Capable of moving in nearly all directions, your shoulders are the most complex joints in your body, making them highly susceptible to injury. Regularly incorporating exercises that build strength, stability and endurance in the muscles surrounding the shoulders and the scapulae can help protect the joints.
Importance of Shoulder Stability Exercises
When most think about strengthening the shoulders, they immediately turn to large, multi-joint exercises like push-ups, shoulder press and dips. While beneficial, these exercises aren't the most effective for improving shoulder stability. Any movement at the shoulders requires the contribution of several small muscles in and around your shoulder capsule and scapulae. Building strength, endurance and stability in these muscles are crucial to maintaining shoulder health.
Shoulder stability exercises are not just beneficial for athletes, but are highly necessary for average lifters and the general fitness population. People who spend hours working at a desk are highly susceptible to a lack of shoulder stability, as prolonged sitting increases the likelihood of poor posture and excessive neck flexion.
Exercises for Stabilizing and Strengthening the Shoulders
Incorporate this battery of shoulder stability exercises into your exercise regimen two to three days per week. If you're fitting them in alongside your more comprehensive weight training regimen, these exercises should be completed at the end of your session so that your rotator cuff and scapular muscles aren't fatigued when you're performing larger muscle exercises.
Most of the exercises don't require any additional weight beyond your own body weight. For the exercises that allow for free weights, keep in mind that resistance should remain incredibly light, as you'll be isolating small muscles that are highly susceptible to strains and inflammation, which can lead to additional problems.
Although known primarily as a core exercise, the front plank also isometrically challenges the shoulders to improve endurance. With your elbows positioned on the floor directly in line with your shoulders, hold a front plank position for 30 seconds. Keep your head straight and your torso taught, with your navel tucked in toward the spine, so that your torso and thighs create a straight line. Complete 3 sets.
Half Push-up Hold
Like the front plank, the half push-up hold exercise isometrically strengthens the muscles in and around the shoulder capsule to improve stability. Get into a push-up position and bend your elbows, with your arms slightly tucked in toward your torso, to lower your body toward the floor. With your elbows bent and chin three to four inches away from the floor, hold the position for 30 seconds. Complete 3 sets.
Y & T's
The Y and T exercises dynamically strengthen the muscles around the scapula to improve shoulder stability. While lying face down on a bench set to an incline, lift your straight arms up and out in a "Y" position until they become level to your ears. Lower your arms and then lift them out to your sides to create the shape of the letter "T" until your arms are level with your torso. Continue, alternating between "Y" and "T" until you've completed 16 to 20 reps. Do 2 sets. Once you've been completing the exercise consistently, consider doing the exercise while holding a light dumbbell in each hand.
Scapula push-ups improve the stabilizing abilities of the muscles surrounding the scapula. Get into a traditional push-up position. Rather than bending your arms, however, retract your shoulder blades. You should feel as though you're squeezing your shoulder blades together. Protract the shoulder blades to complete the rep and then repeat, completing a total of 2 sets of 12 reps.
Side Lying External Shoulder Rotation
The side lying external shoulder rotation exercise reduces the risk of shoulder injuries by encouraging proper scapular movement. Lie on your side on an exercise mat with a light dumbbell in your top hand. Hold your elbow, bent to 90 degrees, in against your torso. Externally rotate your shoulder while keeping your elbow against your ribcage to lift the dumbbell up toward the ceiling. Then lower the dumbbell back down and repeat. Complete 2 sets of 15 reps.