The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body, which also makes it one of the most vulnerable to injury. Older athletes may be especially susceptible to shoulder injuries due to the combined effects of natural wear and tear, and increased joint stiffness.
The shoulder is also one of the most common joints for arthritis-related pain. But one of the most effective treatments is — you guessed it — exercise.
A study in Aging Health estimates as many as 21% of older adults have shoulder pain. Much of this can be prevented by ensuring your shoulders are strong and able to move through their intended range of motion without restrictions. The following exercises will help you achieve that.
In particular, you’ll be working on the deltoid muscle group, which makes up the bulk of your shoulder and the rotator cuff, located below the deltoids and comprising the four muscles that stabilize the shoulder. Together, your shoulder muscles are necessary for maintaining good posture and performing well in activities like tennis, swimming, and throwing sports.
1. Wall Slides
This exercise can be performed daily. Use it as a warm-up for your workouts and try it throughout the day, especially if you spend much of your time sitting. It improves shoulder mechanics, makes sure your shoulder blades are functioning effectively and prevents injury to the shoulder joint.
As you reach upward you should feel your shoulder blades moving out and up, coming back toward each other as you bring your hands back down. Aim for 10 slow and controlled repetitions before each workout and a few times during the day.
2. Alternating Overhead Press
This move improves both your shoulder strength and stability. My older clients perform this exercise only if they can perform wall slides with good form and no pain.
In a seated position with feet hip width apart, start with a dumbbell in each hand, positioned just to the outside of your shoulders. Your palms should be facing forward with elbows under your wrists. Exhale and press the dumbbells overhead until your arms are extended and dumbbells are almost touching. This is your starting position.
Keeping your left arm straight with the dumbbell overhead, lower the right dumbbell to just below your chin, then press it back up to the starting position. Now lower the left dumbbell, and return it to the start position. That’s one repetition. Aim for three sets of 10 repetitions, using a weight slightly lighter than your usual overhead press weight.
3. Resistance Band Rear Delt Flyes
My older clients who lift weights regularly need to make sure they injury-proof their joints. This exercise targets the rear deltoids — relatively neglected muscles that pin back the shoulders and provide stability for all other exercises you perform.
Run a resistance band around a stable object (a stair banister at home or a squat rack at the gym). Grasp the handles and extend your arms straight out in front of you at chest height, palms facing each other. Make sure you feel tension in the resistance band and that your arms are parallel to the floor. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you bring your arms out to your sides. Hold the contraction for one second, then slowly return to the starting position.
Make sure your arms stay elevated throughout the movement, so they’re in line with your shoulders. Aim for three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions.
When performing shoulder exercises (for both strength and mobility), it’s a common tendency to use the upper trapezius muscles instead of the deltoid muscles. This happens when you shrug your shoulders toward your ears. Instead, for the above exercises, make sure you keep your shoulders back. Imagine tucking your shoulder blades into your back pockets.