The shoulder is one of the most mobile joints on the body, which makes it an important area to warm-up or least provide some attention to before lifting heavy.
Fortunately, a great shoulder warm-up doesn’t need to be extravagant or incredibly time consuming.
This article is designed to equip you with tools to warm-up the shoulders before heavy lifts. To be strong in the shoulder press and its variants, it’s important to spend time prepping the three following areas:
- Shoulder Musculature (anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoids)
- Rotator Cuff (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis)
- Upper Back (traps)
All of the muscles listed above will assist in both producing force and strength at the shoulder joint, along with stabilizing it, which is a crucial performance characteristic for both strength athlete and general athletes.
Specificity of Movement
A fundamental key to a great shoulder warm-up is specificity: the right warm-up for the right workout. This entails performing preparatory exercises that either directly or closely mimic the main exercise that is going to be performed.
For many, this will look like overhead presses, jerks, and/or snatches.
To take it a step further, it’s a good idea to perform warm-up exercises with a ramping or similar intensity to the training intensity that will be performed. This is no-brainer for strength athletes who are prepping for a specific exercise with a high intensity. Specificity warm-ups will produce a better carryover to performance, as noted in research published in The Biology of Sport in 2015. (1)
In layman’s terms, this will look like increasing barbell overhead load in prep for heavy presses, or easing into jerks by increasing speed of the movement in relation to load.
Pre-Lift Shoulder Warm-Ups
Below, we’ve provided three different shoulder warm-ups that could be adapted in three specific sport scenarios. It’s important to note that the warm-ups below are merely suggestions and they can be manipulated to accommodate for individual needs by scaling or changing:
- Total Sets & Reps
- Exercise Selection & Order
In other words, feel free to manipulate or adapt the following advice as you see best to fit for your goals, needs, and experience level. It’s important to note that the below warm-ups are intended to prep the body for specific workouts and are not intended to replace rehab or pre-hab work.
Author’s Note: Complete the following warm-ups with as much rest time as you need to flow from one exercise to another. Keep movements lighter with shorter rests to get into training faster, or take more time in-between each exercise if you like working slower!
Barbell Overhead Press Workout Warm-Up (Simple)
For the overhead press, simple is often better. Throughout this warm-up, the first three sets will be performed in a superset fashion, then the warm-up will shift solely to a loading focus.
Total Time: 5-10+ minutes
- Barbell Overhead Press x 10
- Bottoms Up Kettlebell Press x 5 each arm
- Barbell Overhead Press x 8
- Bottoms Up Kettlebell Press x 5 each arm
- Barbell Overhead Press x 6 @50% working weight
- Barbell Overhead Press x 4-5 @65-70% working weight
- Barbell Overhead Press x 3-4 @80-90% working weight
Again, the above warm-up is intended to be quick and dirty and to get you right into your working sets. Add whatever you’d like to beef up the warm-up and help you feel prepped for heavy sets.
The snatch is highly specific in nature and will require the most prep out of pretty much of every exercise that you can perform in the gym.
Total Time: 8-12 minutes
- Band or Dowel Over and Back x 10 reps
- KB or DB Overhead Carry x 20 steps (10 ea leg)
- Barbell Overhead Squat x 10 reps
- Barbell High Snatch Pull x 8 reps
- Barbell Muscle Snatch x 6 reps
- Barbell Snatch Balance x 6 reps
The snatch is an exercise that has individuality written all over it, and with so many different discrepancies between an athlete’s training history, current strength, and training level, then it’s important to build a string of warm-up exercises that prep the body best.
Barbell Overhead Press Workout Warm-Up (Dynamic)
If you’re prepping the body for the overhead press and like a longer warm-up, then check out the below option. This warm-up will prep the traps, rotator cuff and shoulder muscles.
Total Time: 7-10 minutes
- 3 Rounds
- Bottoms Up Kettlebell Press x 5 reps each arm
- Seated DB External Rotations x 6 reps each arm
- Resistance Band Overhead Press x 6 reps (tempo: 3232)
The above circuit is great for prepping the shoulders as a whole for the recreational athlete that wants a well-rounded warm-up.
Other Exercises Worth Considering
On the quest for other exercises to include in a shoulder warm-up? Try adding some of the following into your current warm-up as you see fit!
- Kettlebell Windmill
- Banded Face Pull (plus press)
- Prone/Incline YTWs
- Carries (dumbbells, kettlebells, single-arm/double-arm)
This is only a small list of exercises that can be performed to prep the shoulders for heavy training. Have a warm-up that you love or exercise that isn’t mentioned above? Share below!
Feature image from @phdeadlift Instagram page.