Hanging out at the gym, especially around the first of the year, you hear a lot of people excited to try an exercise that is new to them. For too many of them, “I’m really excited to try this new program,” is followed by, “but I don’t know if my shoulder will let me.”
If you’ve ever said that, then this post is for you.
Let’s start with a basic shoulder evaluation:
1) Find a bare wall. Yes, it needs to be a wall and not the floor. If you use the floor, gravity will add too much stretch for some of you.
2) Put your back to the wall and keep the back of your head touching the wall too. If you can’t keep or get your head to the wall, move it as close as you can. However, that means that some of your shoulder problems are actually posture issues. For most people, those issues can be fixed. Continuing on…
3) Bring your feet back so that your heels are touching the wall.
4) With your hands hanging at your sides, touch the wall with the backs of your hands and your elbows.
5) Pack your shoulder blades away from your ears and toward your butt—make sure to keep them packed through the rest of these steps.
6) Keeping everything mentioned above touching the wall, bring your hands toward your shoulders, and then continue until they are straight in the air (or as high as you can get them with everything continuing to touch the wall.)
7) Lower your arms (while keeping your hands pointing up) until your elbows are at your sides.
The whole process above looks sort of like you’re making “snow angels” if you can go through the full range of motion. If you can’t do one or more parts of the above, then your exercise is to get to where you can. You do that by going to a point of discomfort (not pain), and using your muscles to hold you there for a slow count of 20-30. Rest for up to a minute and repeat it 5 times. Over a few days to weeks, your movement should continue to improve. If it doesn’t, there’s a strong change that your shoulder issue is just a symptom of a problem somewhere else.
If you can do the above, then it is time to start adding some resistance.
8) Go through steps 1-7 above, and at step 7, squeeze your elbows into your side. Hold that contraction for 20-30 seconds, rest for up to a minute between reps, and repeat it 5 times. Remember to keep your shoulders packed toward the ground throughout the exercise.
9) For some, you will want to do step 10 before this one, but for most people that won’t be necessary. Once you have the above mastered, grab a couple light dumbbells or a couple of water bottles (with the lids tightly sealed) and go through steps 1-6. When your arms are in the air, hold the weight there for 20-30 seconds. Keep your shoulders packed and make sure that you keep everything touching throughout the entire exercise. Continue on to steps 7-8.
10) Once you’ve mastered 1-9, or if you find 9 too challenging, it is time for the bungee cord (or stretchy bands). You can do this one while lying on the floor if you don’t have something that is elevated and adequately secure. Wrap the bungee around something that allows your arm to be at about a 45 degree angle from your head. (You’ll do one arm at a time for this.) **Please make sure that whatever you wrap the bungee around will not move, fall, crush you, break something, hurt someone else, etc. when you pull on it, and that the bungee itself is tied securely so it doesn’t come loose and slap you.**
This is the only time in any of these exercises when you will allow your shoulder to become unpacked. You’ll grab the bungee and move away until your shoulder is unpacked. There won’t be a lot of tension on it, but it will be unpacked. The exercise is to pull your shoulder back into a packed position against the resistance of the bungee, hold it for 20-30 seconds, and then slowly release back to unpacked. Repeat 5 times.
Once you are doing well with that version of the exercise, you can add more resistance by keeping your shoulder packed when you first hold the bungee, move away to create tension, and then slowly release your shoulder from packed position before you begin the exercise.
While there is more you can do to keep your shoulders in good working (and playing!) condition, the above will get you started.