Your Shoulder Exercises Should be the Lifeblood of your Upper Body Strength

Getting Started with Shoulder Exercises

I'm sure you've noticed by now the versatility of your shoulder muscles. You can move your arms up, down, back and forth, in circles - really anything you desire! The complexity and, in fact, the simplicity of this seamless operation is pretty astounding. But...

You know what happens with anything complex, right? Well, problems arise more quickly and easily if you don't make sure everything's working properly. If you haven't kept up, try to resist yourself at the "fastest pitch" booth at the ballpark - this is an excellent way to ensure that you have long term shoulder problems. This one event could tear a rotator cuff muscle. And believe me, rotator cuff muscles are not easily repaired, either naturally or surgically. In fact, this is how many baseball players end up leaving the game and ultimately retiring. A variety of shoulder exercises are the key to avoiding these sorts of career-ending shoulder injuries!

Are you familiar with the rotator cuff muscles? In conjunction with the deltoid (the major muscle encapsulating the shoulder joint), they're responsible for these complex movements (at least partly). Their main functions, however, are to stabalize the shoulder joint. In other words, they keep your shoulder joint intact! Although they're small, they're also extremely important. Make sure you're maintaining them! I can't stress this enough.

Benefits of Shoulder Exercises

Here're some great reasons you should work your shoulders...

  • Try to think of an upper body activity in which you don't use your shoulder muscles. Any luck?
  • As with any other muscle group, having weak supporting muscles can lead to a plateau. Let's think about your chest - you're obviously using your deltoid and rotator cuff muscles for this motion. Having weak shoulder muscles can limit the amount you can lift, thus resulting in a plateau. This same result can occur with arm and upper back exercises. What do you think happens to your shoulder muscles when you have weak arms?

    Thats right, you'll reach another plateau because your arms cannot support the weight. Your shoulder exercises will require the work of your arms, while your chest and back will require work from your shoulders. It's a delicate balance! But, when you balance everything out so that no muscle is worked too much or too little, then you're well on your way!

  • back muscles
  • A man with broad shoulders is a very desirable appearance - it gets the ladies! But in all seriousness, having a good set of well-developed shoulders will make you feel better and more confident about your looks and your health. This in turn will force people to show a bit of respect. They don't want to mess with you! Haha! Sport that tank-top with style.

  • Ladies, although I just said all that stuff about manly man-ness, having strong shoulders is important for you also. You do all the same movements that men do! It's just the number of repetitions, amount of weight, and frequency of exercise that changes. The main task of women is to develop sleek, toned muscles that are shapely and feminine. Maxing out on shoulder exercises isn't in the way to do this. High reps, lower weights and increased frequency is a better way to develop toned, smooth-looking muscles.

  • With weak shoulder muscles, debilitating rotator cuff injuries can occur extremely easily. Whether you're vacuuming your living room or doing the dishes, rotator cuff injuries can happen anytime, anywhere, especially if you have weak shoulders. These sorts of injuries are common in men because of their ego. Spending the weekend chopping wood in the back yard for the first time in a year is a one way ticket to injury. Keep your shoulders healthy and avoid these sorts of incidents.
  • Daily tasks become easier! Having strong shoulders will obviously improve your ability to complete daily tasks from carrying a load of groceries and completing your chest workout efficiently.

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    The Basics of Shoulder Exercises

    shoulder press

    Let's first consider the deltoid muscle (you know, the one that sits next to your neck at the top of your arm). The deltoid is the main muscle of the shoulder and has three basic regions: anterior, posterior and lateral. This is what allows the shoulder to perform a large variety of movements. For example, the anterior portion brings the arm to the front from the side (as in a bench press). The lateral region helps lifts the arm parallel to the ground from a resting position (as in a lateral raise). The posterior region extends the arm backwards, like in a reverse fly (or a back fly) exercise.

    It is important to understand that any rotation about the shoulder joint requires the action of the rotator cuff muscles! Therefore, anytime you think about adding some "oomph" to your shoulder exercises, be sure that your rotator cuff muscles are strong and stable.

    The trapezius muscle (traps) is also extremely important for shoulder health. It's the muscle that attaches to the base of theskull, the medial side of the each scapula (the part shoulder blades closest to the spine) and down the spinal column. This is the one that gives football players their characteristic thick-looking neck. The fact is that you can't work out your shoulders without working your traps, so make sure you give them some attention! Check out the page on upper back exercises to get the full scoop.

    There're four basic movements you can do to achieve a full shoulder workout. These shoulder exercises don't include those that isolate the rotator cuff muscles.

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    Some Basic Shoulder Exercises

    Here they are...

  • Lateral Raises: From a resting position, raise the arms up directly to the side at shoulder level making a "T". The top and lateral heads of the deltoid muscles are targeted in this movement. Simply grab a few dumbbells (very light at first!) and do the movement. Make sure you're doing them slowly so as to avoid herky-jerky movements (and subsequent injury).
  • Front Raises: Simply lift your arms from the resting position (at the sides) to the front, parallel to the ground. Again, grab a few dumbbells and try it out (light weights only!). Remember to do them very slowly, even if you've become an expert at the movement. Just because you've done it before doesn't mean you're less prone to injury. Furthermore, doing them slowly ensures that you're working the right muscles.
  • Shoulder Press: Also known as the military press, it involves straightening your arms up over your head like you're "raising the roof." O.K., not funny. Well, kind of. :)
  • Anyway, this one's important because it works your entire deltoid muscle and several rotator cuff muscles. Again, do them slowly!

  • Back Fly or Reverse Fly: As the name implies, it's a backwards fly! Get on the fly machine and face the padding (where your back would normally rest). Adjust the handles so that they're directly in front of you. Grab on and pull outward and laterally. This one really works the posterior region of the deltoids along with a few rotator cuff muscles.

    Another way to do this is to bend over at the waist so that your body is parallel with the ground. With your arms hanging down, raise your arms up to the sides so that they're also parallel with the ground. This is a reverse fly. Grab a few dumbbells and get going. Remember, slow! Shoulder exercises should not be compared with wind sprints.

  • Having variety in your workouts is a great way to avoid hitting that dreaded plateau. Be sure to vary the order in which you do these shoulder exercises! For example, if you did them in the same order as they're listed on this page, you won't have the energy to do the reverse fly as efficiently as possible. In other words, doing the same routine day in and day out will result in consistent "light" lifting of the last exercises. A quick plateau! You don't have to do each exercise every time you work your shoulders, but just remember which ones you didn't do the last time you did your shoulder exercises. One way to do this is to keep a training log.

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    Avoid Injuries When Doing Shoulder Exercises

    surfer Many people will say to stay away from the machines. I personally don't think this should be the rule, but instead it should be something for you to think about. If it's putting stress on your joints, don't do it! For example, machines are comfortable for some and uncomfortable for others. If it's not comfortable, don't use it! You'll probably end up straining your body more than helping it.

    There's always a comparable exercise using free weights. I do agree, however, that using free weights does give you a more complete workout because it requires more work for your body to stabilize the free weight. When you're on a machine, there's no stabilizing to be done and therefore resulting in a lesser quality workout. This is especially important in shoulder exercises because of the fragility and importance of your rotator cuff muscles. The more often you can engage the rotato cuff, the healthier the joint will be in the long term.

    Here're some other tips to help you avoid injuries while doing your shoulder exercises...

  • Make sure you're doing the exercise correctly! There's nothing worse than telling your doctor that you strained your rotator cuff because you were doing the shoulder press improperly. Use proper technique, please!
  • Use exercise bands and light weights to workout your rotator cuff muscles. Don't forget about these!
  • Always do rotational exercises!
  • Do not overtrain! This is the worst. Make sure you're lifting the correct weight and not lifting too often! Visit the weight training guide for more info.
  • Keep your workouts balanced! Don't workout one set of muscles and neglect others. This can lead to an imbalance which can result in injuries down the road. This is particularly important with the shoulder because of its large range of motion.
  • Do not arch your back. This can provide extra leverage to lift more weight (cheating!) and also puts a lot of unnecessary stress on your lower back.

  • You should also alternate between high weight/low reps and low weight/high reps frequently. This allows you to work both fast and slow twitch muscle fibers for a more complete workout.
  • Stretch! This should be done both before and after your shoulder exercises, or any other exercise. Not doing this is a sure-fire way to strain a muscle. This should be a part of your warm up routine.

    So now you've got the basics of shoulder exercises down pat. In the very near future, this page will be populated with illustrations and video demonstrations on how to properly perform many different types of shoulder exercises. Bookmark this page and check back frequently!

    It's super easy to follow updates by signing up for our RSS feed. The best ways to do this are to head over to the Smart Strength Training blog or you can scroll up and click the RSS feed icon just below the left-sided navigation menu.

    For now, check out the pushup workouts below! Remember, anything that works your chest also potentially blasts those shoulder muscles. Give them a shot!

    Pushup Styles
    Standard Pushup Stability Ball Pushup Resistance Tube Pushup
    Dive Bomber Pushup Hindu Pushup Wobble Board Pushup
    Diamond Pushup One-Handed Pushups BOSU Ball Pushup
    Military Pushup T Pushup Sphinx Pushups
    Weighted Vest Pushup w/ Hip Flexion

    Return from Shoulder Exercises to the Smart Strength Training Homepage

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