Shoulder Warm-Up Routine for Healthy Overhead Strength [with video]

The shoulder joint is complex and often overworked. That is why it is crucial to thoroughly warm-up and regularly put your shoulders through their full ranges of motion. Whether you are exercising, training as a weightlifter or spending a lot of time at a desk, you can use this warm-up series to help maintain or restore the health and mobility of your shoulders.

Here's a look at the full routine...

CARs (Controlled Articular Rotations)

I mentioned CARs in the article covering our favorite hip warm-ups. You can apply this principle to every joint as an excellent way to enhance mobility. The idea is simple: isolate the joint and put it through its full range of motion.

Since the shoulders are so complex, we want to focus on the shoulder blades (scapulae) as well as the ball and socket joint (glenohumeral joint).

Shoulder blades: keep your arms straight and experiment with different positions (arms to sides, arms out forward, arms overhead) while moving the scapulae in all directions. Draw them up, then forward, then down, then back. Avoid using any other areas to compensate for the movement.

Shoulder joint (glenohumeral): start with arms straight and pinned to your sides. Doing one arm at a time, raise your arm (thumb first) as high as possible without lifting your shoulder blade. Once you hit the limit, rotate your palm away from your body and reach backward as far as possible. Reverse and start again.

Complete 3-5 reps of each CARs.

Band Pull-Aparts and Dislocates

I suggest doing 10-15 reps of each. On the pull-aparts, do a set with pronated hands (palms down) and a set with supinated hands (palms up). During the dislocates or pass-throughs, keep your arms straight and focus on not allowing your upper back to compensate for any lack of shoulder mobility. Narrower hands will be reserved for better mobility.

Inchworm Push-Ups

With a semi-wide stance, slowly walk your hands out to a push-up position and perform a small set of push-ups. Then walk your hands back up and repeat 3-5 times.

External and Internal Rotations

These can be done with a light plate or dumbbells. There’s no need to go over 5 lbs on these per hand.

Cuban Press

Using the same light weights, perform cuban presses. Focus on bringing elbows up first and making a straight line across from arm to arm (think scarecrow). Rotate from the shoulder joint to get your forearms vertical, then press up and reverse it back down. This needs to be controlled. If 5lbs is too much, go lighter!

Lateral Raise

Again, light weights are being used. Try not to rotate your hands as you raise them. Aim to touch the back of your hands together at the top and avoid shrugging or using your neck.

Bent Over “T”

Hinge at the hips and bring the weights up into a T shape. Thumbs stay pointing toward the ceiling throughout the movement. At the top, shoulder blades come together. At the bottom, shoulder blades move away from one another.

Overhead Carry

This is an excellent stability exercise. If you are going overhead in a workout, do a couple of 50 foot walks on each arm. A dumbbell or kettlebell will work for this. Make sure to choose a weight that allows you to keep the elbow locked out and “lock-in” the weight over the shoulder. Pull your ribs down to the ground to avoid compensation in the spine.