Your shoulders may not have to withstand a collision with a 200-pound hockey player. But they need to be stable enough to withstand daily wear and tear like lifting a grandchild or placing your hand luggage in the plane’s overhead trash can.
In hockey, strong, healthy shoulders are the key to avoiding injury, says Sean Skahan, strength and conditioning coach for the Minnesota Wild NHL team.
“Our sport involves a lot of physical contact,” he says. “We focus on strengthening the muscles around the shoulders to help players avoid common injuries such as shoulder dislocations, displacements and tensions in the rotator cuff.”
Shoulder health is just as important if you spend more time at a desk than on the ice. Building shoulder strength can help you regret the rounded forward posture that comes from sitting in front of a computer all day. And having good shoulder mobility will make everyday tasks, such as reaching out to grab the subway train’s handle for balance, easier.
The shoulder is a ball joint that is movable but also unstable. The muscles of the rotator cuff move and stabilize the shoulder. The muscles that support the shoulders, including the rhomboids, trapezius, and deltoids, are much smaller than the quads and hamstrings, the large muscles that stabilize the knee joint.
To avoid overexertion of these muscles, focus on shape and start with body weight or very light weight, says Mr Skahan. These six exercises can be performed as a shoulder workout, or you can integrate the stretches into your daily routine.
Foam Roll T-Spine
Why: When our thoracic spine, the 12 vertebrae between the neck and lower back, are tight or stiff, it can impede shoulder mobility. This affects everything from our posture to our ability to move our arms over our head.
How: Lie on the floor face up with a foam roller placed horizontally under your middle back. Your knees will be bent, your feet flat on the floor, and your hands can be crossed at your chest or tensed at the lower neck to support your head. Lift your hips to move the roller up onto your back. Stop just below the neck. Scroll back down the spine. Repeat 10 times.
Doorway chest extension
Why: Sitting hunched over a computer for hours a day can cause shortened and tight chest muscles that can pull the shoulders down and forward, says Mr Skahan. This simple stretch helps to open the chest.
How: Stand in an open doorway. Lift each arm up to the side, elbows bent at 90 degrees. Rest your palms on the door frame. Step one foot forward until you feel a stretch in your chest and shoulders. Do not lean forward. Hold a high spine. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat three times or pastor during the day to break long stretches at your desk.
Cable machine external rotation
Why: This exercise focuses on strengthening the rotator cuff muscles that externally rotate the shoulder.
How: Stand with the left side facing a cable machine. The cable height should be adjusted to fit your elbow height and the weight should be easy to start. Grasp the handle with your right hand and bend your right elbow 90 degrees so that your right forearm is parallel to the ground. Keep your elbow close to your hip and turn your right arm away from your body, just over 90 degrees. Pause and return to start. Perform three sets of 10 to 20 reps per side.
Possibility: You can perform this exercise by using a resistance band anchored to a door handle in a closed doorway.
Why: Chin-ups work on the biceps and lats and help improve grip strength. Because the exercise requires a decent amount of baseline strength to perform, it is a good goal to track the increase in your upper body strength.
How: Grasp a pull-up bar under your hand, palms facing you, hands shoulder-width apart. You can also use the steps on monkey bars on a playground. Slowly pull your chin up over the bar. Slowly lower down with control. Fill in as many as you can without losing shape.
Options: If you can not do a chin-up, start by focusing on the eccentric or lowering part of the exercise. “The stronger you become at lowering, the stronger you become at pulling your chin over the bar,” says Mr Skahan. Start with your chin over the bar, and lower as slowly as possible until your arms are straight. Drop to the floor and repeat. If you have already mastered chin-up and want an extra challenge, perform the exercise while wearing a weight belt.
Why: This series of exercises insulates the muscles of the upper back and the rotator cuff, says Mr Skahan. They help with shoulder strength and mobility, as well as help improve posture. Repeat three sets of 10 repetitions of each exercise or perform one set during the day.
How: Lie face down on a weight bench with your arms dangling under your shoulders and your chin resting on the bench. Your arms will move so that they resemble the shape of each letter. Activate your core and squeeze your shoulder blades together while performing the movements.
Y: Lift straight arms up and out to 45 degrees, palms facing each other. Pause at the top, slowly lowering.
T: Lift your arms straight out to the sides with your thumbs up until they are parallel to the floor. Pause at the top, slowly lowering.
W: Bend your elbows so that your palms touch under the bench. Lift your elbows up to a 90-degree angle, with your palms facing down at the top of the movement.
L: Bend your elbows to 90 degrees so that they are in line with your shoulders, palms facing your feet. Raise your hands up to head height so that each arm will look like a letter “L” at the top of the movement. Slowly lower.
Options: If it feels light, hold a light weight of no more than 5 pounds in each hand. To challenge your core, you can perform these exercises while lying face down over a stability ball.
Why: This loaded load-bearing capacity improves upper back, grip and single-legged strength, while also working with hip and core stability. The muscles used to grip the weights activate the rotator cuff muscles and, as a result, help stabilize and strengthen the shoulder joint, says Mr Skahan.
How: Grab a kettlebell, dumbbell, water jug or even a small packed suitcase with a handle in your right hand. If you fall to the right before you start walking, use a lighter weight. Go 20 yards at a slow pace, then shift the weight to your left hand and go back to start. As you walk, keep your shoulders pulled back and core tight. Remember to maintain a tight grip on the weights throughout the exercise. Repeat three sets.
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