One of the most common injuries is a rotator cuff injury. The statistic, according to the Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, states that in 2006, 7.5 million people made a visit to their doctor for shoulder problems. Why? We aren’t all athletes subjected to repetitive motion or weightlifting. We surely aren’t all gardening nor doing laborious work.
So why does our gym performance suffer when it comes to shoulders? Why do many of us have these severely weak and underdeveloped shoulders? I believe it’s due to the lost art of shoulder training. We need to find the secret sauce to sexier shoulders.
In this article, I will go over the role of the shoulder, assistance exercises, and alternatives to your standard shoulder routine.
When we refer to the shoulder, we often refer to the deltoid muscle. However, the secret in the secret sauce is the rotator cuff. The deltoid is simply a multipennate muscle off the head of the humerus that forms the cap on the upper arm.
Being multipennate means its higher, cross-sectional area can allow for greater force production, with a small caveat, which I will talk about later. It works in conjunction with the pectorals, arms, forearms, and upper back to create most of our motions.
The shoulder joint, however, is diarthrotic (easily moveable) like the elbows and knees, which are also, highly moveable joints. This is where its injury proneness comes into play. For the sake of the article, we will use this as an advantage in shoulder development despite its double-edginess.
The rotator cuff refers to the seat of the shoulder and its stabilizers. You’ll commonly hear about baseball pitchers or football players tearing their rotator cuffs because they tend to subject this particular muscle group to repetitive motion.
These muscles are commonly referred to as the S.I.T.S. (Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres minor, Subscapularis) muscles, both in name and in their relation to the shoulder. This muscle group surrounds the scapula and ultimately helps provide the necessary synergistic movement to the shoulder. They are as follows:
Supraspinatus, or above the spine of the scapula
Infraspinatus, or within the line of the spine of the scapula
Teres minor a crescent-shaped muscle above Teres major
Subscapularis, which is anterior (front) to the scapula.
The shoulder allows us to:
Raise the arm anteriorly
Extend the arm posteriorly
Adduct the arm towards the midline of the body
Abduct the arm away from the body
Internally rotate the arm when you want a down-low-high-five-from-behind.
Externally rotate the arm when you do the single-ladies-dance.
It helps you do the funky-chicken and wind up like a windmill.
In all seriousness, the shoulder is a deceptively simple complex of muscles that serve a vast array of functions, but I’ll show you how to maximize those muscles with only a few exercises.
How to Train Your Shoulders
Contrary to popular bro-science, shoulders are a bit difficult to train effectively if you don’t have the right tools in your arsenal. Keep these details in mind during your next training session:
Include both external and internal rotation: Focus more on external rotation because the internal rotation is our default relaxation state.
Include pressing and pulling movements: The shoulder press and raises aren’t the only exercises for shoulders.
Learn to Pour Out Milk: On your standard lateral dumbbell shoulder raises throw a pinky up at the end of the motion as if you were pouring yourself a warm glass of milk after a tough session. Sometimes, use angles on shoulder exercises, everything needn’t be a straight line.
Capitalize on your trapezius muscle: Shrug, Military Press, Pronated Trap Raises
Anterior (Front), Posterior (Rear), Lateral (Side): Work all three heads of the deltoid, this gives the muscle a nice rounded look instead of a deformed pancake.
Utilize All Kinds of Equipment
EZ Curl Bar
The World Is Your Oyster
The range of motion is king: Know when a full range of motion will benefit you and know when it will be a detriment due to a previous injury. Trying partial range in concert with full range might create a more significant stimulus for metabolic stress and or mechanical stress in the muscle resulting in growth (in most cases).
Fight the Urge to Cheat: I’m on board with cheating the last few reps of a set due to fatigue and occasional use of body English to squeeze out a rep. However, every rep shouldn’t be an excuse to look like Flappy Bird. Check your ego at the door and use the proper form; the mirror, your muscles, joints, and your gym mate will thank you.
Pre-Hab x Re-Hab: Before your shoulders get stiff (permanently), check out your shoulder health before and after exercise. Stretch; try using resistance bands and doing some banded pull-aparts.
W.I.I.: (not World War 2 and not the Nintendo Wii): Warm up and use a warm compress for the muscles. Ice the Joint: when you do so place the hand of the same limb behind you and pretend to reach for your back pocket exposing the tendons of the rotator cuff and place the ice pack right where you feel the pain and scorching heat from inflammation. Inhibit unnecessary movement during exercise and immobilize when you’re healing: Warm up the muscle again when its healed and take it through comfortable ranges of motion until you can regain full range of motion.
The Stir-Fry: After Adding the Secret Sauce
Here is a list of alternative exercises that I advocate for your shoulder training routine and their accompanying videos.
Keep on training my friends and if you’re in the neighborhood, come by and say hi, I am at RetroFitness Park Slope, in Brooklyn, New York.