We all know that our shoulders perform some pretty important functions each day. They are the joints that allow you to move your arm up and around, enabling us to pick things up, climb obstacles, or push ourselves away. Without our shoulders, we wouldn’t be able to use our arms. That is, if we even had arms to begin with.
Most of us don’t take care of them, however. We don’t adequately stretch them, warm them up, exercise them, or give them proper time to recover. By the time we are 40, most of us are suffering from shoulder pain and injuries.
How do we take care of them, though? What is the proper way to train them so that we, too, can have strong, well defined shoulders? How can we protect those all important joints? Luckily for you, here is a good overview of how a proper shoulder day workout should go.
What do your Shoulders Do?
Our shoulders are incredibly important to our daily lives. They move our arms up and down, rotating them as we need to. Shoulders support, and are supported by, our biceps and triceps, as well as our pectorals and trapezius. Together, they all work to help us pick up and carry objects, bring things closer to us, or push things away from us. The shoulders just happen to be the proverbial ‘glue’ that help bring our arms and the rest of our upper body together.
On top of their functionality, they are a pretty good vanity muscle. Strong, well defined shoulders push you over the average when it comes to fitness. You can tell when someone really pays attention to detail, and a good set of shoulders drives that point home.
The shoulder, like most other groups, has a lot of smaller muscles within it. There are a few muscles that make up our ‘rotator cuff’ and one major muscle that gives our shoulders their rounded form. Each of them have different purposes, and it is important to know what they are so you can properly target them. These are some of the muscles found within our shoulders:
This is one of the muscles within the rotator cuff that assists with lowering the upper arm and rotating it. The Infraspinatus can be found connecting the scapula (shoulder blades) to the upper arm
The Supraspinatus also connects the upper arm to the scapula. It is a smaller muscle, that helps to raise the arm away from the body and rotate it around.
Our Teres Major muscle helps to bring our arms down and closer to our body, helping to rotate our arms as necessary. It is located on the bottom of the back (internal) side of the scapula, connecting it to our upper arms.
This is another muscle that connect the scapula to the upper arm. It helps to rotate the humerus forward, bringing your elbows together and stabilizing the shoulder as you perform different movements.
The Deltoid is the largest muscle in the shoulder, encompassing the shoulder and giving it a rounded shape. It helps with raising/lowering your arm, and helps to keep the shoulder from becoming dislocated when heavy things are held. Additionally, it assists and supports with rotating your arm in various directions.
When to Train
Shoulders are especially important. They have to be trained properly so that they remain flexible and strong, without injuring them in the process. You need to be especially careful not to overtrain them, avoiding working them out while they are injured. Overworking them could put you out of the gym for weeks at a time with a pretty painful injury.
With that said, set aside a dedicated shoulder day workout each week to really get them to their best. While they are used during most other workouts in one way or another, focusing on just them each week helps to build out stabilizers and overall shoulder strength, cushioning them against injury.
Build them up just as you would any other muscle group, but be careful. With how prevalent shoulder injuries are, once you start to feel more than just the usual soreness, stop.
You wouldn’t jump out of bed and head straight into a marathon. Why would you do that to your muscles? Before every workout, you need to warm up. The same can be said, and is especially true, about shoulders.
A proper warm up will get your muscles set for the stress you are about to cause, bring in extra nutrients and energy to help them succeed, and prime them for their best performance.
Jogging, rowing, and jumping rope are some fantastic movements that not only get your heart beat up, but also recruit your shoulder muscles to an extent. Take 5-10 minutes to really get the blood flowing and your heart pumping.
Once you have your heart beat elevated, throw in a few dynamic stretches that target your shoulders, help with overall range of motion, and get the muscles themselves warmed up. Here are some ideas:
Arm swings are just fun to do. Waving your arms around in this controlled, but strong motion helps you stimulate your shoulder muscles, and get the blood flowing.
How to do it: Stand upright, bring your arms up to either side, elbows bent, and hold them at shoulder level. Simultaneously, swing both arms inwards, towards your chest. Return to the starting position, and swing again.
This one is fun. It recruits the entirety of your shoulder, moving it through its whole range of motion.
How to do it: Grab a roughly 3/4in wide, PVC pipe (or similar object) that is roughly as long as you are tall. Grab the pipe at either end, as far apart as your hands can comfortably go without stretching your arms, and hold it at waist level. Slowly lift the pipe up and over your head, rotating your shoulders, and bringing the pipe down behind you until it rests on your butt. Slowly return the pipe up and over your head, returning back to your front hip region.
TIP: If you cannot get the pipe past a point without bending your elbows, widen your grip.
Rotator Cuff Warm up
Most people forget to warm up their rotator cuff. With cuff injuries being a bulk of all shoulder issues, it is surprising that more people don’t work on them. This movement does just that.
How to do it: Grab a light weight, 5lbs or so. Relax your arm by your side, and bend the elbow to a 90 degree angle. Slowly, rotate your arm towards your body. Once you feel a stretch, reverse direction and go the opposite direction away from the body. Keep going until you feel a stretch.
Your shoulders are fragile, so the weight you use needs to be lighter than what you would use for bigger muscle groups like chest and back, especially when using just one shoulder at a time. Shoulder day is not the day to see how much you can lift. Too much stress on your shoulder joint in any direction can seriously jack up your week.
With that said, remember how your shoulder moves and do some exercises that target those movements. You want to really target movements that simulate your shoulder lifting you arm to the front and sides as well as those that move your shoulder around in its natural range of motion. Here are some ideas for a good shoulder day workout, but there are tons more out there:
Nothing builds shoulders quite like the military press. Pushing weights straight up overhead uses nothing but your shoulders, forcing them to stabilize and create the necessary force to move the weight. It’s like benching for your shoulders.
How to do it: Pick a *manageable* weight. Don’t go heavier than you can safely lift, considering it will go directly over your heard. Hold the dumbbells or barbell at shoulder height, with elbows slightly in front of you. Press the weight upwards, until your elbows are nearly straight, but don’t lock them. Lower the weights back to the starting position.
Take a guess as to who this lift was named after. Arnold used this lift to make sure that he adequately hit all of the major parts of the shoulder. With how intensive it actually is, make sure that you warm up and stretch out your shoulder pretty well before doing it.
How to do it: While sitting upright, grab some decent weight that you can manage to lift over your head. Bring the weights up to shoulder height, arms bent, in front of you. Rotate them outwards, and up to the sky. Once your arms are fully extended, reverse direction completely. Bring the weights back down to the sides, and swing them inwards.
Lateral raises, both forward and to either side, recruit tons of shoulder muscles to lift a (lighter) weight and hold it out from your body at shoulder level. They are great for isolation work.
How to do it: Grab a weight in either hand, and let your arms hang by your sides. Slowly, raise one arm at a time upwards until it it nearly shoulder level, keeping a slight bend in your arm. Don’t go past shoulder level. Return to the starting position, and repeat with the other arm.
Note: Make sure that your posture is straight and your core is engaged.
Kettlebell Single Arm Press
A Kettlebell has a different weight distribution than a dumbbell does and using them places your shoulder in a position that it wouldn’t reach with dumbbells, barbells, or body weight exercises.
How to do it: Grab a kettlebell off the floor and stand up straight. Hold the kettlebell with one hand at shoulder level. Keeping proper posture, push the kettlebell upwards, rotating your hand while you lift. When you reach the top, your palm should be facing forward.
If done right, at the end of your workout, your shoulders will definitely feel like you worked them out. If you rarely work them out, you probably won’t be able to lift much, they will burn, and your arms will probably be useless for the rest of the day. Yes, this is true even if you are pretty strong otherwise, but shows how important it is to have a regular shoulder day workout scheduled.
As with all workouts, stretching afterwards is very important. It is especially important for shoulders, however. Since the joint is central to most daily activities and other lifts, flexibility in this area will help you out quite a bit during your day.
A good cool down will help you recover properly, bring your shoulders up to par with the rest of your body, and put you on track for new personal records.
Take 5-10 minutes at the end of each workout to bring yourself down. Perform a few stretches to help lengthen any ligaments and muscles that may have tensed up during the workout, wring out any remaining lactic acid, and generally help return your muscles to a stable environment that is ready for recovery.
Behind Back Shoulder Stretch
This stretch helps to loosen up your shoulder quite well, especially the back of the shoulder. If the back of your shoulder feels pretty tight, this one might be for you.
How to do it: While standing, reach up and behind your back with your right arm. Try to reach between your shoulder blades. Using your other hand, reach behind your back, and upwards, trying to grasp the opposite hand between your shoulder blades. When you feel a good stretch, hold. If you can’t quite reach, use a towel to make the connection and pull until you feel the stretch.
The childs pose, and yoga in general, is fantastic for stretching out your joints. Not only is this one good for releasing shoulder tension, it helps stretch out your glutes, core, hips, and even some of your back.
How to do it: Kneel on the ground and sit back on your heels. Bend your torso forward to rest your belly on your thighs, extending your arms out in front of you with your palms facing down. Stretch out as far as you can in this position, and hold.
As always, it is very important to take care of yourself in and out of the gym. A nutritional program working alongside what you do in the gym is huge when it comes to making progress. Feed your body the proper nutrients and you will see changes.
Don’t neglect your shoulders. They perform incredibly important functions throughout our days. There aren’t many actions we take with our upper body that isn’t somehow influenced or impacted by them. Take care of them and they will take care of you.
Well trained shoulders will help you lift heavier in other areas. The support they bring to other lifts, like the bench, can push you up and over personal records, and, unlike some other groups, they don’t take an incredibly long time to train up.
Keeping a strong, limber set of shoulder muscles can help reduce injury to that very important set of joints, which have a wider range of motion than any other joint in our bodies. Shoulder injuries are always in the top 5 most common for a reason, and almost all of them from lack of flexibility, strength, or stabilization. If you are going to be using them daily, why chance it by not setting them up for success?
Adding a shoulder day workout into your weekly regimen will help them play catch up to the rest of your body. You won’t regret it.