Shoulders are an area of the body I work extra hard on since my shoulder surgery in 2022. We use our arms more than we realise, in daily tasks as frequent as every few minutes, so it's important to maintain their health and keep them strong to be able to cope with the demands of our lives.
The internet is full of complex exercises and mind bending stretches, but you don't need a masters degree in sports science to strengthening your shoulder, it's actually fairly simple. Here are my favourite 4 compound exercises for shoulder health:
The Best Compound Exercises for Shoulder Health
The Arnold press is a variation of the standard overhead dumbbell press that was invented by legendary bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is a compound exercise that stimulates all three heads of the deltoid muscle, providing a full range of motion to stack more strength and size. The exercise is shoulder-focused, but it also works the triceps, upper back, and traps. Here are the steps to perform the Arnold press exercise:
- Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand, with your elbows bent and palms facing toward you.
- In one fluid motion, raise the dumbbells above your head and rotate your palms out away from your body.
- At the top of the movement, your palms should be facing forward, and your arms should be fully extended.
- Lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position, rotating your palms back towards your body as you do so.
It is important to perform the exercise in one fluid motion, rather than in two stages, to avoid adding strain onto your rotator cuff. You don't have to go too heavy with the weight to achieve excellent results with the Arnold press, as the exercise keeps your muscles under tension longer and puts them through a greater range of motion than standard overhead presses do. The Arnold press can be done seated or standing, and it is recommended to do a proper shoulder warm-up before attempting this move.
Dumbbell Bench Press
The dumbbell bench press is a variation of the barbell bench press that targets the chest muscles. It is an effective exercise for building upper body strength and muscle mass, and it can be featured as a main lift in your workouts or an accessory lift to the bench press depending on your goals. Here are the steps to perform the dumbbell bench press exercise:
- Pick up the dumbbells off the floor using a neutral grip (palms facing in).
- Position the ends of the dumbbells in your hip crease, and sit down on the bench.
- To get into position, lay back and keep the weights close to your chest. Once you are in position, take a deep breath, and press the dumbbells to lockout at the top.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells under control as far as comfortably possible (the handles should be about level with your chest).
- Contract the chest and push the dumbbells back up to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
It is important to maintain shoulder stability throughout the exercise to avoid pec and shoulder injuries. Dropping the dumbbells to the side is discouraged unless you are experienced with the technique or using excessively heavy weights. The dumbbell bench press can be done on a flat bench, incline bench, or decline bench, and it can be performed with various grips and angles to target different areas of the chest.
Barbell Clean & Press
The barbell clean and press is a compound exercise that targets multiple muscle groups, including the shoulders, back, arms, abs, and legs. It is a challenging exercise that requires proper form and technique to avoid injury and maximise results. Here are the steps to perform the barbell clean and press exercise:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and grip the barbell with an overhand grip.
- Squat down with a straight back and lift the barbell to your shoulders in one swift movement.
- Sink back down into a squat, then push up through your heels and extend your arms to press the barbell above your head.
- Lower the barbell safely to your shoulders, then drop back to the floor while maintaining a straight back.
It is important to maintain proper form throughout the exercise, including a straight back, engaged core, and proper grip. The barbell clean and press can be performed with various equipment, such as kettlebells, and there are different variations of the exercise that coaches and athletes can make use of. The barbell clean and press is an effective way to build strength and power, and it can help prepare you for other tasks that might arise during a workout.
Bench Supported Bent Over Row
The bench supported bent over row, also known as the chest supported row, is a variation of the bent over row that targets the back muscles. It is a great exercise for beginners who are learning proper form and technique, as well as for those who want to isolate their back muscles and reduce the risk of injury. Here are the steps to perform the bench supported bent over row exercise:
- Set an incline bench at a 45-degree angle.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and approach the bench with your chest toward the angled pad, then lean onto it.
- Plant your feet firmly on the floor and let your arms hang straight down, palms facing each other. This is the starting position.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and drive your elbows toward the ceiling, bringing the dumbbells to your ribcage.
- Slowly reverse the move and repeat for reps.
It is important to engage your core to resist spinal movement under load and maintain proper form throughout the exercise. The bench supported bent over row can be performed with various equipment, such as a barbell or kettlebells, and there are different variations of the exercise that coaches and athletes can make use of. The bench supported bent over row is an effective way to build strength and muscle mass in the back muscles, and it can help improve posture and trunk stability.
The Benefits of Shoulder Strengthening
Shoulder strengthening exercises offer numerous benefits for overall health and fitness. Here are some of the benefits of shoulder strengthening exercises:
- Injury prevention: Strong shoulders can help prevent injuries, such as rotator cuff tears, shoulder impingement, and other shoulder-related injuries. Strengthening the muscles that support your shoulder joint can help keep it stable and relieve shoulder pain.
- Improved posture: Shoulder exercises can help improve posture by strengthening the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint. Strong shoulder muscles can help keep your shoulders back and down, which can help prevent slouching and hunching.
- Increased strength: Strong shoulders can help you lift heavier weights for chest and back exercises, as virtually every upper-body exercise involves your shoulder muscles to some extent. Shoulder strength is also essential for real-life activities, such as throwing a baseball, passing food across the table, or lifting a suitcase that’s a little too heavy.
- Enhanced appearance: Shoulder exercises can help improve the appearance of your upper body by building muscle mass and definition in your shoulders. Strong, toned shoulders can also boost your self-confidence and make you feel more comfortable wearing certain clothing.
- Improved range of motion: Shoulder exercises can help improve your range of motion and flexibility, which can help prevent injury and reduce muscle soreness. Stretching the muscles that you strengthen is important for restoring range of motion and preventing injury.
- Stronger bones: Regular shoulder exercises can help build stronger bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Strong bones also protect against the risk of fractures and other bone-related injuries.
Overall, shoulder strengthening exercises are an essential component of any fitness routine, as they offer numerous benefits for overall health and fitness. It is important to perform shoulder exercises with proper form and technique to avoid shoulder injury and maximise results.
Completing these movements one to three times per week alongside a well rounded programme will help fight against common causes of shoulder pain such as posture-related injuries, tendonitis and impingements.