Having difficult shoulders can make upper body workouts difficult. If traditional shoulder exercises like the overhead press cause shoulder pain or discomfort, you probably don’t want to target that muscle group often. That’s where a gentle shoulder workout comes in, because neglecting your shoulders — and the muscles around them — isn’t actually the answer you might think.
This is because strengthening key areas around your shoulder complex plays an important role in shoulder health. and the ability to lift without discomfort.
Here’s how: Many times, shoulder discomfort occurs due to issues with mobility, stability, strength, or posture. Katie Andrews, PT, DPT, MS, physical therapist at Pace West Physical Therapy, tells SELF. Many of us tend to be stronger in our pecs (chest muscles) and biceps than in our rotator cuffs (a group of four small muscles that stabilize the shoulder joint) and muscles in the back. back. This is often due to habits in everyday life, like the forward hunched posture that many of us fall into when looking at computers or phones, as well as gym routines that favor our front muscles more than those back.
These muscle imbalances, combined with the limited mobility of the shoulders and spine that many people have, result in our shoulders being in optimal alignment. So when we head to the gym to do upper body lifts like overhead and chest presses, we end up performing these moves with our shoulders in a lower position than normal. This often results in the pain and discomfort we feel in our shoulders.
So what can we do about it? It is vital to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder muscle, stabilizing it and helping it move. For example, rotator cuff strengthening can help relieve shoulder pain and discomfort by ensuring that the shoulder is properly stabilized when moving. Strengthening back muscles, like the rhomboids (which retract the shoulder blades), can also make a difference, as it helps position the shoulder correctly and counteracts the damaging effects of poor posture.
Andrews created the gentle shoulder workout below for SELF that touches on all of that. This four-move shoulder workout is great for people with shoulder problems: the routine doesn’t include any overhead pressing, a move that usually bothers people with sensitive shoulders, and instead focuses on exercises that may even help relieve some of your shoulder pain. . This is a gentle workout focused on improving mobility and strengthening the small muscles that surround your shoulder, rather than a super intense routine aimed at lifting heavy weights or hitting PRs.
The exercises in this workout are gentle enough that you can do them five days a week, says Andrews. It’s also good to do these shoulder movements every other day, she adds. (Also, if you want, you can keep doing other upper body exercises, like bicep curls and tricep extensions, as part of your routine, as long as they don’t upset your shoulders. .)
A word of caution: If your shoulder pain is severe enough to interfere with your activities of daily living (for example, putting on a shirt or washing your hair hurts) or preventing you from participating in activities you enjoy ( such as sports), contact a doctor or physical therapist before trying this routine. They can help determine the underlying problem and ideally develop an individualized program to address your discomfort. (Here’s how to know when to see a doctor for shoulder pain.)