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4 shoulder exercises to build strength and avoid injuries

While there are many popular exercises that focus on building shoulder strength, not all of them are safe to do. Here are four that are

Strengthen your shoulders in a safe way.
Strengthen your shoulders in a safe way. (Istockphoto)

There comes a time in one’s fitness journey when shoulder safety and longevity takes precedence over the need to push them all the way in the need for size and strength. While all shoulder exercises should ideally be safe, there are some which need more expertise, strength and technique to perform than others.

This is not to say safer exercises will be slower in building muscle. In fact, you might be able to do heavier reps with some of these and build muscle faster. An example of an often-done but avoidable exercise for the shoulders is the upright row. I wrote a detailed piece on its perils and alternatives in a Lounge article titled Why You Shouldn't Perform The Upright Row.

Also Read Why you shouldn't perform the upright row

One-arm dumbbell overhead-press: I’ve been using this one for a few months now. I saw it in an Athlean-X video titled The Only 2 Shoulder Exercises You Need, and it has become a favourite for two reasons. The first being that one can stack the shoulder in a safer position than the two-handed overhead-press, and the second being that one can lift more weight in this variation.

“The thing is that the dumbbell press is limited by the weight you can clean up to your shoulders to press overhead. I like to perform this exercise with a single dumbbell as it allows you to clean the weight up with two hands and it allows for stacking of the wrist over elbow over shoulder to help with orthopaedic issues,” says trainer Jeff Cavalieri in the video. The move allows the athlete to keep the wrist over the elbow, and the elbow over the shoulder in what is known as a safe joint-stacking position.

Also Read How to spot a shoulder injury and how you can prevent one

Bottoms-up kettlebell shoulder press: Another version of this is the bottoms-up kettlebell shoulder press, which focuses more on balance than on maximising gains. Get into a lunge position so that you can also work on core stability and then press the kettlebell up while holding its bottom i.e. the handle, with the globe shape on top. “Think about keeping the bell right in front of you, and having your upper arm in front of your body. This will let you drive the bell up smoothly, and it will help you maintain a vertical forearm, too,” states a Men’s Health article titled How To Master The Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Shoulder Press.

The face-pull: Shoulders can be worked on both on push and pull day. Which is where the face pull also comes in. This all important move works your rear delts but there are some things you can avoid to make it safer. The first is the grip. Hold the ropes from underneath, with the thumbs pointing towards you. An over the rope grip will put your shoulders into internal rotation, which you don’t want.

The next is to pull from high-to-low to hit the rear delts. There is one analogy I follow for the next step of the exercise: what part wins the race to the back when you’re pulling towards your face—hands or the elbows—and the answer is always hands. Which means the hands must be behind your shoulders when you’re pulling the ropes in. Imagine doing the exercise while lying down on the floor (which you can) and making sure the hands touch the floor at every rep along with the elbows.

Also Read Why you need to learn Olympic lifting for explosive power

The landmine press: I had forgotten this exercise until I saw someone do it in the gym and wondered why it was not as routine as it should be among gym-goers. A Stack.com article, titled 7 Exercises That Safely Build Shoulder Strength, pinpoints exactly the kind of people who should be doing this. “Some athletes have mobility limitations, such as tight lats or an immobile t-spine, causing their back to arch and their ribs to flare out as they lift overhead. If you fall into this category, you shouldn’t lift overhead—even if using a neutral grip,” states the article.

The landmine press needs an Olympic bar, or in some cases, the gym will have a landmine setup. The idea is to stick it into a corner of the gym for a good grip and raise it at an angle rather than overhead, and it is easy to load it with weights gradually. The best part about this exercise is how it puts the body to the closest angle to how the scapular plane should move. Operating in this plane helps in avoiding shoulder impingement during pressing and lifting.

Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator, podcaster and writer.

Also Read How you can use the squat to assess your muscular health

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