Friday with Friends

132 | How to build shoulder strength

Sep 6, 2019

Building shoulder strength is really about building a robustness to the shoulder so that it can be adaptable both in terms of mobility and stability. 


One of the best ways to do this is to first get the shoulder moving fully. Anytime we talk about shoulder mobility, we have to first address the scapula and back. You need to start with a good resting position of the scapula on the back body. It’s about an inch away from the spine, in a neutral resting position. And it’s not elevated, meaning it’s not way up by your ears. And from that position, it does need to be able to upwardly rotate. What is required with upwardly rotating is that if you’re reaching your arm forward, like you’re reaching out for the wall in front of you, there’s little scapula movement until 90 degrees. 


And then beyond that, the scapula needs to be able to lift up towards your head, which is elevation slide away from the spine, which is protraction. And also tip and be held onto the spine, which is a little downward rotation. And so all of that needs to happen to get the arm up in line with your ear. So once that is happening without any impingement, or any compression or just a smoothness to it, you can work on the strength of it. 

One of the best ways to acquire shoulder strength is through weight bearing, putting weight through your hands. So here’s a simple series to do. 


Cat cow

First of all, roll your shoulders one at a time and go backwards because we spend so much time with our shoulders in front. Really feel the scapula move up toward the head, and then in toward the spine and then down a little bit.


Then reach forward with one or both arms until you get to 90 degrees. And then reach the arms forward more, with the movement coming from the scapula, and then lift them up in line with your ear. And if you feel like you’ve got a pretty good range there, then do that a few more times. 


Come on to all fours and bring your shoulders right on top of your wrist and then get your neck in line so it’s not drooping. And then do a similar action here. But it’ll be smaller, because now you’ve got your hands grounded so you’re not going to move as much. But try and move the scapula together a little bit and then apart from each other. 


In the yoga world this is known as cat cow. But you’re doing it just in the scapula and the thoracic spine. So the elbows won’t bend, your lower back is not getting involved, you’re just mobilizing the scapula on the back. Try doing that for about a minute. 



Once you’ve done it for about a minute, draw the shoulder blades together a little bit, hold the front ribs there and just feel like you’re stapling the scapula on the back ribs. And then step one foot back at a time so you’re in plank. 


Plank is one of the best moves for your shoulder. If you’re doing it correctly, you’re not putting any compression on the shoulder, you’re trying to find space there. Continue holding yourself in plank, feeling the shoulder get stronger and also using all the core muscles to help that. Then to add on to that, you can move in different ways while still in plank. So you could step out one foot at a time, so step your left foot out to the left and then the right foot out to the right and the left foot in and the right foot in. These movement patterns will make your core and your shoulders light up. And if you find that your wrists are bothering you, you can stretch out the wrist as well.


Reverse table

A reverse type table is also good for the shoulders. So sit on your butt, bend your knees with your hands behind you and your fingers facing the same direction as your toes. Lift your hips up, but don’t throw your head back. So you’re using your glutes, but then feel the head of the arm bones stay centered, don’t let them drop forward. And then really tighten the muscles around the head of the arm bone and the scapula and hold there. Now you can always add some challenge to this by bending the elbows a little bit and straightening so you’re working on the triceps, which are really important for giving the shoulder stability. 


Forearm plank

Another way of strengthening the arms is to get onto your forearms. So come on to all fours again, with the knees down, and then bring your forearms to the ground. Interlace the fingers. The elbows are going to be more narrow than you would think, not straight under the shoulders but a little bit closer together. Then walk back so you’re in a forearm plank. Then push into your forearms and broaden the back body, which is now going to have the shoulder blades sliding a little apart from each other, and hold that feeling. The butt is in line so it’s a true plank. Hold there. And you can do the same thing you did in plank, walk out one foot at a time. Keep your head in line so you’re not dropping your head down either. Now you might only be able to do that for a few seconds. And that’s okay. If you can stay with it an extra two to five seconds after you feel like you need to come down, that’s how you’ll build some strength. 


I hope these exercises felt good for you. There’s so many other ways to develop shoulder strength, but these are the exercises I would give right away. Let me know how it feels for you. Pass this on to someone who might need some shoulder strengthening. These exercises will be good for pretty much anyone even if they’ve had some kind of tendinitis or some kind of injury or repetitive syndrome in the shoulders.



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