Have you ever found yourself looking in the mirror post-sweat sesh, wondering why, after committing to regular workouts, you still can’t seem to undo the damage of the desk job? While many classes tout themselves as having plenty of upper body strengtheners and shoulder openers, it could be that you’re not exploring the right exercises to combat the 9-to-5.
Since we know that’s the ultimate goal, we reached out to some of the industry’s top trainers to help remedy the sitch…and quick. “Isolated shoulder exercises are really great for injury prevention, training and improving imbalances through solely targeting the direct muscle group,” says celebrity trainer Dara Hart. “However, adding a few compound moves to work your whole body, training with a focus of balance and stability, can be especially beneficial overall.”
Whether you’re looking to make a sweat sesh of your shoulder strengthening routine or not, Hart wants you to keep one very important tip in mind: “Before any training, make sure to do at least one minute of light cardio, abdominal work, and dynamic stretching to get the blood flowing and body ready—this will prevent injury,” she says. Keep scrolling for eight body movements that you can incorporate into one all-encompassing shoulder-centric workout or pick and choose to add into your regular full-body regimen.
Banded shoulder rotation
To warm up your shoulders, Hart says to start with this easy-but-effective movement. “Grab a super light resistance band and hold arms at a 90 degree angle with forearms parallel and elbows tucked into the waist,” Hart instructs. “Choose an arm to start with, and maintaining the upper arm posture, squeeze the arm to the side body, and without moving the shoulder joint rotate the forearm outwards away from the body. Move slowly working against the resistance, squeezing through the core and with grounded feet.” Repeat this process 10 to 15 times.
NYSC Lab master instructor Bianca Vesco can’t say enough about the power of bent-over rows. To perform it to the best of your ability, choose a dumbbell weight that’s comfortable, but not too easy to lift. Then, Vesco says to hinge forward to almost 90 degrees with your feet a little wider than your hips. Once in position, go one arm at a time, and with the arm that’s holding the weight, pull your elbow straight back, keeping the shoulder still. Keep your back muscles as wide as possible, as opposed to rounding them forward as though you’re winding up a lawnmower.
Alexis Dreiss, a NASM-certified personal trainer at Tone House in New York City, recommends standing shoulder-width apart at a cable machine. With relaxed knees, reach up and out to grab the handles, keeping your arms in line with your shoulders. “Draw your elbows back until your hands are in front of your shoulders; pause for a moment, extend, and then repeat,” she instructs. “To execute the pull properly (and without injury), try to think of a string coming out of the top of your head, as it tends to add length to the body having that visual will help improve posture.”
Looking for a multidimensional move? Open up your shoulders and your fire up booty with this two-part push. “Grab a set of light-to-medium dumbbells and stand with feet parallel,” Hart instructs. “Rest the weights at shoulder level, hands parallel facing each other. Hip hinge back into a demi squat and with the power of your lower body, drive to stand and raise the weights above you.” While doing this, she emphasizes the importance of keeping your arms and hands neutral so as to focus the weight on your shoulders.
Head to a seated cable machine and “keep your shoulders locked in, while your lats engage (think: squeezing your armpits) to pull the weight down,” Vesco says. “Keep your traps as far away from your ears as possible.” While this targets your lats, it helps engage your shoulder joint by bringing stability to the movement.
Seated cable row
Dreiss applauds a seated cable row as an excellent way to train and strengthen both your shoulders and back. “You want to perform this with a V-bar on a low cable pulley row machine,” she explains. “When seated, you want a slight bend in the knees, neutral separation of the feet, and a slight arch in the back (not severe) with chest poking out just a touch.” Maintain the posture as you reach for the pulleys and row your arms in, keeping the elbows close to your body before extending back out. “Do not over-exaggerate the arch in your back: The heavier the weight gets, the more stress you will be putting on your lower back,” Dreiss points out. “Brace your core—that is important in any-and-all exercises, as it’s what keeps you balanced and aligned.”
Step-up Arnold press
We love a dynamic workout, so what better way to strengthen your shoulders than by training your legs and glutes at the same time? One of Hart’s favorite shoulder moves involves keeping your dumbbells in-hand while also incorporating a bench or box into the mix. “With weights in hand at shoulder-height, inner wrists facing you, prepare to step up onto a box,” Hart says. “As you step up or forward, perform an Arnold press with your weights, rotating both arms outwards from the shoulders and upwards.”
As you step back, rotate your shoulders in reverse to bring the arms back to the starting position. “This exercise is great for shaping and increasing muscular endurance of the shoulder; it elevates the heart rate and works your core balance.” For best results, Hart recommends repeating a minimum of 10 times per leg for three to five rounds.
Cable face pulls
“Hit the rear delts with one of my fave shoulder exercises,” Hart tells me. “So many people neglect the rear delts but this is important to train to maintain muscular balance and prevent injury.” To perform the exercise, she says to use a cable machine with ropes or a resistance band looped behind and around a solid structure. “Pull the weight towards [your face], elbows lifted in line with the shoulders,” she explains. And in just a quick 10 you’re on your way to undoing the 8 hours parked in front of a computer.
Ready to work out? Might as well do so looking (and feeling) your best in an inspiring fitness tank. And, while you’re at it, make sure you know how to save your hands from getting blisters in the process of scoring ultra-defined, rounded shoulders.
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