Expert advice to build shoulder strength

March 9, 2022

Your shoulders play a key role in your daily life. You use them for everything, from reaching for a glass in the cupboard, to lifting grocery bags, to swinging at a golf ball. Strong shoulders can help with overall body function, prevent injury and even improve your posture.

But what can you do to improve shoulder strength? We chatted with Florent Thézard, wellness program leader at Manitoba Blue Cross and certified athletic therapist, to learn more about this essential but often neglected area and to get simple tips on how to strengthen them.

The "ball and socket" joint

The shoulder is made up of bones, joints and muscles that connect your arm to your torso. It's incredibly flexible, allowing for a range of arm movements - circular, up, down, forward and backward. Most of that motion is coming from where the arm attaches to the shoulder blade, known as the "ball and socket." But when your shoulders are weakened, you may begin to experience limited mobility or feel pain. Thézard offers this analogy: "Think of your arm like a golf ball and your shoulder blade as the tee. While it's important that the ball sits properly within the socket of the tee, it's irrelevant if the tee isn't stable. Your shoulder blade is the tee: so, let's make sure it sits properly."

Keeping your shoulders strong

Simply put, for your arm to move properly, your shoulder blade must be stable. Thézard shares three easy exercises for every activity/fitness level that will help improve shoulder strength and stability:

Stand with your feet hip width apart. Slightly bend your knees and hinge forward, keeping a flat back. Raise your arms above you into a "Y" position, keeping your arms straight the entire time. Bring your arms down. Next, raise your arms to your side to shoulder height into a "T" position. Bring your arms down. For the last position, bend your elbows and bring your arms up to shoulder height to form a "W," squeezing your shoulder blades together. Repeat this sequence.

Start in a tall plank position- place your palms flat on the ground, balance on your toes and keep your back flat. Make sure your knees, hips and ankles are in a straight line. Push your shoulder blades up and away from the floor and raise one arm, opening up to one side. Slowly return to the starting position. Push your shoulder blades up and away from the floor again and raise your other arm, opening up to the side. Repeat this sequence.

This exercise requires a weight (if you don't have a hand weight, try a can of soup or bottle of water). Lay flat on your back with your feet flat on the ground and knees raised. Holding your weight, push your arm up toward the ceiling and lift your shoulder up off the ground. With your arm in the air, begin to draw capital letters of the alphabet "ABCD...". Keep your shoulder stabilized while the rest of the arm is working.

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