2 Exercises, plus progressions, that Strengthen your Shoulder Stabilizers

There are of course more than just two exercises that strengthen your shoulder stabilizing muscles, but I wanted to focus on these two in this blog post as they are great additions to your current shoulder stabilizer exercise regimen. Your shoulder stabilizers work by dynamically stabilizing the ball (the head of your humerus) within the socket (the part of your shoulder blade called the glenoid)–no matter position your arm is in. What makes these two exercises so great is that they involve lots of small movements that train your stabilizers to be reactive by forcing them to do their job in a variety of positions.

It’s not to say that some of the other shoulder stabilizer exercises you are doing are not effective, but the exercise you are doing are probably in the category of a predictable movement pattern (see gif below) and life is anything but predicable. These predictable exercise could even be good prep for the two exercises discussed in this post. Dynamic exercises are stimulating the muscle in a way similar to how you will be using them, and mostly specifically as a reaction to something else happening-like when your shoulder still needs stability while you’re thinking about–and doing–beats on the trapeze.

Add These Exercises?

1) Stir the Pot: The set-up for this exercise is explained in the video. Why this is a great exercise is because it’s turning on your core, the place from which all movement originates, and it’s placing a huge demand on the shoulder girdle stabilizers as they respond to the unstable surface.

Things to think about while doing this exercises:

  1. Maintain engaged core to ensure good plank form.
  2. Start with small circles and as you gain strength and familiarity with the exercise start to make the circles bigger.
  3. Make sure the circles are slow and controlled.
  4. And no matter how hard it gets, never let your low back arch.

Progression for Stir the Pot

**If you want to challenge your core and your shoulder-stabilizing muscles even more, grab a friend and try the ‘Kick the Ball’ Plank Exercise: Same set-up as the previous exercise, but now grab a friend to kick the ball (Gently…this isn’t a game of kickball-you’re not trying to kick a home run. That’s a sure way to knock your friend off the ball and probably straight on to their face. Please don’t do this. No hurting your friend. BUT, also kick the ball enough to challenge them).

The Why: This exercise is strengthening your shoulder-stabilizing muscles via a small and somewhat unexpected force coming in from different angles as your friend kicks the ball and your muscles have to react to it to keep your form on top of the ball. The muscles aren’t turned on 100% while waiting–they can’t be–but when your friend kicks the ball they have to instantly turn on to ensure you don’t roll off or become misaligned.

Things to think about while doing this exercises:

  1. Have your friend kick randomly at the ball.
  2. Start with less force in the kicks and as you gain strength and familiarity with the exercises your friend can kick with some more force, being mindful this is not a kickball game.
  3. And of course maintain an engaged core and shoulder girdle. No slouching in the low back or shoulders.

Note: It’s important to feel comfortable with forearm plank on the ball before trying either of these plank variations. I also suggest trying Stir the Pot in kneeling forearm plank first to ensure you have good plank form and can focus on the circles.


2) Arm Bar: Before your start: First start this exercise with no weight at all in your hand and just work on the movement pattern. What you can do is balance a yoga block or your shoe on the palm of your hand or fist (no grabbing the block/shoe-just balance) and this will help you see how stable your shoulder is being as you move through the movement pattern. Once you have the movement down add a weight (dumbbell or kettlebell) that is not too challenging. You don’t want to just dive right into heavy weights. You many need to start with a 5 or 8 pound weight and that’s ok. You’re here to build your stabilizer muscles, not beat them up and possibly hurt yourself.

Set-up: Lie on the side you want to have the weight in your hand with the dumbbell or kettlebell on the floor. Grab with that hand and slowly roll to your back with both hands holding the weight and elbows bent and close to your body. Once on your back, pack your shoulder (meaning your arm bone-humerus-pulled into the socket so that the scapula-shoudler blade-itself is flat on the floor) press the weight up so that your wrist is in a neutral position and the weight and wrist are stacked over the shoulder. (This is not shown on the video) Keep your eye on the weight in your hand. Bend your leg, the same leg as the hand that is holding the weight. The other leg is straight and on the floor and the arm that is the same of that leg is straight overhead.

Performing the Exercise: (The video shows this as 2 variations. The first two repetitions are where you will want to begin-only performing half the roll. I also demonstrated it with my arm out to the side for stability, which can be a great place to start when this movement is new to you. Then you can progress to the arm straight up overhead as described above and with the arm overhead you have to fire up the core even more!!

  1. Lying in the set up position. Engage your core. Press the weight straight up towards the ceiling so that your shoulder protracts or starts to lift off the floor because the scapula is moving around towards the outside of your body.
  2. Keep your eyes on the weight.
  3. Slowly rotate your chest to the side towards the arm and leg that are straight. Making sure to keep the weight stacked over the shoulder.
  4. Unroll back to your back and pack your shoulder again.
  5. Perform 10 repetitions on each side.

Once the above exercise is something you feel comfortable performing progress to the Arm Bar as show in the second two repetitions. Once you are ready to perform this exercise, you no longer need to do the half roll-shown as the first to repetitions. This is working your shoulder girdle and your core through a greater range of motion. I show these two repetitions with my arm to the side and as I roll I move it up over my head. This can be a lot to think about, so I would start with your arms straight over your head.

  1.  Lying in the set up position. Engage your core. Press the weight straight up towards the ceiling so that your shoulder protracts or starts to lift off the floor because the scapula is moving around towards the outside of your body.
  2. Keep your eyes on the weight.
  3. Slowly rotate, this time from the hips first and have the upper body follows just behind. As the hips roll to stack on top of one another extend the top leg to help finish the roll with the lower body and rolling your chest towards the floor as much as your range of motion allows.
  4. Keep the weight stacked over your shoulder at all times.
  5. Slowly unroll to your back, leading the unroll with your top leg bending and reaching behind you to return to the start position as the chest follows just slightly behind the hips.
  6. Return to the start position.
  7. Perform 10 repetitions on each side.

The Why: This exercise really challenges the proprioception of your shoulder girdle while increasing thoracic spine and hip mobility, two places most of us need more mobility. The Arm Bar also really works the core, because you really need the core engaged to keep the shoulders working in unison with the hips.

**Quick note, only roll as far as you can with your chest towards the ground, do not move into places that do not feel good or that are painful. If you feel pain you should have a medical professional look at it and find out what the cause of the pain is. Because although these are good exercises to build strong and stable shoulders and core, you should not be working in pain or trying to self treat without knowing what specifically the issue is. So please, please have those things checked out-that goes for any pain.

Progression for the Arm Bar

Half Turkish Get-up: Before you start: Just like with the Arm Bar, try this with a yoga block or shoe on the palm of your hand or fist to ensure you understand the movement pattern before you add a weight.

Set-up: The set up is mostly the same. Lie on your side, as you did above to grab the weight and roll to back. Pack your shoulder and press the weight up so that your wrist is in a neutral position and the weight and wrist is stacked over the shoulder. Keep your eye on the weight. Lie with one leg bent and one leg straight and out at about a 45 degree angle from your body. The arm not holding the weight will be out to the side at an angle that is about parallel with the straight leg.

Performing the Exercise:

  1. Lying in the set up position. Engage your core. Press the weight straight up towards the ceiling so that your shoulder protracts or starts to lift off the floor because the scapula is moving around towards the outside of your body.
  2. Keep your eyes on the weight.
  3. Slowly rotate your chest to the side towards the arm and leg that are straight. Making sure to keep the weight stacked over the shoulder.
  4. Make sure as your rotate that your bent knee doesn’t cave in towards the leg that is lying straight on the floor. You want to be engaging the glute and external rotators of that leg to make sure the leg doesn’t fall in.
  5. Keeping the weight over your shoulder, slowly sit up to come to the propped up on your elbow. This is a great place to begin the movement and then lower back down to the set up position.
  6. As you sit up to your elbow (or all the way up) make sure the foot of your straight leg doesn’t lift off the floor. Also be mindful that the shoulder of the arm that is on the floor is pressing into the floor, keeping the shoulder girdle braced and not scrunched up into your ear.
  7. Continue to sit up tall by coming up to the final seated position with a tall spine, engaged core, active shoulder and weight straight over your shoulder.
  8. Reverse the movement to return to the start position: Lower to elbow, rotate body to lying down, keeping knee upright, core engaged and the weight over the shoulder. Lastly pack the shoulder to begin all over again.
  9. Be mindful that neither of your feet lifts off the floor as you return to lying on your back in the set-up position.
  10. Perform 10 repetitions on each side.

The Why: The Arm Bar and the Half Turkish Get-up both seem really simple but there’s actually a lot going on in both of these exercises. Stabilizing a load up over your body requires a ton of activation in the all the muscles around your shoulder girdle (especially your rotator cuff) and your core…not to mention the requirement for good mobility through your thoracic spine! And then, even with all of that just to hold the weight in place, you now have to move your body! This turns each of these exercises into a huge mobility and dynamic stability challenge!


As always, please send an email or leave a comment if you have questions, comments or you just want to leave some love for how much you found this post helpful.

Be Well,

Theresa

 

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