Dedication Has No Limitation


Hopefully you enjoyed the first in the Build Stronger series with the article on bringing your Glutes up to scratch - this month we are taking a look at the shoulders. Everyone wants boulder like shoulders but before we can go into the exercises that I like most, as with any body part I think it's best to really appreciate the anatomy of the area.


Anatomy: Joints


The shoulder is made up of several joints which form the shoulder complex they consist of:


- glenohumeral joint - a ball and socket joint that fixes the humerus (upper arm) to the glenoid which is the socket that accepts the humerus and is a part of the scapula (shoulder blade).

- acromioclavicular joint - not much movement occurs at this joint but it is important none the less and allows the clavicle (collar bone) to move well during full flexion and abduction of the shoulder. It is the articulation that joins the collar bone to the shoulder blade.

- sternoclaviclar joint - this joint forms the articulation between the collar bone and the sternum, a bone in the centre of your chest which provides movement with the ribs and attachment points for pectoralis major.

- scapulothoracic joint - this is known as the "pseudo joint " of the shoulders because in actual fact there isn't a bony connection to form the joint, instead the joint indicates the movement produced on the underside of the shoulder blade as it guides across the ribcage. There are a number of muscles that are involved in this joint with the most important being serratus anterior - the muscle responsible for the cut ribs look so many body builders desire.


Anatomy:  muscles


Deltoid - this muscle has three portions, all originating at the tip of the collar bone and acromion of the scapula and attaching to the top of the humerus at different points. This muscle enables full flexion, abduction and extension of the shoulder.

Serratus anterior - this muscle rotates the scapula and originates from the first 8 ribs  on the front of the ribcage and runs laterally around the ribcage to attach posteriorly onto the underside of the shoulder blade.

Rotator Cuff - these muscles are grouped because they are almost entirely responsible for internal and external rotation of the shoulder as well as dynamic stability. They all attach onto the head of the humerus at different points and are differentiated by the attachment points onto the scapula as follows.

Suprispinatus - supra spinous fossa of the scapula, this is on top of the scapula near the trapezius.

Infraspinatus - Infraspinous fossa of the shpoulder blade, below the supraspinous fossa below the spine of the scapula.

Subscapularis - this sits in the concave surface of the anterior scapula.

Teres minor - this muscle originates from the lateral border of the scapula.




Flexion - this is simply raising your arm straight ahead of you, an exercise that is deemed as strict flexion would be a frontal raise with a dumbbell.

Extension - the opposite of the above, an example here would be the final range of motion produced in a seated row.

Abduction - raising your arms directly to the side of you, such as in the lateral raise with dumbells.

Adduction - the opposite of the above, this is bringing your arm across your body such as in a woodchop with your trailing arm.

Internal rotation - this is twisting your arm inwards, this movement is used in a lot of rotator cuff exercises on cable machines.

External rotation -the opposite of the above, twisting your arm outward and likewise this is a movement used in a lot of rotator cuff exercises on cable machines.


So as you can see the shoulder permits a LOT of movement and for this reason sacrifices a LOT of stability – shown by it being the most commonly dislocated joint. As such it is important to challenge your shoulders in a number of different vectors (movements) to bulletproof yourself from injury, provide a stable platform for heavier lifts such as the bench press and also to give that boulder like appearance. As with the last build stronger series I will now go through the process of the most basic and foundational exercises to the most complex and more specific exercises.


Overhead Presses


This should be your bread and butter when it comes to your shoulder workout. Whether you use dumbells, kettlebells or an Olympic bar you need to be integrating overheard presses into your program. I like military presses with an Olympic bar most as generally speaking you can load the bar with more weight and stress the musculature more so than with dumbells but this does require quality gym kit - so if you are stuck with dumbells and kettlebells then doing shoulder presses either standing or on a bench is fine.


Shrugging movements


Don't forget that a lot of the musculature in your shoulder lies posteriorly so it's important to include movements like shrugs, Olympic lifting style hang pulls and upright rows to access these muscles. These can be pretty taxing if you have just worked your back, so be mindful of where you put them in your workout as it might be better to do them on a back day rather than do them on a shoulder day when you are still managing fatigue from previous workouts. My favorite is heavy hang pulls with an Olympic bar, as with the military press you can load it very well.


Dynamic multiplane movements


Challenging your shoulders in a range of vectors is important for taking the raw strength you have built in simple movements and making that strength more functional. The popularity of kettlebells, medicine balls, cable machines and other such non-fixed gym equipment has certainly provided more access to more dynamic, functional movements and all of these pieces of equipment are perfect for developing your shoulders. I like woodchops on cable machines and Kettlebell snatches to get your shoulders working through multiple planes.


Isolated exercises


Isolation exercises employed by body builders have received a bad rap of late mostly due to the rise in popularity of functional movement, but as with any form of exercise it is not about which one is best it's about which one is best for you. I personally believe there is a place for isolation even in individuals who are not in competitive bodybuilding. There are times during functional exercise that it is quite obvious that a particular muscle is weak or not firing properly and in these cases carrying on with functional movements will only allow imbalance and compensatory movement patterns to occur. Taking a step back to strategically isolate the specific muscle and before then returning to bigger movements is worthwhile and will eventually lead to greater results and fewer injuries. And of course, nothing beats isolation exercises for working on your symmetry and stressing specific muscles that perhaps do not get the attention they need in bigger movements.


Key points to consider


-          The shoulders are a complex area involving the perfect co-ordination of a wide number of joints and muscles.

-          The shoulder sacrifice stability for mobility, so it is important to make sure your exercise programme encompasses a wide range of movements to keep you injury free.

-          Find what works for you in any given movement but do not neglect movements you do not enjoy doing – especially if you find them difficult!

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