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5 Simple Shoulder Stability Exercises You Can Do At Home

The shoulder is one of the most mobile joints in the body. We need dynamic stability and a full range of motion to support the joint and lessen the risk of injury.

Rotator cuff injuries are common amongst yogis owing to the load and weight bearing placed at the shoulder joint during postures such as downward dog, plank pose, chaturanga, and handstand. 

We spoke with Dr. Paul Ochoa, a Certified Orthopedic Manipulative Therapist (COMT) with an extensive background in massage therapy, to better understand how the joints, muscles, and movement at the shoulder girdle affect the neck, spine, and day-to-day functioning.

Keep reading to see the five simple shoulder stability exercises you can do from home in 10-minutes or less and why we don’t shame the shrug in yoga practice. 

Muscles that Support the Shoulder Girdle

The shoulder joint is one of the most mobile joints in the body. According to Dr. Paul Ochoa, the more mobile a joint is, the more likely there is instability (injury).

The more mobility a joint has, the less stability it will have. We want the shoulder joint to be dynamically stable, meaning the muscles, tendons, and ligaments support it.  

Your shoulder joint is composed of four joints:
  1. Sternoclavicular (SC) joint is at the front of the body where the clavicle (collarbone) meets the sternum (breastbone).
  2. Acromioclavicular (AC) joint is located at the top of the shoulder (acromion) and the collar bone (clavicle). 
  3. Scapulothoracic joint, aka the shoulder blade, is the triangular bone that hangs loose on top of the back ribs.
  4.  Glenohumeral joint is the ball and socket joint that connects the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) to the scapula’s glenoid fossa (shoulder socket).

To support the shoulder, we want to stress the joint with strengthening and stability exercises. Our bodies have evolved to respond to physical tension. We want to stress our joints, muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons, says Dr. Ochoa, because we get stronger when we stress those body parts. The less stress we put on our body, the more sensitive we become- the more pain and discomfort we begin to feel. That’s why exercise can be so challenging to do when we haven’t been active for a while. 

The primary shoulder muscles are known as the four rotator cuff muscles, which include the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis. The easiest way to remember the four rotator cuff muscles is through the acronym SITS.

5 Simple Shoulder Stability Exercises To Do At Home

Try these five exercises to increase the dynamic stability of the shoulder girdle. 

1. Rotation with resistance using a strap, band, or pole. 

What it is:
Simple shoulder strengthening exercise that targets the four rotator cuff muscles to create dynamic stability. Also stretches the pectorals. 
Why we do it:
Create stability around the shoulder girdle and open the chest muscles. 
How to do it: 
  • Take a rope, strap, or pole in your palms.
  • Bring your palms wider than your shoulders. 
  • Draw your hands up overhead and pull the strap/pole wide.
  • Inhale and reach your arms up and widen your arms.
  • Exhale and draw the arms forward and down.
  • Inhale and take your arms up overhead.
  • Exhale and take them back behind you.
  • Repeat several cycles with your breath. 
A few things to remember to connect your shoulder to your head and neck:
  • Keep your head stacked on top of your body to isolate the upper back muscles. 
  • Brace the lower back and draw the lower ribs inwards.

2. Shoulder and upper back strengthening exercise.

What it is:
Breath of joy from high lunge- expresses the upper back, chest, and shoulder girdle.
Why we do it:
Stretch and release tension
How to do it: 
  • Come to a high or low lunge.
  • Inhale and spread your arms wide, palms facing up.
  • Exhale and round the mid-upper back, draw your chin to your chest, and wrap your arms around yourself. 
  • Repeat several cycles. 
** If you take this from a high lunge, you will bend your back knee on the exhale and straighten the back leg on the inhale.

3. Chaturanga pushups to support rotator cuff muscles.

What it is:
Chaturanga pushups with the knees on or off of the ground. 
Why we do it:
To strengthen the muscles of the rotator cuff, strengthen the pectorals (chest), arms (biceps/triceps), and abdominal muscles (core).
How to do it: 
  • Come to plank pose and claw the mat with your fingertips. Option to lower your knees down to the ground. 
  • Inhale as you look beyond your fingertips and hug the navel in and up.
  • Exhale and lower halfway so that your elbows stay stacked over your wrists.
  • Inhale and press back up, rooting the fingertips into the earth.
  • Exhale and lower halfway. 
  • Repeat several cycles, moving with your breath. 

4. Shoulder and upper back strengthening. 

What it is:
A shoulder and upper back strengthening exercise from the abdomen on the ground. 
Why we do it:
Strengthens the rotator cuff muscles, erectors (spine), trapezius and rhomboids (upper back). 
How to do it: 
  • Come to lie on your belly and cactus your arms on the ground.
  • Press your pubic bone and toes into the ground. 
  • Inhale and lift your head, shoulders and arms away from the earth. 
  • Exhale, stay upright and straighten your arms so your biceps line up with your ears.
  • Inhale and cactus your arms, keeping elbows in line with your shoulders, 
  • Exhale and extend your arms long in front of you.
  • Repeat several cycles moving with your breath. 

5. Shoulder opening with inner thigh strengthening. 

What it is:
Moving meditation from goddess squat with the arms to support flexion and extension of the shoulder girdle. 
Why we do it:
Support rotation, flexion, and extension of the shoulder blade. Strengthen inner leg lines, the adductors (inner things) from the goddess squat. 
How to do it: 
  • Come into goddess pose with your knees stacked over your heels.
  • Press your heels down and bend your knees in a squat position.
  • Inhale and take your arms wide into a cactus shape with elbows in line with shoulders. 
  • Exhale and bring your elbows and palm to touch in front of you. 
  • Inhale and straighten your arms with the palms together.
  • Exhale and bring your arms wide to a t-shape beside you.
  • Inhale and reach your arms overhead.
  • Exhale and bend your elbows into a cactus shape.
  • Repeat several cycles, moving the arms with your breath. 

Why We Don’t Shame the Shrug

It’s important to remember that any movement you do with your shoulder will also affect your neck and lower back. 

The muscles and tissues that support and connect to the shoulder also touch the neck and the spine, including the cervical, thoracic and lumbar. When we load the shoulder- when you add any weight- you don’t want to ‘shame the shrug,’ as Paul calls it. 

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Recommendations for yoga teachers and students interested in anatomy from Paul:

You may have heard the cue to pull your shoulders back and down your spine in poses such as a wheel, downward dog, or lift your arms overhead. Downward-facing dog and wheel pose are weight-bearing poses, so the compression to the joint will be greater if you draw your shoulders back and down.

Drawing your shoulders down your spine when you lift your arms overhead is not a loaded shoulder, so you may feel a slight impingement but not much. 

The shrug is normal. As the arm starts to move up in the body or up overhead, the shoulder blade will rotate along with it and then, at the very end, it’ll do a little bit of a shrug.

This is what we call an upward rotation of the shoulder blade. When your arm moves upwards, the normal progression is for the shoulder to raise in a shrug.

Picture a downward-facing dog; you’ve probably taken a yoga class where your instructor has told you to engage your shoulder blade by pulling them back and down. The intention is to create stability in that entire arm and shoulder. However, what you’re doing there is creating an impingement moment.

It may not cause tissue damage; you may not tear something immediately. It may be something that might be a little bit irritable and, over time, might create some sensitivity in or around your shoulder.

Our body works in ranges. So for some people engaging your shoulder blades back might feel great. For other people, it may feel totally fine. It depends on your own experience. My suggestions are based on kinesiology, which studies movement and how your shoulders and joints work.

Instead of queuing students to pull back, I suggest telling them to push out.

When you choose to push out, you have just a natural little bit of a shrug that happens, which allows more stability during your mobility. Still, it is also very engaging through your rotator cuff muscles and the periscapular muscles that are pushing the floor away and creating a little bit of muscular engagement and stability through the shoulder and the neck.

Meet Dr. Paul Ochoa—

Orthopedic Therapist and special guest speaker for the Lila Wellness Summit.
Dr. Ochoa is a Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists (FAAOMPT) with a specialty in Orthopedic injuries (OCS) and a Certified Orthopedic Manipulative Therapist (COMT) with an extensive background in massage therapy.
As a native New Yorker, he founded F Squared in 2011 and has maintained its unique one-on-one treatment model, ensuring the highest quality of care. He is an active member of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and the North American Institute of Manual Therapy (NAIOMT).  He has been an active Trapeze Flyer at the Trapeze School of New York (TSNY) and has a passion since 2016 and has worked with local and international Dance companies and professional circus performers.  
His passion for working with runners has been fueled by his studies with research giants like Chris Johnson and Bryan Heiderscheit.

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