Daily life wreaks havoc on our shoulders.
Between sitting for hours hunched over a computer and behind a steering wheel, we’re constantly curled over with lousy posture. According to the Mayo Clinic, there’s a direct link between poor posture and shoulder pain.
The shoulder is one of the most important joints in the body, designed to promote a wide range of three-dimensional movements. There’s a reason we shoulder a burden rather than knee or hip one.
Runners would never hit the trails without stretching. But lifters routinely tackle some heavy iron without prepping the shoulders. To go from a typical day of sitting in a hunched-over position to some full-blown lifting is a recipe for shoulder injuries and long-term ailments. Even if you lift first thing in the morning, you’re still feeling the cumulative effects of daily sitting.
By taking just a few minutes to perform the following movements at the start of a workout – or even on an off day or non-shoulder day – we can improve our posture and shoulder stability while reducing the risk of injury and improving our performance in the gym.
What it does: This counteracts the impact of sitting all day and also mimics the proper movement of the shoulders during lifting.
How to do it: Instead of thinking in terms of squeezing your shoulder blades together, think in terms of pulling them back and then down, as if toward your back pockets. This not only resets your posture from sitting hunched over a computer or behind a steering wheel, but it also moves the shoulders the way they’re meant to move during pressing lifts. This move can be done throughout the day, not just during this routine.
How many? 2 sets of 10 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets.
What it does: This also counteracts the impact of sitting all day by resetting your posture.
How to do it: Stand on the first step of a staircase. With one hand holding onto a railing or wall, edge back until your heels are off the step and hanging in midair. Let your body’s weight press down into the heels.
How many? One minute on each side, allowing your shoulders to drop back and down and your posture to reset.
Reverse Hand Clasp
What it does: This is a good test of your shoulder mobility.
How to do it: Stand with one hand behind your neck and your elbow pointing up. Use your other hand – or your other hand gently pulling a rope or towel held on both ends – to pull your elbow down. You’ll likely find this easier on your dominant side (i.e. right-handed people pointing the left elbow up). Unlike a lot of stretches, you can make fairly quick progress on this one if done daily, to the point where you can forego the towel or rope and gradually grasp hands on both sides.
How many? 2 sets of 10-second holds on each side.
What it does: This opens up your shoulders while stretching the muscles of your middle and upper back, counteracting the effects of sitting all day.
How to do it: Lie on the ground on your left side with legs tucked into the torso at a 90-degree angle. Keep both arms straight parallel to your knees. Keeping the knees together and on the ground, rotate your chest and right arm to the right, putting your back on the ground. Hold for two seconds and return to starting position.
How many? 2 sets of 10 reps to each side with 30 seconds rest between sets.
What it does: This compound yoga move strengthens and stabilizes the shoulders while also improving flexibility to the lumbar and cervical spine.
How to do it: Start on all fours with hands beneath your shoulders and knees on the ground. Inhale, dropping your chest as you push your hips and shoulder blades back into cow position. Lift your chin and chest and gaze forward. For cat, exhale as you draw your belly button to your spine and round your back toward the ceiling like a cat.
How many? 2 sets of 10 reps of each with 30 sec. rest between sets.
What it does: Your shoulders are doing much of the work for this familiar exercise that promotes overall core stability.
How to do it: Lie in a prone pushup position with forearms resting on the floor, elbows under shoulders and bent 90 degrees. Push up off the elbows, tucking your chin so your head is in line with your body. Keep head in line with the spine and belly button drawn in. Hold for one minute.
How many? 2 sets of 60 seconds with 60 seconds rest between sets.
What it does: This challenges shoulder stability as well as the obliques.
How to do it: Start on the ground on your left side with your left forearm on the ground and your elbow under your shoulder. Push up off your elbow, creating a straight line from ankle to shoulder. Your hips should be off the ground and only the side of your bottom foot and your elbow should be on the ground. Hold for 30 seconds or do 10 reps of 3 seconds each.
How many? 2 sets of either of the above options.
What it does: This yoga resting pose is effective for stretching out the shoulders.
How to do it: From a kneeling position, touch your big toes together and sit on your heels. Separate your knees about hip-width apart and lay your torso down between your thighs. Place your hands on the floor along your torso, palms up, and release the fronts of your shoulders toward the floor. You should feel the weight of the front of the shoulders pulling the shoulder blades wide across your back.
How many? Hold pose for 30 seconds, rest 10 seconds, repeat.
Pete Williams is a NASM-certified personal trainer and the author or co-author of several fitness books, including Core Performance.