‘That’s my bad shoulder, I need to be careful on that side’. Sound familiar..? Although not always a shoulder, that niggle that won’t to go away eventually gets worse. The pain or twinge is a warning signal that most of us train through; sometimes it sorts itself out, others times it becomes a full blown injury requiring rest, rehabilitation and even surgery. Wherever the injury falls on this spectrum, you are ultimately losing training time and muscle mass with every day you are away from the gym. In this article we will look into a common problem with shoulders and how incorporating a simple couple of exercises into your workout routine will strengthen and stabilise the joint allowing you to lift heavier and safer for maximum benefit.
Don’t Underestimate Your Stabiliser Muscles
The shoulder joint itself is similar to the hip, but it sacrifices stability for greater movement. Unlike the hip, it is a much shallower joint and so it has many more muscles stabilising it. These deep stabilisers form what is known as the rotator cuff. This comprises of the Supraspinatous, Infraspinatous, Teres Minor and Subscapularis. In order to really keep the shoulder joint stable, these need to be specifically strengthened as they support shoulder movement and are essential when performing heavy exercises.
Obviously the rotator cuff muscles are worked when shoulders are trained, but they do not strengthen as quickly as the bigger, more visible muscles (i.e. delts & traps). This instability may not even feel apparent until it presents itself as an initial injury or a small twinge. As the shoulder moves through its range, the weaker rotator cuff muscles are unable to keep the joint in its optimum position. Although the bigger muscles compensate and help move the joint, the angle of movement is affected and greater strain is placed on the rotator cuff muscles. It is normally these muscles that tear and cause pain.
Because these muscles are so deep, damage to one will likely restrict the whole joint and take a long time to heal. Think how many exercises would be affected; not just shoulders but back, chest & some arms. Ultimately it would be an injury that would impact on most of the body. Whether it’s a full injury or just pain performing overhead activities, these vital muscles can be strengthened easily to restore balance and/or prevent injury. I advise many people to incorporate preventative strengthening within their programs before any issues arise. Pick one of the following exercises and add it to your workout plan once a week. 3 sets of 10-12 reps is ideal.
With the cable set at elbow height, stand sideways to the cable pulley. The performing shoulder will be furthest from the machine, take a grip on the pulley handle with the cable across your torso. The aim is to keep your elbow flexed at a right angle and rotate your arm from across the body (inwards) to as far outwards as you can get it. Try to keep your elbow tucked in and stabilised an inch from your torso and concentrate on rotating through this point.
Set yourself up on the floor with a bench behind you or seated in a reversed position on the preacher bench. The height of the preacher or the bench needs to support your arm when it is out at shoulder height. The elbow should be flexed to a right angle and the upper arm should be flush with the bench that supports it. Holding a dumbbell in an overhand grip, the start position has the dumbbell level with the shoulder/bench. The arm is rotated upwards and backwards (keeping the upper arm flush with the support throughout) until it is straight in the air pointing up, then it is controlled back to its start position.