What do building muscle, athletic domination, or enjoying vibrant fitness for a lifetime have in common? They all require strong, stable shoulders. However, the shoulder is a tricky joint that causes many problems for athletes and lifters. In addition, there is a lot of confusion and misconceptions surrounding shoulder stability training. Here is your guide to building strong, stable shoulders.
The shoulder is technically a ball and socket joint like your hip joint. However, unlike your hip joint, your shoulder has a very shallow socket. This design allows for a huge range of motion but comes at the cost of less stability. This is why you often hear of someone dislocating a shoulder, but rarely hear of hip dislocation.
These rotator cuff exercises can be helpful to increase blood flow to the rotator cuff, increase strength, and help with muscular balance at the shoulder joint. In other words, they are not bad or useless. If your health care professional gives them to you – do them! However, they fail to get the rotator cuff doing what you actually need it to do – stabilize your shoulder! As Physical Therapist Gray Cook has explained, stability requires a fast, reflexive reaction that keeps a joint in alignment and controls unwanted movement.
One of the easiest ways to increase shoulder stability is through your grip (a tip I learned years ago from Strength Coach Brett Jones). Stop reading for a second and squeeze your hands together. What did you notice? If you squeezed hard, you likely noticed a wave of muscle tension that went up to your arm and into your shoulders. For many exercises (especially pressing), you can increase your shoulder stability by squeezing your hands.
Here are some of my go-to shoulder stability exercises for clients and athletes. As with any exercise, do not do it if it hurts you. Learn to do it properly before you worry about trying to load up the weight.
This is a great one to start with. Find a shoulder position that feels comfortable. Crush the handle and go for a controlled walk. Use a spotter or keep your other hand ready to help prevent a concussion. Try 2-4 sets per side with each hand. Walk approximately 20-30 meters per set.
With this one, you crush the kettlebell handle and slowly press it up. Move your elbow in or out to find a comfortable range. Use one arm at a time. Start with a partial range of motion and gradually increase, as your shoulders get stronger and more stable. Again, use a spotter or keep your other hand ready to help prevent a concussion. Try 2-4 sets per side with about 5-10 reps. Go slow and controlled.
The get-up is great for building stability in your shoulder as many other parts of your body. It also forces you to get strong and stable in multiple planes of motion.
The half-get-up will still build a lot of stability. It is also a little easier to learn and do than the full get-up. Be sure to stop, pause, and “own” each position on the way up and back down. Try 3-6 reps per side. Switch sides each rep and rest as needed between reps.
The full get-up takes you all the way to standing and back to the ground. Again, make sure you “own” each position. Try 3-6 reps per side. Switch sides each rep and rest as needed between reps.
In addition to this direct shoulder stability work, you can adjust your training program to use exercises that require shoulder stability in various positions
In addition to the bottom’s up carries we covered previously, there are several loaded carry variations that can help with shoulder stability and functional strength. Here are a few more examples: