The shoulder joint is a work of art. It is intricately designed to allow an enormous range of motion (just think about how much more movement your shoulder has than your knee, for example) and precise control for fine arm and hand movements.
Naturally, there is a cost for these advantages.
In order to allow for that amazing mobility, the shoulder joint itself does not have a lot of structural stability. Instead, it relies on surrounding soft tissue – muscles, ligaments, and tendons – to keep the joint in its socket. This leaves the shoulder vulnerable to injuries like impingement, capsular tears, and dislocation that can take a long time and serious rehabilitation to recover from.
Better to just avoid an injury in the first place – but how do you do that? The most obvious answer lies in specific strengthening of the muscles responsible for stabilizing the joint. The key muscles to train are those of the rotator cuff, middle and lower trapezius, and serratus anterior. Remember: these guys don’t need to be bulky, but they do need to be strong throughout the entire range of shoulder motion. This means that it is vital to work on endurance and to strengthen these muscles at different angles and shoulder positions.
1. Shoulder external rotation: While holding an elastic band at your side with your elbow bent, start with your hand near your stomach and then pull the band away. Keep your elbow at your side the entire time. Progress to greater degrees of shoulder elevation.
2. Shoulder internal rotation: While holding an elastic band at your side with your elbow bent, start with your hand away from your stomach, then pull the band towards your stomach. Keep you elbow near your side the entire time. Progress to greater degrees of shoulder elevation.
3. D2 flexion: Start by holding an elastic band down by your side to fixate it with your uninvolved arm. Next, using the involved arm, draw the other end of the band upwards and towards the opposite side as shown.
4. Scapular W’s: Place arms into a “field goal” position keeping elbows at a 90 degree angle and hands level with ears. Press hands and elbows into wall. While squeezing shoulder blades together. Keep as much of your back on the wall as you can. Slowly slide your arms back down, then repeat.
5. Serratus wall slides: Place an elastic band around your arms at the level of your wrists as shown.Next, place your forearms and hands along a wall so that your elbows are bent and your arms point towards the ceiling. Then, protract your shoulder blades forward and then slide your arms up the wall as shown.Return to the original position and repeat.
You’ve heard it before, and now you’re going to hear it again: strengthen your core! Although this muscle group doesn’t have a direct effect on shoulder stability, it does perform the vital functions of controlling rib cage position and providing a stable base for shoulder motion. You can kill two birds with one stone by doing exercises like this Belly Lift that works your obliques while weight bearing through your shoulders.
All four Belly Lift: Position yourself on your hands and knees, and arch your back so your ribs pull in while your back rounds. Maintain this position as you raise your knees off the mat so that they are straight. Shift your body weight forward so your nose is over your fingertips. You should feel your outer abdominals tighten. Shift weight to your left side and raise your right hand slightly off the mat. Hold this position while you take 4-5 deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Repeat on the other side.