Socket to Me: Shoulder Exercises

Desk job workers and fast pitch throwers alike are prone to underusing and overusing certain shoulder muscles. Restore your shoulder balance by practicing these exercises.



Dr. Daniel Bockmann, D.C. demonstrating the saber movement.

Can Wong

If you’re a throwing athlete, a runner, or even a desk jockey, chances are you’ve developed some imbalances in shoulder support, whether you realize it or not. 

Because of their unique design, shoulders rely more on muscular support for protection than most joints, and two muscle groups in particular commonly get less attention than they should.

When this happens, your shoulder is more vulnerable to injury (since some of its support muscles are offline), and shoulder strength and performance drops off (since there are fewer “workers” available to pitch in on a given job). To learn more about this imbalance, check out my article “Your Shoulder Was Designed to Fail” in the February issue.

The two most commonly neglected shoulder muscle groups are:

            1) Scapular retractors

            2) External rotators

Scapular retractors are the muscles that “pinch” your shoulder blades together behind you. External rotators are those muscles of the shoulder that turn your palms forward when your arms are hanging at your sides. Spending too much time with your shoulders rounded forward (like when you’re keyboarding or reading), and doing sports or exercises that overemphasize the muscles that round—or protract—the shoulders (like pushing/pressing/throwing movements) can cause postural changes that result in “slouchy” shoulders and palms that face more behind you when your arms are hanging loosely at your sides. 

As a chiropractic and rehab provider, I assess our shoulder patients for deficits in both mobility (range of motion) and stability (muscles/ligaments) first, then address any deficits that we find accordingly. But for any athlete looking to improve support and balance and performance of their shoulders, the approach is exactly the same.

If you’re not regularly getting resistance work that targets your scapular retractors and external rotators of the shoulder, it’s easy to incorporate those movements into your existing exercise regimen. Here are two excellent exercises we use in our shoulder rehab protocol: the 3-Way Row and the Saber.

 

The 3-Way Row

Muscles targeted:

Scapular retractors, external rotators of the shoulder

What you need:

Elastic band/tubing, or adjustable pulley cable machine, with anchor point at approximately chest height

Starting position:

Standing in comfortable stance, knees slightly bent

Movements:

Alternate between high, middle and low rows

High row: With elbows at shoulder height and palms face down, pull elbows back and finish with chest out. Pause and release smoothly. Remember to keep wrists relaxed and forearms parallel to the floor throughout.

Middle row: With elbows at your side and palms facing each other, pull elbows back and finish with chest out. Pause and release smoothly. Remember to keep wrists relaxed and forearms parallel to the floor throughout.

Low row: With palms forward and elbows locked, pull back until your arms form an upside-down “V” and finish with chest out. Pause and release smoothly.

Things to remember:

-Perform 10 reps each of high, middle and low rows. Catch your breath completely, then perform a second set

-Pick a resistance intensity that is difficult but “do-able”

-Never sacrifice range of motion for added resistance

-Make each movement slow and controlled, never quick or jerky

-Include these exercises on your regular shoulder day, or 1–2 times a week

 

The Saber

 

Muscles targeted:

External rotators, scapular retractors and abductors of the shoulder

What you need:

Elastic band/tubing, or adjustable pulley cable machine, with anchor point near the foot opposite the shoulder being exercised

Starting position:

Standing in a bit wider stance for stability, knees slightly bent, and reaching across your body to grip the cable handle.  

Movements:

Pull diagonally across your body, keeping elbow slightly bent through most of the movement, and finishing in “high-five” position, attempting to get your forearm vertical.  Pause, then release smoothly, following the same line back to starting position.

Things to remember:

-Perform 2 sets of 10 reps on each side, alternating sides as you go. Catch your breath completely between sets

-Pick a resistance that is difficult but “do-able”

-Never sacrifice range of motion for added resistance

-Make each movement slow and controlled, never quick or jerky

-Include these exercises on your regular shoulder day, or 1–2 times a week.

 

As with any exercise, if you have consistently sharp or steadily rising pain levels as you go through it, try modifying the movement as much as you need in order to keep it comfortable. If you experience pain or other symptoms that aren’t going away, or that have been worsening over time, it’s a good idea to see a doctor. When it comes to your health, it’s always better to know what’s wrong than to just guess.

Both of these exercises we’ve discussed can easily be done at home with resistance bands or at an athletic event as part of your injury prevention warm-up. Try adding them into your regular routine, and let us know how your shoulder feels and functions afterward in the comments section below!

 

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