Give these often overlooked (but very important!) muscles the attention they deserve.
The Best Shoulder Exercises
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Why should your abs, arms, thighs, and buns get all the attention during your workouts? Sculpting strong shoulders is not only sexy, it's also important! Your shoulders help you do everything from carry your purse, groceries, and children to knocking out that impressive set of push ups at the gym, says Rick Richey, master instructor for the National Academy of Sports Medicine and owner of R2Fitness in New York City. Not to mention, shapely shoulders can help give the appearance of a slimmer waist and more proportionate hip width—which is never a bad thing!
Do these five moves two or three times per week to decrease your risk of injury, improve your posture, and rock that backless dress.
Warm Up: Thoracic Spine Roll
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Why you need it: When your thoracic spine (located between your shoulder blades) has limited mobility, so do your shoulders, Richey says. And when your shoulders are tight, it's hard to perform exercises through a full range of motion, which can limit their benefits. A tight upper back and shoulder area can also lead to poor posture during the day, leaving you hunched over your computer. This can lead to everything from back, neck, and shoulder pain to tension headaches.
How to do it: Sit on the floor with a foam roller placed horizontally behind you. Cross both arms over your chest, round your spine, and slowly lower yourself down towards the floor, bringing the roller under your shoulder blades. Bring both hands behind your head and slowly roll up and down your upper back only (between the shoulder blades), using your legs to help guide your body back and forth for 30 seconds.
If it's too uncomfortable to roll with your hands behind your head, you can keep them crossed over your chest to lessen the intensity, Richey says.
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Why you need it: Now that your shoulders and upper back have been loosened up by the foam roller, it's time to focus on the muscles in between your shoulder blades to help keep them drawn back and together (translation: improve your posture), Richey says.
How to do it: Start standing with your feet wide and your head and back flat against a wall. Bring your arms out to your sides at shoulder height and bend your elbows 90 degrees, keeping your shoulders, arms, and the backs of your palms lightly touching the wall. Slowly raise your arms overhead, extending arms into a wide 'V,' staying in contact with the wall. Bend your elbows and slide arms back to the starting position. Do two sets of 15 reps.
You should feel this in between your shoulder blades, Richey says. If you feel pinching, you can limit your range of motion or lift your arms slightly off the wall.
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Why you need it: This move targets the muscles across the back of your shoulder blades and your upper back, Richey says. Women, especially those with larger chests, are prone to internally rotated shoulders due to the weight of their breasts, and this move can help keep shoulders in their proper place to prevent muscle strain and injury.
How to do it: Lie face down on the floor (on a mat or towel) with your arms by your sides, palms facing down. Your head should be slightly lifted and in line with your spine, keeping your chin in towards your chest. Draw your shoulder blades down and together (imagine trying to squeeze a pencil in between them) as you lift your arms and the front of your shoulders off the floor, extending through your upper back and keeping your chin down. Do two sets of 15 reps. Be sure not to extend up through your lower back, since you are focusing on strengthening the back of the shoulders, Richey says.
Swiss Ball Y-T-A's
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Why you need it: This exercise helps to connect the activation and mobility of your shoulder muscles to the movement of your entire body. It also improves balance and core stabilization, Richey says.
How to do it: Lie face down on top of a stability ball with the ball positioned under your belly button and pelvis, both legs extended out behind you, toes tucked under. If it's too hard to balance on the ball in this position, you can press your heels against a wall to help stabilize your body.
With your chest lifted off the ball (your spine should be slightly extended and straight) and your chin drawn into your chest, extend both arms overhead by your ears, making a 'Y' shape, thumbs facing up to the ceiling. Next, without moving your body, reach both arms straight out to the sides of your shoulders into a 'T' shape, palms facing down to the floor.
Complete the move with the letter 'A' by pressing your arms down and back by your hips, squeezing your shoulder blades together, keeping your thumbs to the ceiling, palms facing away from your body. Do two sets of 15 reps, taking a short rest by rounding over the ball in between sets.
If you want to make this move more challenging, you can add a set of light dumbbells, Richey says.
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Why you need it: This move works your shoulders through a range of motion that we use often during daily activities, Richey says. Whether you need to lift your baby overhead or put a heavy box on the top shelf in the closet, this exercise helps strengthen your shoulders and your upper back in a very functional way.
How to do it: Begin standing with your feet hip-width apart, holding a set of 3- or 5-pound dumbbells (Richey recommends starting lighter and then progressing to heavier weight) with your thumbs pointing up. Keeping your thumbs up is a safer position for your shoulder joint during this move, Richey says. Reach your arms out in front of your chest in a wide ‘V,' hold for one count, and then squeeze your shoulder blades together as you raise your arms overhead into a 'V.' Slowly lower arms to starting position. Do two sets of 15 reps.