From Desk to Gym: 3 Key Exercises For Unbreakable Shoulders

gym health how-to guide mobility physical training posture strength Feb 10, 2024

Last week, we uncovered the risks of standard pressing exercises for those of us tied to desks all day.

We delved into how 'beginner' routines might hurt you due to compromised shoulder mobility from endless hours of sitting.

You learned two straightforward tests to assess whether your shoulders are ready for typical gym presses.

This week, let's build on that foundation. I'll guide you through 3 essential corrective exercises designed to make your shoulders strong and mobile.

Consider these your safer bet compared to conventional gym moves, laying the groundwork for injury-free strength training.

A heads-up: These might just be the remedy for your persistent neck and shoulder discomfort.

Ready to get started?

A Trifecta for Resilient Shoulders

Today's focus is on three exercises that, when combined, offer a comprehensive approach to shoulder resilience:

  • Dumbbell Pullover with Feet Elevated and Pause: This exercise uniquely targets both the chest and back, specifically the deep pectoral and latissimus muscles. It's a blend of strength and flexibility training, gently stretching and strengthening the shortened muscles as you bring your arms overhead. This action helps in regaining flexibility and function essential for overhead movements and pressing exercises.
  • Bench Supported Prone Angels: Aimed at fortifying the often-weakened shoulder stabilizers, this exercise activates the crucial muscles in your upper back. It's designed to prepare your body for overhead pressing, gradually restoring strength and stability in the shoulder and scapular muscles.
  • Single Arm Landmine Press with Full Flexion Focus: This exercise focuses on achieving a full overhead shoulder position without compensating with spinal movement. It strengthens the shoulder while stretching the often-tight latissimus muscle, facilitating proper spine extension and loosening the upper abdominal muscles.

Ready to dive into the exercises? Let's begin.

Exercise #1: Dumbbell Pullover with Feet Elevated and Pause

This exercise is designed to maximize shoulder flexion, utilizing gravity and the dumbbell's weight to extend your range beyond what's possible unaided. It effectively stretches and strengthens the typically tight pectoralis and latissimus muscles, crucial for opening rib cage and to lift your arms fully overhead. To ensure an even stretch across the entire latissimus, which connects to the arm and the pelvis, it's vital to keep your lower back flush with the bench. The lifted legs aid in this by preventing the common compensatory arching of the lower back due to latissimus tightness.

Execution Steps:

  1. Begin with a lightweight dumbbell, between 2.5-7.5kg, to ensure comfort and safety in reaching the overhead position without pain.
  2. Position yourself on a flat bench, holding the dumbbell with both hands in front of your face.
  3. Elevate your legs, actively pressing your lower back into the bench, particularly crucial in the end position (as displayed in the right image).
  4. Slowly lower your arms overhead, elbows slightly bent, until you reach your maximum stretch. Pause here with the dumbbell for 3 seconds.
  5. Carefully return to the starting position and repeat.
  6. Start with 2 sets of 8 repetitions, incorporating a 3-second pause at each stretch. Gradually progress to 3 sets and then to 12 repetitions with the same weight. Upon achieving 3 sets of 12, increase the weight and revert to 8 reps, continuing this pattern.

Important Note:

The long range (stretch) of this exercise might feel uncomfortable initially, as your shoulders acclimatize to this new range of motion. The first set typically feels the most challenging, but it becomes more manageable with subsequent sets. If you experience any sharp pain (above a 6 on a scale of 1-10), cease the exercise and consult a coach or therapist for guidance.

Exercise #2: Bench Supported Prone Angels

This exercise transitions your arms from an extended, internally rotated position to a flexed, externally rotated shoulder position. Lying prone, gravity intensifies the movement, engaging and fortifying the often underused scapular stabilizers and rotator cuff muscles. Following the tension release in the frontal muscles from the previous exercise, you can work in a range of motion that’s normally not accessible. Key areas targeted include the lower/middle trapezius, rhomboids, rotator cuff, erector spinae, and posterior deltoids.

A flat bench is ideal for this exercise to limit lower back compensation, though a yoga mat can suffice if you don’t have one.

Execution Steps:

  1. Position yourself face down on a bench, ensuring your knees are below your hips.
  2. Engage your upper spine to lift your ribcage, aiming to keep your lower spine less involved.
  3. Start with your arms behind you, palms facing upwards and hands at your lower back.
  4. Elevate your arms overhead, pressing upwards throughout the motion, as if pushing against the ceiling.
  5. Aim for full arm extension at the peak, actively reaching towards the ceiling.
  6. Return to the starting position slowly and with control.
  7. Perform 3 sets of 6 repetitions, progressively increasing to 3 sets of 15 as your mobility improves.
  8. For added challenge and to further enhance strength once your mobility increases, incorporate light weights (starting from 0.5 kg).

Key Focus:

Prioritize range of motion over rep count. The exercise's intensity increases with more time under tension per rep, so emphasize quality over quantity. This exercise may be surprisingly demanding even without weights. So keep you ego in check and commit to intentional practice—at least three times a week.

Exercise #3: Single Arm Landmine Press with Full Flexion Focus

Our final exercise combines the elements of horizontal and vertical pressing, bringing everything together in a practical pressing motion. This unique blend allows for safe overhead movement by starting the press in front of you and smoothly transitioning your arm overhead. The forward-leaning stance facilitates arm elevation without the need for compensatory back movements, effectively stretching and reducing the impact of typically restrictive muscles.

Execution Steps:

  1. Begin with a manageable weight. Assume a split stance, holding the landmine bar in the hand opposite your front leg.
  2. Activate your core and glutes to stabilize as you press the weight forward.
  3. Continue pressing, extending your arm and the weight overhead in a controlled arc.
  4. Maintain stability, avoiding any rotation or excessive arching in your lower back.
  5. Carefully return to the starting position and repeat.
  6. Complete 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions for this exercise.

Progression Tips:

Start with a weight that allows you to perform 3 sets of 12 reps with proper form. Once you can comfortably achieve this, it's time to increase the weight for your next session. If you reach a point where 12 reps become challenging, stick with that weight until you can complete all sets successfully. Always begin with your less dominant side to ensure balanced strength development, and limit your rest to about 60 seconds between sets for optimal efficiency.

Note: Like the other exercises, aim for quality over quantity and intensity. The goal is to regain your overhead shoulder mobility, not pressing as much weight as possible. You can record yourself during the exercise. Aim at working yourself up to the position in the third picture. Chances are that this is hard at first, don’t get upset, just keep practicing— I promise, you will improve over time.

Summary

These exercises, when combined, offer great synergy for shoulder health and strength. The Dumbbell Pullover initiates the sequence by opening up your ribcage, extending your spine, and easing the tightness in your chest and back muscles. Next, the Bench Supported Prone Angels activate your shoulder girdle muscles, forming a strong and stable base. Finally, the Single Arm Landmine Press introduces a safe, effective pressing movement, guiding you into the perfect overhead position with ease, while engaging the core muscles.

Each exercise is scalable, making them potent tools for strength development in their own right. My goal is to help you lay a solid foundation, so you can safely incorporate fundamental pressing movements into your regimen, for building a robust upper body.

A Personal Note

Remember, no exercise or training plan is a one-size-fits-all solution. Everyone is different and has different needs. That’s why generic programs often don’t work that well. These exercises may be exactly what you need, or maybe not. In my experience, though, this combination works magic for most desk-bound individuals.

Start with the shoulder mobility tests from last week’s newsletter. If you missed that issue, catch up here.

Commit to these exercises for a minimum of 12 weeks to truly see their benefits. Should you have any questions, or if you're keen to share your progress, don't hesitate to reach out to me on 𝕏 or LinkedIn. Your health and performance matter to me.

See you next week.

Bart

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