Tip: Make Your Shoulders Feel Good Right Now

Grab a band and run through this quick routine. Your big ol' banged-up shoulders will thank you. Check it out.

It would be a stretch to suggest there was just one shoulder warm-up to rule them all. But this one comes pretty darn close.

Piece all your favorite band warm-up exercises together and you've got a time-efficient circuit that'll lubricate and prime your shoulders for any workout. Here's what to do.

  • A1. Band Dislocates with Wrap-Around x 6-10 reps
  • A2. Band Face Pull-Apart x 10-15 reps
  • A3. Band Pull-Apart x 10-15 reps
  • Choose a resistance band that'll allow you to feel a good connection with your shoulders and back, but remember the idea here isn't to overly fatigue them. You want to lubricate, prime, and potentiate your shoulders, not beat them to the ground!
  • Take your time and rest as much as needed between exercises and circuits.
  • Repeat the circuit 2-3 times, depending on what feels best. Even one round would beat some half-assed shoulder swings.
  • You can also repeat the circuit daily for general shoulder maintenance, tissue regeneration, and recovery.

It saves time, saves space, only requires one resistance band, and it's easy to remember when you're high on pre-workout. Each exercise is a winner in its own right:

Shoulder dislocates are a staple warm-up exercise done before pressing workouts. They can be done with a dowel or a resistance band which allows a little more free motion in your shoulders.

Think of these as shoulder circles but with some extra resistance. The band resistance helps prime the tissues around your shoulders better, as well as gently forcing you into a deeper range of motion.

Adding the wrap-around is a good way to encourage your pecs and serratus anterior to start firing, building greater muscle awareness and shoulder stability. These work well before heavy benching, too.

It's a pull-apart in the middle. You can aim the pull at about shoulder height, forehead height, or anywhere in between. You can change the angle, too. The pulling direction and the angle of the band can be used to emphasize different movements of your scapula.

For example, a low-to-high angle would encourage more scapula elevation, whereas a downward angle more scapula depression and associated muscle activation.

Figure 1
This is the representation of the biomechanical vector of the musculature involved in scapular movement. From de Carvalho et al. (2019).

A good shoulder warm-up isn't just about working your rotator cuff using a bunch of external rotation exercises. Band face pull-aparts activate a whole bunch of musculature that work to control and stabilize your scapula and shoulders.

People do these wrong. Sure, you want to focus on pulling the band apart and pinching your shoulder blades together (retraction), but you also want to let your shoulders roll forwards (protraction).

You don't want to look like a hunchback doing it — that would be your spine compensating for a glued-up scapula — but you want to give you shoulder blades permission to glide forward and around your ribs as nature intended.

The band should have enough tension so that as you reach forward it pulls and loads you a little in scapula protraction. This makes for a more "complete" shoulder warm-up and will allow you to achieve a better connection with your back and shoulders.

You can do these low to high, high to low, horizontally, or using an underhand grip. It depends on what you want your scapula to be doing and what muscles you're trying to "wake up" that day.

  1. de Carvalho SC et al. Snapping scapula syndrome: pictorial essay. Radiol Bras. Jul-Aug 2019;52(4):262-267. PubMed.
Gareth Sapstead is a leading strength and physique coach from the UK. He specializes in problem solving and breakthrough training techniques.

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