There's a difference between being hurt and being sore. With the right exercises, you can often relieve minor aches and pains in your shoulders—knowing that if the pain persists or is severe, you should see a doctor.
The How's and Why's of YTWL
The YTWL series of exercises, done before a workout, takes your shoulder joints through their full range of motion, strengthening the muscles around them and making the joints more mobile.
At first, do this series standing up. As you progress, move to a prone position on a bench and then to a stability ball. Add 2 to 5 pounds to the movement to really strengthen the muscles around your rotator cuff.
"Y" - Here you are hitting the front cap of the deltoid. Keep your core tight and lift your arms straight up, palms facing each other. Make sure that your arms are fully extended.
"T" - Fully extend your arms horizontally. The "T" movement hits the anterior part of the shoulder, strengthening the rear delts at your trapezius.
"W" - When performing this part of the series, create a 90-degree angle by bending your elbows. Here you are hitting the posterior cap of the deltoid.
"L" - This requires a double move. Again, create a 90-degree angle by bending your elbows and rotate your shoulder joints until your forearms are perpendicular to the ground. The "L" ensures that your shoulders are reaching their full range of motion and also hitting your delts and traps.
Do 3 YTWL sets of 8-10 reps each. Hold each movement for three counts and repeat.
If you're pressed for time, arms circles are a simpler alternative to the YTWL series.
On a Roll With Self-Myofascial Release
Sore shoulder? Nothing a little self-massage can't fix. Get yourself a foam roller. If you don't have one, use a lacrosse ball or a tennis ball. Foam rolling lets you target the exact spot that's tight or sore. Known as "trigger points," these spots are are basically knots in your muscles. Breaking them up will help you exercise without pain and move your shoulders more freely. Tight pectorals can also cause pain and tightness in your shoulders; so we target both the shoulders and the pecs.
Take the roller or ball and place it on your pec. Sandwich the ball between your body and a wall. Applying pressure, start rolling in circles. Do the same for all areas of your shoulder.
You can experience some soreness after rolling because of tightness and less-than-stellar mobility. So ease into the rolling but stick with it. It will help in the long run.
After you roll all around the pecs, do the shoulders. Do not roll more than 30 seconds in one spot.
Pulling With a Purpose
That workout plan that you have that contains the glorified Bench Press? Dig a hole and bury it. When you do more pushing than pulling exercises, you can create muscular imbalances that lead to postural problems and injury, especially at the shoulder joint. Here are some pulling exercises you can do that will help you straighten up.
Inverted Rows. These can be done with a Smith machine or a squat rack. Set the barbell slightly lower than waist-high. Lie on the ground and position your hands about shoulder-width apart, as if you were going to bench. In a slow and controlled manner, pull your chest to the bar and lower yourself back down. Repeat.
Band Pulls. These focus on the posterior delts and proper scapula retraction. Get a flexband and grab it near the end of the band. Starting with your arms straight out, pull the band and focus on pinching your shoulder blades together.
Negative Pull-Ups. These are great for gaining shoulder strength. Have a chair handy so you can focus on the lowering part of the Pull-Up. Start with your chin at the bar and lower your body slowly for a 3- to 5-second count. Catch yourself on the chair below you and repeat.
Introduce these after completing a week of the other exercises. With Negative Pull-Ups, you focus on the eccentric contraction, and you might be a little sore.
The road to a healthy shoulder is through strengthening and working on flexibility.