Ahhh, the shoulders. It’s where stress seems to sit and make a permanent home. (Are you rolling yours right now trying to get some of the tension out?)
My shoulders and upper back tend to bear the brunt of my stress, my post-workout muscle soreness and daily fatigue from carrying grocery bags and toddlers and from hunching over computers and smartphones. So daily activity alone probably helps strengthen these big muscles.
But the stronger you are — and the more balanced you are — the better you’ll be at handling that stress (and let’s be honest…is there anything better than a well-defined set of deltoids?).
Here are some of my favorite shoulder-strengthening exercises. Please keep in mind that while I am a certified personal trainer, I don’t know your specific situation, injuries, fitness level, etc. So before taking on any of these workouts, please consult your medical provider and local trainer! And don’t forget that a good warmup, stretching session and cooldown are key to a proper workout.
All of the exercises I mention below are featured in this playlist:
1) Alternating Lateral and Front Raises
I love this move — it can be done with light weights, if you’re just getting started or have any rotator cuff/shoulder injuries — because it engages the entire shoulder girdle, requiring full range of motion at the joint. Be careful to not bring the weights above shoulder height, and don’t swing your arms. Keep control of the weight and keep breathing through the exercise.
2) Barbell/Dumbbell Shoulder Press
This one can be done from a standing position, seated or if you’re working on stabilization, a stability ball or while standing on a bosu ball. You can also mix things up by raising both arms at once or alternating (if you’re using dumbbells).
3) Squat to Row
Rows are my all-time favorite moves for targeting the big back muscles but because you’re pulling your arms from front to back, through the sagittal plane, you also engage your deltoids and shoulder girdle. So this move, which requires you to squat and stay under tension through the exercise’s full range of motion, this is a huge “bang for your buck” move.
4) Upright Row
This one’s a body blaster. And if you’re going to work out, why not make every move count? Upright rows hit your deltoids, trapezius, rhomboids and more. Just make sure to roll your shoulders down and back before lifting the weight, and don’t bring it above shoulder height. Keep control of the weight through the motion and take a short hesitation before starting the next rep.
Is there anything the push-up doesn’t do? (Dishes. Laundry. Answer emails. OK, they’re not perfect.) Because they require no equipment, can be done almost anywhere, are easy to modify and target so many muscles, the push-up is my go-to workout when I need something quick and effective.
If you’re really feeling ambitious, try this version, with piked hips. Yowza.
*Are all of these exercises specifically designed to target the shoulders? Yes and no! The shoulder may not be the prime mover in each of these examples, but the supporting muscles and joints (rotator cuff, deltoids, latissimus dorsi, trapezius) will get stronger. Stronger muscles mean that everything works better together, and the more definition you get, the most those shoulders will appear stronger as well.
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Now, speaking of shoulders…my pals at Zamst reached out to me to tell me about their compression products, which can help everyone from beginner athletes to competitive superstars (hello, Stephen Curry, Annie Thorisdottir, Amy Hastings) stay healthy and fit.
(Disclosure: I was sent product to try and was compensated for my time and review. All opinions are mine and you can always learn more about my sponsored post policies and disclosures here.)
I got to pick a product to test out from their long list, and it was a hard choice! I decided to go with the shoulder wrap. While I thankfully don’t have a shoulder injury, per se, it’s definitely the area of my body that suffers the most (hello: carrying around a 35-pound child).
A few great things about the wrap:
- It provides light, dynamic stabilization and broad compression support for the rotator cuff muscles.
- Zamst’s i-Fit technology offers adjustable fasteners over the arm to customize the fit, which I loved because I wasn’t sure which size would work best.
- The wrap can be used on either shoulder.
- Its V-Tech material is designed to ventilate and quickly remove perspiration during exercise while ROM-Tech allows for full range of motion, ensuring maximum performance.
You can watch it in action here:
So, what did I think? The first time I wore it, I feared it would be too bulky. While it is very lightweight, having any material on the shoulder girdle takes some getting used to. But after just a few reps of my workout, I was impressed. I really did get the full range of motion that the product promised, and I have to say an especially passionate HALLELUJAH for the sweat-wicking feature, because I didn’t feel gross or sticky even after 30 minutes of wearing it.
I also found that it really did help settle my muscles down if I wore it for a few minutes after the workout. The compression seemed to help cut down on the soreness I’d normally experience — and while of course, a full-body massage would be even better, I felt as if the wrap helped me recover faster than I would have otherwise.