Working out is an outlet for many, and care should be taken to make sure it’s done safely. Weight training, while common, can be rough on your shoulders, especially if you already have a shoulder injury.
If you have a bad shoulder, working out with weights is generally not a great idea and can lead to further injury. Weight-free exercises, like the hanging arm pendulum, towel mobility exercises, and utilizing resistance bands can be great alternatives.
Utilizing resistance training and undergoing rehab are two of the best things you can do for your shoulder as an active person with an injury. Let’s go over a few of your options in better detail, to help you figure out the best move for you!
Questions To Ask Before Self-Rehabilitation
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends seeing a specialist if your shoulder is too stiff and you cannot rotate your arm normally, you feel like your shoulder could pop out of the socket, or you don’t have the shoulder strength to carry out normal activities. This article is running on the assumption that you have already sought medical advice and is not to replace a physician’s care/diagnosis.
Common Reasons for Shoulder Injuries
There are 3 common reasons for a shoulder injury – instability, impingement, and/or stiffness. These impairments can come from many different reasons from trauma to genetics and lifestyle. Think baseball and swimming with repetitive arm motions over the head. For me, it was a combination of sports and being a heavy equipment mechanic in the military.
My Marine friends commonly say, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” In the case of injury and recovery, this is not the case. Pain is our friend, and is our body’s way of telling us that something is wrong. With the exercises below, remember that if you are feeling pain, stop and evaluate what you are doing. Is your form correct? Are you using too much resistance? Try modifying those aspects and try again, but if the pain persists, you’ll want to see a medical provider for a more thorough evaluation.
We initially want to help the recovery of our shoulder by doing exercises that do not include resistance to our shoulder. Using mindfulness to focus on how our shoulder is feeling is going to be of the utmost importance in this initial stage. The below exercises are perfect for feeling out just how our shoulder is doing.
These weight-free exercises will allow you to test and evaluate how your shoulder is feeling. If you are not feeling pain while doing these exercises, feel free to move on to the resistance band training in the next section.
Hanging Arm Pendulum
This exercise requires a chair, table, or other stationary and stable object that you can support yourself while leaning forward. While bending forward and supporting your weight with the opposite arm, slowly swing your arm in a forward/backward manner. Imagine a yo-yo at the end of a string just slowly swinging back and forth in a relaxed fashion. This is what you are aiming for. Continue for 10 repetitions and then repeat using the opposite arm.
Once you are comfortable with the first stage, you can move to the next with a left to right gentle swing of your arm. You’ll want to focus on how your shoulder is feeling as you do this so as not to aggravate the injury further. Continue for 10 repetitions and then repeat using the opposite arm.
Assuming you are not having any pain with the forward/backward and side-to-side pendulum, begin circling your arm in a circular pattern clockwise 10 times and repeat counterclockwise for another 10 repetitions.
Repeat session 3 times throughout the day. Shoulder Injury Weight Training.
No, this exercise doesn’t need a mirror. We will be flexing differently with this one. This exercise can be done either lying down with feet flat and knees up or can be done while sitting in a chair.
If lying down, you will grasp your hands together with arms extended beginning at your legs, then with your arms extended and hands still clasped together, arc your hands up and over your head completing a half circle. Maintaining the extension of your arms, repeat the arc until your hands are back where they began.
If you are seated, follow the above explanation starting with your hands clasped in your lap, arms extended, and bringing your hands in a slow arc above your head ending with your arms pointing straight up into the air and back down again. Do not go past a 90-degree angle to the floor.
Repeat 10 times per session with 3 sessions a day. Shoulder Injury Weight Training.
Towel Mobility Exercise
This exercise can be done with a medium-sized towel. This exercise can be helpful if you have one good shoulder to support the injured one throughout the exercises. Using the end of a rolled-up towel in your left hand, place your hand behind you at the base of your head with the palm facing your neck. The towel should be behind your back, in line with your spine.
Take your right hand and grab the bottom of the towel at belt level with your palm facing away from your back. Gently raise your left hand until your right forearm is parallel to the ground.
Repeat this for 10 repetitions per arm with 3 sessions a day. Shoulder Injury Weight Training.
If you are able to do the above exercises without pain, you can move to the next stage of shoulder strengthening using resistance bands. Resistance bands can be great for rehabbing your shoulder by adding a little resistance to your shoulder workouts.
I personally like the handle-less bands as you can either tie a knot into each end or tie them together using a simple square knot that will securely connect the bands in a circle. I received mine from the VA, but Amazon has some similar inexpensive ones that are 5′ long and will do the job nicely.
Before going into the exercises, remember to ensure that the bands are anchored securely. You’ll want to do each of these exercises starting with just 1-2 sets and 10-15 repetitions per set. Again, secure these bands really well, or you may become famous on YouTube’s FailArmy channel…
Anchor the bands at elbow level. I like to secure mine to a door handle by folding the band in half looping the end around a doorknob and closing the door. Once the door is closed and you’ve ensured it won’t open, grasp both ends of the band in your left hand, with your right side towards the door. Maintain a 90-degree bend in your elbow, and move your left hand horizontally to your left. Then slowly bring your left hand back to the starting position. Repeat using the right hand.
This exercise is the exact opposite of the external rotation and can be done while the band is still secured. This time, we will take the end of the band in our left hand, keeping our left side closest to the door and stepping away until we have resistance in the band. We will start with the elbow at a 90-degree angle, but this time we will move our left hand toward our body with our left hand almost touching our stomach at the endpoint. Repeat with the right hand.