The shoulder is simply the most complex joint in your body. Because the shoulder is so complex, it is one of the easiest joints to injure. In this post, I'll go into the importance of exercising the shoulder, the basic anatomy of the shoulder, and explain the basic exercises to work these muscles.
Importance of the Shoulder
The shoulders connect your arms to your torso. They also provide support for numerous lifts, exercises, and daily movements that you make. The stronger the muscles of your shoulder are, the better you'll be able to perform, both in the gym and in your daily routine.
Basic Shoulder Anatomy
The basic muscles of your shoulder are the Trapezius (traps), Deltoid (delts), and a collection of muscles not completely shown above (Only the Infraspinatus is shown) known as the rotator cuff.
Traps support your arm, retract your scapulae (shoulder blades), and rotate and depress your shoulder blades. Therefore, traps are extremely important to many lifts or exercises you might do (think, Inverted rows, lawnmowers, etc.). Also, strong traps help raise your shoulders up and create a level plane. across your shoulders. Someone with weak traps has shoulders that slope downward, rather than create this level plane.
The deltoid raises your arm up (or abducts it laterally. Whatever.) Your delts also, as you can see, connect your arm to your shoulder. This keeps your shoulder from being dislocated when you carry heavy loads. Also, it creates that cool rounded look at the top of your shoulders like this guy:
This, is why you have to watch your shoulders. A rotator cuff tear can have you totally off strengthening for six months. If you hurt this muscle, I hope you like ab workouts and the treadmill. The rotator cuff consists of a bunch of little bitty muscles that stabilize the shoulder. Be careful with this little bugger.
Let's work those shoulders! Be careful here, your shoulders can EASILY be injured. Start light and slowly work your way up. Your shoulders support your entire upper body, so don't be stupid and injure it. However, although they can easily get injured, they also build up QUICK. You'll be amazed at the difference you see.
Exercises for the traps:
This is one of the best workouts for the traps. I like using the smith machine for this because it gives you better control. Basically: Stand straight up. Bend your knees a little and hold onto the barbell (I like gripping in opposite directions with both hands -- gives you a stronger grip). Slowly raise your shoulders up using your traps, as though you were doing a shrug. Keep your core engaged to avoid using your lower back. Hold slightly, then lower the bar back to the starting position. Check out this video for a pretty good idea of what it should look like:
Barbell Upright Rows:
Take an EZ bar or a barbell in your hands with a slightly closer than shoulder width grip. Let the bar hang around your hips. Raise the bar slowly to your chin, while keeping it close to your body. Lower it down slowly to the starting position.
Two basic, easy to perform exercises to build large, strong traps. Now, on to the Deltoids.
Dumbell Shoulder Press
Why dumbells? Barbells put WAY too much stress on your shoulders and cause your arms to move in an unnatural motion. We don't want that. Natural is good. Dumbells allow free and natural range of motion. Begin by sitting at the end of a bench. You don't want something supporting your back unless you have back issues. If you use something to support your back (like the back of the chair I mean, a powerlifting belt is ALWAYS fine) you take your core out of the picture. We don't want that. Raise the dumbells up to your shoulders, then press them directly up. Slowly return to the starting position. Fairly simple lift, with deadly results. (note: If you want more information on lifting, Scooby, the guy in the video below, is GREAT.
I wouldn't recommend doing this heavy at ALL ever. ever. ever. ever. ever. Lemme repeat that just in case you didn't get that. EVER. You DO NOT want a torn rotator cuff. There are two simple exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff.
Rotator Cuff Adduction
Attach a resistance band or lower a cable to an area around hip height. Stand so that the arm you are working is towards the cable or band. So if you're working the right arm, the cable should be to your right side. Place your elbow against your body and hold the handle. Your arm should be at a 90 degree angle with your hand pointing directly in front of you. Bring the hand in to your stomach slowly, then bring it slowly back out and repeat. ( I can't find a good video for this, or even a name. I made the name up myself. Sorry!!!)
Rotator Cuff Abduction
Do the same thing with the cable or resistance band. However, you will stand in the opposite direction. if you're working the right arm, the cable should be on your left side. Put your arm in the same position as before and grip the handle with the band or cable trailing across your body. Rotate your hand slowly out with your elbow still pressed against your side.
Basic Shoulder Workout:
Shoulder Shrugs 3 Sets of 10
Dumbell Shoulder Press 3 Sets of 10
Upright Rows 3 Sets of 10
Rotator Cuff Abductors 3 Sets of 10
Rotator Cuff Adductors 3 Sets of 10
Thats it! Basic shoulder exercises to help strengthen the entire shoulder. Be careful, and be determined!