The actual shoulder complex is comprised of numerous interwoven muscle structures that provide thorax support and stabilization.
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Since sports require the extensive use of the hands and arms in catching, throwing, swinging, and combative or collision skills (e.g., football and wrestling), athletes have to rely heavily on their shoulders for the production of strength and power.
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It is important to understand that the fundamental purpose of the shoulder musculature is to provide arm movement.
Note: Various muscles in the chest and back regions insert on the shoulder complex and thus play roles in the various planes of the arm. So, even though the main cross-section of their muscle bellies are not directly situated in the shoulder girdle, they certainly deserve mention in the training scheme.
For the purpose of this discussion, we will focus on the muscles that have the most profound effects on arm movement.
- Coracobrachialis -- adducts (toward the midline of the body) and flexes the arm.
- Deltoid (three heads) -- abducts (away from the midline of the body), flexes, extends, and rotates the arm.
- Latissimus dorsi -- adducts, medially rotates, and extends the arm.
- Pectoralis major -- adducts, flexes, extends, and medially rotates the arm.
- Teres major -- adducts, extends, and medially rotates the arm. The following rotator cuff muscles form a cap over the proximal end (top) of the humerus (upper arm bone):
- Infraspinatus -- extends and laterally rotates the arm.
- Subscapularis -- extends and medially rotates the arm.
- Supraspinatus -- abducts the arm.
- Teres major -- adducts and laterally rotates the arm.
Two other muscles of note, though they are not directly responsible for arm movement:
- Trapezius -- elevates, depresses, rotates, and flexes the scapula; extends the neck.
- Serratus anterior -- rotates and protracts (forward movement) the scapula; elevates the ribs.
We perform an assortment of exercises with a variety of tools such as free weights (barbells and dumbbells), machines, stretch cords/bands, medicine balls, and manual resistance for their performance.
Some of our favorites:
- 1. Military Press -- Can be performed from both the seated and standing (Photo 1) positions. Press the bar from chest level to a point over and slightly in front of the head. Return it under control to at least chin level before starting the next rep.
- 2. Incline Press -- Using an incline bench (you can use varying inclines from 30-45 degrees), press the bar from the upper chest in a path directly up over the shoulders. Return the bar under control to a point just above or lightly touching the upper chest. The free weight version of the exercise is shown in Photo 2.
- 3. Front Arm Raise - A weight plate, dumbbells, bar, sandbag, and manual resistance are just some of the modes available for this exercise. Raise the resistance with straight arms from waist level to a point slightly above parallel to the floor. After a slight pause, return it slowly to the starting position.
- 4. Lateral Arm Raise - From a starting position with the arms straight at the side, raise them to a position at or slightly higher than parallel to the floor. Pause slightly with tension still being applied, then return under control to the starting position.
- 5. Rear Arm Raise - From the prone starting position, raise the arms posteriorly to approximately 90 degrees to the midline of the body. Pause briefly at the high point, then return under control to the starting position.
- 6. High Pull/Upright Row - We use this as a combination exercise to recruit involvement from both the trapezius and the more localized shoulder compartment. From a straight-armed position with a relatively narrow grip, pull the arms upward as high as possible with the elbows flared outward. Pause briefly, and then return under control to the starting position. Photo 6 demonstrates the movement on a machine.
Note: You may encounter some individuals who suffer from any one of a variety of gleno-humeral joint impingement syndromes, which would contraindicate this movement.
If shoulder pain is felt during the execution of this exercise, it should be discontinued. The straight-arm shoulder shrug (i.e., pulling the shoulders upward toward the ears, pausing and returning slowly) should be substituted.
- 7. External Rotation - An important exercise because the internal rotators receive more than their fair share of work in many of the previously mentioned movements. We like to perform this exercise manually, as it ensures proper attention to technique and force application.
Assume a position sideways on a bench with the arm bent at 90 degrees and the lower arm as close as possible to the mid-line of the body. With the spotter stabilizing your elbows to the side, rotate the lower arm away from the mid-line as high as comfortably possible. Pause briefly, and then return under control to the starting position.
As you can see, we use both multi-joint (involving musculature of more than one joint) and single-joint (isolating the musculature of one joint) in our training. A general rule of thumb when designing a routine is to include at least two multi-joint and two single-joint shoulder movements.
Note: We will take a closer look at the benefits of incorporating multi-joint and single-joint exercises in a future PowerLine.
Sets will vary, as we have discussed in greater detail in past articles, but our basic plan is to perform 1-3 sets of the chosen movements. Recommendation: The more movements you choose, the fewer sets you should perform.
Remember, these exercises are placed within a larger workout scheme and do not comprise a workout in themselves.
Because many of the multi-joint movements stimulate the musculature surrounding the shoulder region, there will be carry-over to those areas as well.
Our rep requirements for upper-body movements are usually in the 6-10 or 8-12 ranges. In rehabilitation or other special-needs situations (e.g., noted strength deficits), those ranges may be increased.
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