Many people think that having sore and painful shoulders is just a way of life but it doesn’t always have to be that way.
As we use our shoulders more and more in the gym, playing sports or even just doing work around the house it becomes even more imperative to not only improve mobility of the shoulders but also make them more stable with strengthening exercises. I think it’s safe to say that the majority of us will need to work on both improved range of motion and stabilization to some degree; but it’s important to be able to discern which type of exercise will be more beneficial for your shoulders.
A good test is doing an active versus passive range of motion test. Stand tall with your arms hanging at your sides. Then, keeping your arms shoulder-width apart, try to raise both arms over your head without arching your back. Note how high you can bring your arms up. Do they go all the way over your head?
Now, lie on the ground on your back and do the same thing. Start with your arms flat on the ground at your sides. Keep your arms shoulder width apart and bring your arms over your head without arching your back. Can you get your hands all the way to the ground above your head? If not, then you definitely need to work on improving your range of motion by using a foam roller or lacrosse ball on your lats and shoulders.
If you can get your arms all the way overhead, but you couldn’t while standing, then this should tell you that you have the physical range of motion to get into that overhead position; however, you lack the motor control to get there yourself. This is where the stability part comes in. In your brain’s attempt to prevent you from hurting yourself, it will restrict you from getting into a position where you lack stability. In my own rehab, I did a lot of banded exercises to strengthen my rotator cuff, rhomboids and lower traps. Nowadays, many gyms are equipped with band systems such as Crossover Symmetry; and while these are an excellent tool for shoulder activation and rehab, I know that not everyone has access to them. (I didn’t at the time.)
In all honesty, you can achieve the same great benefits using a $10 TheraBand and some light weights.
In some cases, it’s actually preferable to use a small 2-3 pound dumbbell instead of bands, since the free weights provide more isolation of the intended muscle group and will lead to greater muscle activation.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re not a professional athlete and don’t have the luxury of spending hours on hours in the gym on mobility, stability, buy-ins and cash-outs. While it might seem tedious to do these exercises, you can take 15 minutes to go through this circuit to activate and warm-up your shoulders a few times a week before a workout. You will be sure to see a drastic improvement in your shoulder health and overhead stability.