Your shoulder joints are held together and controlled by ligaments, tendons, muscles and bones. Ligaments are responsible for connecting bone to bone, so in the shoulders they attach your upper arm bone to your clavicle and scapula. Because they’re not connected to muscles, they cannot be strengthened themselves. However, you can improve stability and protect the ligaments by incorporating exercises that strengthen the muscles surrounding your shoulder joints. A comprehensive workout can strengthen the four rotator cuff muscles -- including the subsapularis, infraspinatus, teres minor, supraspinatus that keep your upper arm bone securely into the clavicle -- and the scapular muscles, which include the trapezius, levator scapulae, rhomboids and serratus anterior.
Perform the shoulder-strengthening workout two to three days per week and on nonconsecutive days.
Warm up your shoulders before each workout. Perform five minutes of walking followed by 10 slow arm circles and 10 arm swings across your body.
Use dumbbells -- that are about 2 to 3 pounds -- for each exercise. The muscles you’re working are extremely small and don’t require much resistance. Using heavy weights can lead to muscular strains and inflammation.
Strengthening the Rotator Cuff Muscles
Strengthen the infraspinatus and teres minor with side-lying dumbbell external rotations. Lie on your side at the edge of a bench or table, holding a light dumbbell in your top hand. Position your elbow against your side and bend it to 90 degrees. Internally rotate your shoulder to lower the dumbbell toward the floor and then externally rotate it to lift it up. Complete two sets of 10 reps on each side.
Work the subscapularis with side-lying dumbbell internal rotations. Lie on your side at the end of a bench or table while holding a dumbbell in your bottom hand. Set your elbow against your torso and bend the joint to 90 degrees. Externally rotate your shoulder to lower the dumbbell down and then internally rotate it to lift the weight up. Do two sets of 10 reps on each side.
Incorporate dumbbell lateral lifts to strengthen your supraspinatus. Kneel on a bench and lean forward, placing one hand on the bench for support. Hold a light dumbbell in your free hand and allow your arm to hang down toward the floor. Lift your straight arm out to the side, rotating your wrists so that you’re in a thumbs-up position. Once your arm is parallel to the floor, lower it back down. Repeat 10 times and do a total of two sets on each side.
Scapular Muscle Strengthening
Perform shoulder-blade squeezes to strengthen the rhomboids and middle trapezius. Stand or sit tall with your elbows bent to 90 degrees. Pinch your shoulder blades together and hold the contraction for five seconds. Do the exercise 10 times.
Strengthen the trapezius and levator scapulae with shoulder-blade shrugs. With your arms down by your sides and your palms open and facing forward, lift up one shoulder toward your ear. Hold the contraction for five seconds and then repeat the exercise on the opposite side. Complete a total of 10 reps on each side.
Incorporate shoulder-blade protractions against a wall to strengthen the serratus anterior. Stand facing a wall and lean forward, placing your hands next to each other on the wall directly in front of your chest. From this position, spread your shoulder blades apart to lengthen your arms and push yourself slightly away from the wall. Hold the contraction for five seconds and repeat the exercise 10 times.
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: What Are Shoulder Problems?
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Chronic Shoulder Instability
- Military.com: Taking Care of Your Shoulders
- PhysioAdvisor.com: Shoulder Strengthening Exercises
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Rotator Cuff and Shoulder Conditioning Program