Have you ever thought about which joint in your body is the most moveable, the most fragile or the most abused? Like most people, you probably shrugged your shoulders in answer to these questions. And there you have your answer!
Whether or not you carry the weight of the world on them, you need to take care of your shoulders. Strong shoulders not only enhance the look of your upper body, they are crucial for pain-free movement.
The shoulder joint is unique in that it has greater range of motion than any other joint in your body. This flexibility is important because it enables your arms to perform all kinds of activities such as pushing, pulling, reaching, lifting, or even scratching your back. It’s easy to take all this mobility for granted, until something goes wrong.
The shoulder’s complex structure and flexibility make this joint versatile, but also prone to injury. Learning how to keep your shoulders in the most stable position during movement, and identifying which shoulder motions are safe, will help you develop strong shoulders and/or recover from shoulder problems such as tendinitis, bursitis, impingement or rotator cuff injuries.
Because strength and stability of the shoulder joint is not provided by the shape of the bones and their ligaments, the shoulder joint is dependent on the strength of the muscles to give support.
Strength training the deltoid muscle group (that runs over the top of the shoulders), and the rotator cuff muscle group (which encircles the shoulder joint), will help strengthen, stabilize and shape the shoulder area. Here are some guidelines to help you strengthen your shoulders and avoid preventable injuries.
- Avoid rapid, uncontrolled or flinging arm movements. All shoulder exercises or daily tasks involving the shoulders should be smooth and controlled. Try to use your entire body to push, pull, lift or throw, rather than just your arms.
- Actions or exercises that require excessive range of motion in the shoulders should be performed with caution or avoided altogether. Strength training exercises such as dips or the dumbbell press can stress the shoulders if a safe range of motion is exceeded. Avoid going too deep or low into position on exercises such as these.
- Listen to your body if you participate in fitness activities that involve repetitive arm motions. Swimming, racquet sports and popular workouts like kickboxing can cause shoulder problems if overdone. If you feel pain or discomfort in the shoulders after activities like these, take a break and change to activities such as cycling or walking that require less shoulder movement.
- Strength train your shoulders with a variety of exercises that move through different ranges of motion. As you workout, use the strength of your muscles rather than momentum to move the resistance. If you have to swing a dumbbell to lift it, or “cheat” with other parts of your body, the weight is too heavy and should be decreased.
- Use active stretches to increase flexibility in your shoulders, rather than passive stretches. For example, clasp your fingers behind your back and lift your arms in a pull-back stretch. This stretch uses the strength in your muscles to lift the arms to a comfortable range. In a passive version of this same stretch, another person would pull your arms back and lift them for you. The potential for overstretching and injury are greater when using passive stretching for the shoulder area.
Take care of your shoulders by focusing on strength training and safety. Shrug off poor movement habits, and enjoy your shaped-up shoulders!
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