Every lifter with a few pounds on his frame has at one time or another had to deal with a cranky shoulder.
It's almost like a rite of passage—spend your formative years blasting your chest and shoulders to superhero proportions. Spend the rest of your life training around the injuries you incurred being an overzealous muttonhead.
Basically, for every set of Shoulder Presses and Bench Press variations you do, you'd better do something for the backside of your body to balance things out, or you'll eventually run into problems.
Training the snot out of your pushing muscles isn't inherently bad. But to function properly, the body requires something called structural balance.
Exercises like Rows and Face-Pulls are excellent choices, but so is a sweet little number called the Lower-Trap Raise. In fact, according to a study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, Lower-Trap Raises are among the best scapula (shoulder blade) strengthening exercises.
How to Do the Lower Trap Raise
First, if you're in pain, see a corrective therapist. Don't wait for it to "work itself out," and definitely don't try to "learn to love the pain." You might have the beginnings of a serious orthopedic issue that needs professional attention. Save the "man up" bravado for your online gaming persona.
Next, understand that the Lower Trap Raise is a nuanced lift—if you approach it with the same mentality that you do a 150-pound Dumbbell Row, you won't accomplish much.
We're targeting weak stabilizer muscles. You need to maintain a slow, controlled pace and try to feel the muscles working. You won't need much weight, especially at first. And if you find yourself searching for the 60-pound 'bells, you've lost the plot of this story.
- Assume a wide, staggered stance.
- Place one forearm along the top of an incline bench set at about 60 degrees. Hold a light dumbbell in your other hand.
- Bend at the waist, place your forehead on top of your resting arm and look down at your feet. Your arm holding the dumbbell should hang straight down.
- Allow your shoulder and lats to relax.
- Move the scapula (shoulder blade) of the weighted arm up a few inches. Pull your shoulder back and down but not aggressively with your lats.
- Raise the dumbbell at a 45-degree angle up to ear level. Stay slow and controlled—no flinging!
- Hold at the top position for one count and reverse the movement to the start position.
- Relax the shoulder blade for the start of the next rep.
Sets/Reps: 3x10-13 each arm
Watch the video at the top of this article to see how it's performed. Pay close attention to the initial scapula retraction—did I mention not to pull with your lat? Adding a pause at the top (not shown) is also important.
You can also do a prone version, lying on an elevated bench or massage table. This is a good place to start so you can learn the mechanics of the movement.
If you didn't win the genetic lottery, or if your shoulders are already starting to complain, you need to take an intelligent look at your programming. Balance your pushing and pulling movements, see a soft tissue therapist if necessary and include more remedial lifts like the Lower Trap Raise.
Here's to a long and prosperous career!
Moseley, J., Jobe, F., Pink, M., Perry, J., & Tibone, J. (1992). "Mg analysis of the scapular muscles during a shoulder rehabilitation program." American Journal of Sports Medicine, 128-34.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock