best shoulder exercises. This exercise allows a greater range of motion whilst keeping the hands closer to the centre of the body. It also reduces shearing forces around the shoulder joint thus reducing the likelihood of developing shoulder impingement.

Tip 2 – Avoid the dislocation position (see below image): imagine yourself lying face up on a bench with your arms at 90 degrees to your body, elbows bent 90 degrees, and palms facing the ceiling. If you were then to experience an external force, further rotating your arms backwards (or externally), you would eventually dislocate your shoulder joint. Avoid both shoulder pressing and wide grip lat pulldowns behind the neck, and be cautious when using the 90/90 pec-deck machines.

shoulder apprehension position
Shoulder apprehension position

Tip 3 – Avoid small muscle overload: your rotator cuff muscles are small muscles. Exercising your chest on day 1, shoulders day 2, then back on day 3, will be exercising your rotator cuff on all three days. In this instance, you’re more likely to exhaust your rotator cuff and predispose yourself to injury. Seek advice from a personal trainer about grouping pressing movements into a single workout session, and resting your body by training other non-related muscle groups on consecutive days.

Tip 4 – Increase thoracic spine mobility: the thoracic spine (mid/upper back) plays an integral role in loading and unloading the shoulder joint. Spending long hours at a desk inevitably results in a more hunched-over posture. This is accompanied by stiffness and tension felt along the length of your back. You may well be in need of treatment to relieve yourself of this increasing tightness, and at the very least, a series of back extension exercises to offset poor posture at work.

Tip 5 – Avoid the impingement position (see below): impingement occurs when you raise your arm above shoulder height whilst keeping your arm internally rotated. Mimicking this position repetitively causes a continual pinching or jamming of structures between your arm shoulder blade. The result is pain felt at the tip of your shoulder. The dumbbell lateral raise is great for stimulating the lateral deltoid muscle, but you will need to avoid raising the weights beyond 90 degrees. If you choose to go higher than 90 degrees, you should at least initiate external rotating of the shoulder joint at around 80 degrees abduction to avoid excessive impingement. The other no-no exercise is the close grip upright rows. Again, this exercise might be effective in working the upper trapezius muscles, but it is typically performed raising the weight beyond the height of the shoulders. This effectively places both shoulders into the impingement position. Finally, some versions of bench pressing where the bar is in a high position, almost under the chin should also be avoided.

shoulder impingement
Shoulder impingement position

Tip 6 – don’t forget the posterior deltoid! The overwhelming majority of shoulder problems present with an associated weak posterior deltoid muscle. The rear deltoid raise is a must for any shoulder program.

The shoulder joint is a joint that can be easily overloaded and damaged in poorly constructed health programs. It is essential that a health professional understands intimately, the anatomy, physiology and common risk areas and exercises for treating shoulder injuries.

An effective modality for treating shoulder injuries is active release technique. Combined with chiropractic care, these two applications of treatment can improve both range of motion and muscular health at the shoulder joint.

*DISCLAIMER: This discussion does not provide medical advice. The
information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and
other material contained in this discussion are for informational
purposes only. The purpose of this discussion is to promote broad
consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not
intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis
or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other
qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding
a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health
care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay
in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog.

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