Baseball and tennis players, golfers and swimmers do specific shoulder exercises to keep them functional from all the wear and tear of these sports. Even if you aren't an athlete, however, your shoulder deserves attention.
You ask a lot of these joints every day, and they're vulnerable to losing function. W. Ben Kibler, a board-certified orthopedist who specializes in shoulders, sports medicine, workers compensation and surgical procedures at the Lexington Clinic in Kentucky, has done much research on how to keep your shoulders pushing, rotating and flapping.
Through research, he's developed a number of exercises that help restore the natural function of shoulders in people who have injury to the region. These exercises focus on stabilizing and improving mobility in the scapula.
The scapula, also known as the shoulder blades, stabilize the shoulder joint. If they aren't strong, you throw off the dynamics in movements such as throwing and swinging. You need a strong foundation for optimal shoulder function, and this starts with the scapula, explains Kibler in a paper published in Operative Techniques in Sports Medicine in 2012.
In addition, weak scapular function contributes to poor posture and possible injury as other smaller muscles compensate.
Kibler recommends punching movements to work the scapula from multiple angles:
- Forward punches: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and bring your hands to your chest. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull them down your back. Step your right leg forward and punch both hands out in front of you at about a 135-degree angle with the floor. Bring your right foot back next to the left and repeat, stepping forward with the left leg.
- Lateral punches: Start from the same stance with your hands at your chest. Step out right and punch the right arm to the right side at the 135-degree angle. Repeat on the left.
- Horizontal punches: Stand with your feet hip distance, your hands at your chest and your elbows pointing to the sides of the room. Step left and punch to the left using your right hand as you rotate your trunk. Repeat with a right step, left hand punch.
The inferior glide also emphasizes proper use of the scapula as stabilizers for the shoulder joint.
How To: Sit in a chair and place your arm on a desk or table beside you. Clench your fist and push it down into the surface of the desk as you retract your shoulder blade. Hold for about 5 seconds.
The low row trains your shoulders to squeeze together and support your shoulders.
How To: Stand in front of a solid table or counter that's about the height of your hips. Lean forward slightly and place your hands on the surface with your arms extended. Bend your elbows slightly and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold for 5 seconds and release.
You might be familiar with a weighted lawnmower row, but this one is done without dumbbells or resistance bands. It still requires multiple joints to work in sync, but because Kibler's exercises are intended for rehabilitation, only your body weight is used.
How To: Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips. Bend your knees slightly, hands in fists hanging alongside your hips. Rotate your torso to bring your right hand outside your left knee as you bend a little deeper from your knees and hips. Pull the right elbow back against your ribcage to perform a row as you straighten up. Do all your repetitions on the right, repeat on the left.
You use your hips, legs and arms inconjunction to train your shoulder blades to retract, or pull down and back, with the robbery exercise.
How To: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and hinge forward from the hips about 45 degrees. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees so the upper arms are by your ribs, palms face down. Hug your elbows against your torso as you squeeze your shoulder blades together and down. Simultaneously straighten your legs and hips. Return to bent knees and more relaxed shoulders to complete one repetition.