Healthy shoulders are essential to participate in life, exercise, and recreational activities without pain or restrictions. However, healthy shoulders require maintenance and attention. Below you learn the ultimate shoulder warm-up before lifting, which includes some of our favorite mobility drills, stretches, and exercises that should be a part of everyone’s shoulder maintenance.
Ultimate Shoulder Warm-Up Before Lifting
Soft Tissue Mobilization: T-spine Foam Rolling
Foam rolling your T-spine is a must in the ultimate shoulder warm-up before lifting. Think of the T-spine region serving as the foundation to the shoulder along with the scapula.
1️⃣ Place the foam roller perpendicular to your spine onto a segment which you want to work on, then work your way up from bottom to top
2️⃣ While grabbing onto a stick/pipe, elevate your arms as far back as you can-in an attempt to touch the floor. This movement is very similar to a wall angel. You can also just use your hands/arms without a stick
3️⃣ Spend a few repetitions on each segment-then move up toward the next.
❌ Don’t allow your but to come off the floor or your ribs from flaring out this is typically due to compensation from your low back!
✅ A more aggressive way to perform this exercise is by using an external load of a weight as shown here. This will make the stretch more passive and less active, this is reserved for the few
Spend 30-60s max performing this mobility drill
Lats & Teres Major Foam Rolling
Addressing the lats and posterior/inferior shoulder musculature is just as important with your shoulder warm-up before lifting. Follow the instructions below…
1️⃣ Place the foam roller perpendicular to your body while laying on your side. Get the foam roller set up under your shoulder just on the edge of your shoulder blade.
2️⃣ Start by rolling your body forward and backward along the muscles followed by pinning down a sore/tight area and lifting your arm off the ground with your thumb pointing towards the ceiling
3️⃣ Spend a few repetitions in a certain area and then move above/below
Spend 30-60s max performing this mobility drill
Shoulder Mobility – Pec Stretch
Opening up the pecs after working the t-spine and lats is the next step in the shoulder warm-up before lifting.
1️⃣ Pectoralis major stretch- abduct and externally rotate your shoulder onto a stable surface. Rotate until you feel a good stretch in the chest and hold, then contract the chest (by pushing against wall) for a couple seconds followed by rotating your body further away from the doorway to hold again. Then repeat. *you should not feel the stretch going down into your forearm/hand. If this occurs, you are getting neural tension and should modify the stretch.
2️⃣ Pectoralis minor- you can use the same contract relax technique here as well. Same rules apply do not feel a stretch or pulling sensation into your hand/fingers
Perform 3-5 repetitions of each stretch and be sure to make it dynamic spending <30s
Active Lat Stretch
Raise your hands high if you have tight lats! 💁♂️Tried stretching? Foam Rolling? Cupping? IASTM? And nothing seems to work? You’re not alone! When it comes to gaining USEABLE ACTIVE RANGE OF MOTION, many times you need to follow up your stretching and passive treatments with ACTIVE MOBILITY. Be sure to add this to your shoulder warm-up before lifting.
Keys to the exercise:
✅ Back and shoulders MUST stay against the wall
✅ Don’t arch your back
✅ You must keep you elbows touching the WHOLE time
✅ To increase the stretch, try and separate your hands – while keeping your elbows together! Note: this stretch is more than likely hitting the teres major as well, which is not a bad thing! I have also seen this performed lying down on a foam roller, which works as well!
Perform 2 sets of 6-10 repetitions
Shoulder Stability: Rotator Cuff Strengthening at Varying Degrees of Shoulder Abduction
PSA: Please do your shoulders a favor and incorporate some rotator cuff specific strengthening into your shoulder warm-up programming, even if it’s only a set every other workout!
✅ Several things to keep in mind…
1️⃣ Work the rotator cuff at varying degrees of shoulder abduction. As you raise your arm higher, you get more teres minor activation in comparison to infraspinatus activation. Both muscles are important in rotator cuff health and are far too often neglected by people performing their external rotation work at higher degrees of shoulder abduction.
2️⃣ Don’t forget to work on the subscapularis. It’s the BIGGEST of the rotator cuff muscles and is yet often neglected. While many are much more deficient in terms of external rotation strength, don’t forget internal rotation strength either.
3️⃣ Gravity works in a downward direction. If you’re performing your cuff work with a dumbbell, you need to LIE ON YOUR SIDE. Otherwise, you’re just going to look like some noob at the gym that doesn’t know what they are doing!
Perform 1 set of 5 reps of each exercise at each angle
I absolute LOVE this exercise in my shoulder warm-up before lifting. It’s an absolute rotator cuff killer that hits the infraspinatus and teres minor both isometrically, concentrically, and eccentrically.
✅ HOW TO PERFORM:
1️⃣ Keep your elbows and hands against the wall. Maintain tension in the theraband the ENTIRE TIME. As you move one arm up (right hand for example), ensure that your left hand is anchored and doesn’t move, this will isometrically challenge your left rotator cuff.
2️⃣ As you move your right hand up, make sure to move in a curved “C” pattern. This allows you to eccentrically, and then concentrically, challenge the right rotator cuff.
I like to shoot for 3 “in and outs” per side on the way up, and then 3 more on the way down. Thats 1 rep. Shoot for 1 set of 5 reps
Learn More Shoulder [P]Rehab Exercises
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SidePlank Roll To Plank
The sideplank is one of Stewart McGill’s Big 3 exercises, along with the modified curl up and the bird dog. The sideplank roll to plank to opposite sideplank is one of the McGill’s most advanced progressions of the sideblank, and MAN IS IT HARD.
The goal of the roll is the maintain a COMPLETELY STABLE AND NEUTRAL SPINE THROUGHOUT. The rolling motion should occur STRICTLY FROM THE HIPS AND SHOULDERS, and there should be absolutely NO SPINAL TWISTING. Mind you, this is extremely hard to do! In a study by McGill and Karpowics in 2009, they looked at this exercise performed under the guidance of a normal clinician, and then an expert clinician (my guess it’s McGill himself lol). They wanted to see if muscle activation patterns could be improved by fine-tuning exercise technique as a result of verbal and manual cueing. With this particular exercise, they found that clinician correction significantly increased activity in both obliques and the latissimus dorsi (18% to 35% MVIC in lats). Even more importantly, torso twisting was reduced from 11 degrees to 4 degrees with corrected instruction.
The main verbal cue they used was to emphasize “locking the ribcage to the pelvis” to eliminate spinal twist. The decrease in spinal twist is HUGE, because often times its those little MICROMOVEMENTS that’s the difference between doing an exercise PAIN FREE vs HAVING PAIN. This goes to show that a MOVEMENT EXPERT can facilitate not only greater muscle activity, but potentially ELIMINATE pain during exercises. Like all of our posts, if you’re going to exercise, do it right!
Perform 1 set of 5 reps, 1 rep being a roll side-to-side
Standing Snow Angels
Snow Angels are a perfect way to end your shoulder warm-up before lifting! Instructions below…
1️⃣ Get bands set-up in front of you anchored to a wall if possible, presented here are the Crossover Symmetry Bands that are legit. You can vary the anchor position depending on if you want more resistance with shoulder flexion (lower anchor point) or shoulder extension (higher anchor point). Note that a lower anchor point will make this exercise more challenging and easier to compensate once the hands are positioned overhead. Start out by driving your hands back towards your back pockets and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Think of pinching a pencil between your shoulder blades
2️⃣ While maintaining your hands in-line with your ears ➡️ raise your arms up overhead as far as you feel comfortable with. Be sure to not shrug your shoulders up towards your ears, excessively arch your back, or lean back. Pause for a second at the top followed by bringing your hands back down and returning to starting position
3️⃣ Now try initiating the snow angel by bringing your hands back overhead first and going through the motions backwards
Perform at least 2 sets of 6-10 reps. Do not excessively fatigue your upper body, but its ok to feel a slight muscle burn🔥
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Citation: McGill and Karpowicz 2009 Exercise for Spine Stabilization.