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The Importance of Training the Shoulder

Give this Crucial Joint a Boost
  -- By Joe Downie, Certified Physical Fitness Instructor
The shoulder is the most moveable and unstable joint in the body. The "ball" in the upper arm is actually larger than the socket that holds it, and with the range of motion being so great, it is susceptible to injury.

To remain stable, it must be kept in place by muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Therefore, it is very important to make sure these soft tissues are strengthened to keep the shoulder strong, flexible, more coordinated, and conditioned to handle stress.

There are many daily activities that use the shoulder muscles: lifting groceries, any type of manual labor, household chores, raking leaves, handling children, etc. It is therefore critical that they be able to handle stress well. This is especially true for athletes vulnerable to overuse injuries.

Important small muscles that surround the shoulder joint are called the rotator cuff muscles. They are the key muscles that keep the joint functioning properly. Weakness in any of the four muscles can cause instability, which can lead to numerous injuries.

Exercises that strengthen the shoulder and the rotator cuff muscles can be done at home, work or the gym. You can include these exercises in your regular workout routine or do them separately. The rotator cuff muscles are very small, so be careful not to use too much weight or do too many repetitions. Also, it is important to keep a balance between the front and rear rotator cuff muscles. Many people tend to overwork the front muscles by training only the major muscle groups. They work the back, chest, shoulders, and arms, all of which internally rotate the shoulder. As a result, the muscles used in external rotation are under worked.

Below are some examples for a well-rounded shoulder workout. Click highlighted exercises for explanations and demonstrations.

Internal shoulder rotation exercises

Shoulder press w/ Swiss ball and dumbbells
Dumbbell shoulder press

External shoulder rotation exercises

Reverse flyes w/ Swiss ball and dumbbells
Rear delt raises w/ resistance band
Dumbbell lateral deltoid raise <pagebreak>

External rotator cuff exercises
Make sure to use light weight. The external rotators are small muscles that can be injured easily if you are not careful. Recommended weight is from 2-10 pounds. Limit your repetitions to 6-8 to start, working up to 12. Internal rotator cuff exercises do not need to be performed because the internal shoulder rotation exercises are training them already. The only exception is for people who have dislocated a shoulder. If you have any questions, please post a question for the experts on the SparkPeople Message Boards.