We all want strong, healthy, pain-free shoulders.
Yet most of us have no idea what exercises we should do to achieve them. We’re often left trying to deal with the aches and pains that come with training our shoulders.
Shoulders have a lot of moving parts and a lot of freedom in their movement. That freedom is both a blessing and a curse, as it presents a lot of room for potential gains, but also numerous opportunities for pain and/or injury.
The many moving parts of the shoulder need to work together for them to be pain-free and have unrestricted movement. When the muscles of the upper back and shoulders aren’t performing optimally, we can get those aches and twinges that plague us all day long.
We can develop pain-free movement at the shoulder by concentrating on strengthening the muscles that control movement at the thoracic spine, scapula and glenohumeral joint. A great way to incorporate shoulder strengthening exercises is by using a Free Motion or Cable machine, as such equipment allows for a wide array of movements than a dumbbell or barbell.
Although we can use any number of tools to improve or maintain shoulder health, cables allow for constant tension throughout the movement. This ensures that the muscles are working through the entire set.
With the right cable exercises, we can reduce weak points, activate muscles and remove any movement restrictions an athlete might have. With that in mind, try these four cable exercises for strong, healthy shoulders.
Bent-Over Rear Flys
This exercise strengthens some of the weaker parts of the shoulders. Namely, the rear deltoids and two of the four rotator cuff muscles.
4-Way Shoulder Fly
This exercise is a variation of a Rear Delt Fly. It targets the smaller muscles of the shoulder along with working the joint through upward and downward rotation. You end up tackling a few movements all at once with this exercise.
Cable Snow Angels
Similar to the 4-Way Shoulder Fly above, this exercise keeps tension on the muscles of the shoulders and upper back while going through a full range of motion from the bottom to full overhead. One thing to be aware of is not to shrug the shoulders as you bring the arms up. Keep those shoulders away from your ears!
Facepull to W
The Facepull to W is an all-around great way to hit the rotator cuff muscles as well as muscles of the upper and mid-back by promoting external rotation at the shoulder.
I have no doubt these four moves can help most people improve the strength and function of their shoulders.
However, when is it best to use them?
An ideal time is during your warm-up, especially on days when you know you’re going to be doing more upper-body exercises, particularly pressing. This will help get the muscles of your shoulder ready for the harder work ahead. One key thing to remember when using these moves in your warm-up is to work until they’re activated and “turned on,” but not totally burnt out.
If you like, you can also program these later in your workout, which does give you the freedom to really challenge the muscles to their full extent.
When training the upper back and shoulders, we want to make sure we’re moving them through a full range of motion. By moving through that full range, we are able to target weaknesses in certain ranges we didn’t know were there.
The structure of the shoulder can be compared to a baseball on a golf tee. It is one of the body’s most vulnerable joints due to this fact. The cable machine is an awesome weapon for shoulder health. Start with very light weights for these! It’s more important to target the correct muscles and movements rather than obsess over lifting heavy. Moving big weights with bad form will only make your shoulders feel (and possibly look) worse.
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