You’ll see a lot of people flop around on a foam roller to “get warm.” That does nothing to get your shoulders ready to train.
Instead, you need to focus on learning which of your muscles don’t fire properly and what drills get them going.
Here are a few of my favorite shoulder activation movements for you to try.
Prone Y- Raise Iso Holds
Prone T Iso Holds
Doing exercises like these and other similar drills can help strengthen the rhomboids and lower traps.
Those muscle groups are often left under-stimulated from big compound movements. That can lead to imbalances and shoulder pain. You also won’t be able to press as much if you’re weak back there.
Kneeling Scap Push Ups
Let your belly and head drop down and keep everything relaxed. Then push your upper back toward the ceiling and spread your shoulder blades apart.
Keep your lower back in neutral. Only movement should be your shoulder blades spreading apart as far as possible.
2. Always do more pulling than pushing.
And to add to that, do more rowing movements than chin-ups.
While chins still hit your lats, they also put your shoulders through the motion of internal rotation. That can actually make your shoulders feel worse, especially if you have pre-existing issues.
So, you should always have a ton of horizontal rowing movements in your program that help build up your upper back and lats.
Check out some of these variations. You can also do either of them on rings.
Semi-Supinated TRX Inverted Rows
Advanced Variation: 1 Arm TRX Inverted Rows
3. Hammer Your Upper Back
Your upper back muscles are the foundation for your pressing. If your upper back is weak, then you will always struggle to keep your shoulders in a safe, strong position when you press.
Do tons of face pulls, band pull aparts, scare crows. Here are some examples of great upper back exercises that can improve your shoulder health.
Inverted Face Pull + External Rotation
Band Face Pull
Shrugs are also a great exercise for building upper back strength, and I recommend doing them at a variety of angles. This one here, on an incline, will really help you activate and strengthen the muscles that support your shoulder.
Keep the elbows locked and arms straight the entire time. The only movement occurs at the shoulder blades. Let them spread at the bottom, then squeeze them all the way together as tightly as you can.
Use a light weight that will allow for a full contraction and hold it for 3-5 seconds at the top of each rep. These are best done for higher reps on upper body days.
4. Use Perfect Technique on Pressing Exercises
Its easy to get confused and think that your bench press technique should be the same as your push up technique, but they’re different movements.
When you do push ups, your shoulder blades can and should move freely. When you bench press, you want your shoulder blades pulled back and down, and locked into place so they don’t move on the bench.
Look at these two videos.
Notice how my shoulder blades rotate together and then come apart on the push up. But when I hit the DB bench, my upper back is completely locked in.
Try that next time you train and let me know how it feels.
5. Stop Overhead Pressing
At least until your shoulders feel better. But even then, many people shouldn’t be putting heavy weight overhead.
If you don’t have great shoulder mobility, overhead pressing will do you more harm than good.
Now, I know you’re thinking you will never build big shoulders without the overhead press.
But, you need to know that most of your horizontal pressing exercises, especially if you keep your elbows tucked at a 45 degree angle to your sides, will hit your front delts.
Add some lateral raises on top of that, like this, and you’re set.
Quick pro tip #1: Most people go way too heavy on lateral raises. You’re better off using a lighter weight for higher reps.
Your delts respond very well to high volume, constant tension sets. So, use a controlled motion, and pause at the top like I do in this video.
Quick Pro Tip #2: When you do lateral raises, have your arms slightly out in front of you like I do, up above. This position is technically known as the scapular plane. But that’s not important. Just know that doing them there is a bit safer than doing them straight out to the sides.
If you want even more, tune into episode 82 of the Jay Ferruggia show.
In addition to going into deeper detail about all of these tips, I give you some great mobility exercises and self-massage tips that can help loosen up your shoulders and get them feeling better than ever.
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