There’s no reason to wait for an injury to pay attention to your shoulders (particularly the rotator cuffs), your upper back and the muscles that assist them. Below, four experts offer advice about how to keep the shoulder healthy.
Watch the workplace
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends positioning the computer so the top of the monitor is at eye level, with close-in support for elbows so the keyboard can be used without extending the arms. Practice good posture, so the weight of the upper body is carried in the upper back, not transferred to the shoulders.
Consider chest-press-style moves that are done standing and with rubber bands or tubing, a more dynamic approach that trains the parts of the upper body to work together, as opposed to standard exercises that isolate a particular muscle. Do one arm at a time to increase rotation.
For upper-back flexibility, stand in a doorway with one foot on a chair and the hand from the same side on the wall above the doorjamb. With the other arm, reach up and across the body.
— Patrick Kennelly, physical therapist, SMARTherapy in Chevy Chase, Md.
Try resistance exercise
Internal and external rotation exercises are key. Standing and using exercise bands or tubing fixed to a door handle, wall or other stable object, bend the elbow at 90 degrees, hold the elbow against your waist, and rotate the forearm internally across the body, using a resistance that will fatigue the shoulder after about 15 repetitions. Then face the other way and rotate externally to the side. Repeat both directions with the other arm. The same motions can be done with light dumbbells, lying on your side.
For general joint health, do resistance exercises that focus on the “eccentric” or “negative” phase — when a weight is lowered and the muscle lengthens — as opposed to the lifting phase. Your muscles can handle more weight in this phase, and it strengthens tendons and ligaments better. To work eccentrically in a bicep curl, for example, use both hands to get the weight to the top of the movement, then lower it with one. For a chest press, you may need a workout partner to help get the weight to the starting position.
— Richard Jackson, physical therapist, the Jackson Clinics
Warm up the rotator cuff
Give the rotator cuff its own warm-up before exercise. Lean over a table or chair or some other object so one hand can give support. Holding a light weight, swing the free arm back and forth, from side to side and in circles. Also, press a light ball to the wall with your arm at 90 degrees to your body, and roll it in all directions.
Be cautious with the overhead “military press,” a common shoulder exercise. If you do it, hold dumbbells with the palms turned toward the ears, rather than the classic palms-forward position, to decrease strain on the rotator cuff and lower the risk of impingement.
Train the upper back, particularly with exercises that involve “scapular depression,” basically the motion that makes you pinch your shoulder blades. Rows, pull-downs and similar moves will make sure the muscles surrounding the shoulder blade are strong enough to move it properly and to keep pressure off the rotator cuff.
— Jay Greenstein, chiropractor, Sport and Spine Rehab
Stretching is key
Do lots of internal- and external-rotation strengthening: four sets of as many as 20 repetitions each.
And lots of stretching: Hold a broom or piece of plastic pipe behind your head, pointing down, and grab it with the other hand. Gently pull with the upper hand until you feel the stretch, hold it briefly and relax. Repeat 30 times.
For anyone older than 30, Moorman warns against the classic military press, triceps dips and any exercise with too wide a grip. For push-ups, he recommends keeping the hands closer to the body. For the chest press, position the hands closer in on the bar.
— T. Moorman, director of sports medicine, Duke University Medical School
Fitness Corner appears every Tuesday in the Food and Health section. Howard Schneider is one of several columnists featured. Schneider writes about health and fitness for The Washington Post. He can be contacted by e-mail at SchneiderH@washpost.com.