Shoulders are incredibly important to all musicians, no matter what instrument you play.
There are a few instances where the shoulder musculature can get out of balance where we’re pulled too far forward (front delts get tight, rear delts and upper back get weak), especially for people like singers, audio engineers, pianists, organists and trumpet players to name a few.
But these muscle imbalances aren’t all bad, we also need to build stability and increase the endurance and strength of these muscles.
(Especially for people who are hypermobile, strength and stability is extremely important to prevent hyperextension pain and injury.)
These are my top 5 favorite exercises for strengthening the shoulder girdle – try them out alone or add them into your next workout!
1. Overhead Carry
I love this exercise because it is simple yet deceptively difficult. Don’t be surprised if your dominant arm is the weak one! To perform, raise one arm overhead with a weight and lock out your elbow. Sink your shoulder blade down into the socket. Keep your elbow locked and go for a walk.
Cues to remember: Your arm should cover your ear. If it’s in front of your ear or in front of your face, do not attempt this exercise until you have the proper range of motion. Also, it’s crucial your elbow remains locked so we do not recruit the wrong muscles.
2. Arnold Press
If you’re wondering about the name, yes who you think it is came up with it. I love this exercise because it effectively hits all three heads of the deltoid (front/anterior, side/medial, rear/posterior).
Cues to remember: Bring your arms all the way down to your side do not hold them out in front of you. Keep the weights close to your head. Perform this in front of a mirror or with a friend who can guide your arms to make sure they go back to cover your ears, it’s very easy to press in front which takes the rear delts out of the picture.
3. External rotations
This exercise goes in almost every one of my clients warm ups, myself included! A band is best but if you don’t have one you can do an isometric hold against the wall.
Cues to remember: Tuck your elbow into your side and squeeze your armpit like you’re trying to hold your phone in between your arm and your body and you don’t want to drop it. While squeezing rotate your arm out to the side keeping your arm at a 90° angle. Make sure your wrist stays straight, it’s very easy to cheat and bend your wrist backward thinking you’re getting extra range of motion. Make sure the elbow stays tight to your side and you just rotate in the shoulder socket.
4. Dowel rod press (with band)
This one can be tricky and I like the band better but it’s more of a progression from the first. Again this goes in my warm up.
Cues to remember: Start against the wall and bring your arms straight in front of you. Bring your arms straight back. They should be parallel to the floor. Your elbows should not be below your shoulders. From this point holding your elbows against the wall rotate your arms so the dowel rod is above your head from this position press up sliding against the wall. When this is easy, use a band and maintain constant tension.
5. Side to front raise / or just lateral raises
Front raises need to be used a little sparingly since the front delts tend to get overused anyway, but they shouldn’t be ignored. If you have shoulder impingement like we talked about on Tuesday avoid the front raises for now. The lateral raises I absolutely love not just for increasing the strength and endurance it takes to hold your instrument up to the side (ahem Flutists, string players and conductors) But also they increase the stability of the shoulder joint and as an added bonus they give you a little extra width on your shoulders which from an aesthetically pleasing viewpoint can make your waist look smaller!
Cues to remember: Regression: Start with your arms at 90° with your hands in front of you, then lift your elbows out to the side Your entire arm should move as one unit keeping the arm parallel to the ground. When this is easy, extend the lever of your arm by making it longer. Put your arms in front of you with a slight bend in your elbows, squeeze your shoulders back and down and lift your arms out to the side keeping your hand below your elbow and your elbow below your shoulder. Your arms should never come above shoulder height. To do the front raise keep the exact same position as for the side raise with a slight bend in the elbow but lift your arm only in front of you just to shoulder height. For variety and to keep things a little more interesting, you can do them at the same time!