Today is the last part of the “Muscle Activation – Hit all Muscle Fibers” Series!
This last year I researched a lot about training for proper posture and prevent Shoulder Injuries. My shoulders are slouched forward due to scoliosis, thus my chest muscles shorten and my Upper Back muscles get stretched. This caused me not only Upper Back but also Neck Pain.
Also, my mother has a rheumatic disease which affects the Bursa of her Shoulder joint.
Since I have been doing the following exercises myself and with my mother, we are both pain-free! My posture has improved and my mother does not have inflammation in her shoulder joint anymore.
The Shoulder Muscles
As you can see in the picture above, the deltoid muscle has three parts.
Together, the deltoid abducts your arm along the frontal plane (raises your arm to the side). You can achieve maximal contraction of the fibers during abduction when the arm is slightly medially/ internally rotated. Also, the deltoid assists in elevation of your arms to the front.
The anterior fibers mainly abduct your arm and are activated when the shoulder joint is externally rotated. It also works together with the Chest Muscles (Pectoralis major) to internally rotate the shoulder joint.
The lateral fibers’ main task is to simply abduct the arm. They are mostly activated when your arm is internally rotated.
Lastly, the posterior fibers (rear delts) are the most important for proper posture. They help to externally rotate the shoulder joint and abduct your arms (raise to the side) and assist the Latissimus dorsi and Upper Back in rowing movements.
If you look at the picture above closely, you will remark that the shoulder joint is not very stable and there are not many ligaments to protect the joint. Thus, the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint need to be strong. Whenever you carry a heavy bag or weights, you will notice that your arm slightly abducts (raises to the side), to prevent dislocation of the femur head.
Also, when you elevate your arms, the femur head could compress against the under-surface of the acromion. To prevent this, the deltoid muscle works together with the Rotator cuff muscles.
In the following, I will share my favorite exercise for each muscle fibers of the deltoid muscle and the Rotator cuff muscles.
This way, you will be able to safely lift heavy weights/ bags and hopefully prevent shoulder joint issues.
Exercises for the Posterior Deltoid Muscle
There are many different variations of this exercise but I like these two the most. When you are doing the Reverse Fly, contract your whole Upper Back too and push your shoulder blades down to activate the Lats as well. You can also do partial repetitions: This means that you keep your arms in the elevated position and just move the weight slightly up and down. This isolates the Rear deltoid muscle.
When you are doing the standing variation, make sure to contract your Abdominal muscles and your Glutes. You do not want to round or overextend your lower back.
Make sure you start with bodyweight and slowly work your way up in weight. The rear deltoid is a small muscle, thus it takes time to build strength.
Push up with Rear deltoid activation
This is my favorite variation of a Push up. The Push up is a full-body exercise on its own but with this trick, you really activate the Upper Back and Rear deltoid muscles. In a push up position (either from your knees or toes), push your hands apart as much as you can and then lower your body. Keep your elbows close to your body to protect the shoulder joint and simultaneously work the tricep muscles. Your body should be parallel to the ground and form a straight line. Contract your Abdominal and Glute muscles as tight as you can. At the bottom of the motion, your shoulder blades should touch and your Upper Back should be maximally contracted. Now, push yourself up my creating force with your hands and feet, keeping your body stable. Breathe in when you lower, breathe out as you push up.
If you do the Push up exercise this way, you will not be able to complete many repetitions. Remember though, what matters is the quality of the movement, not the number of repetitions.
Back Bow Airplane
The Back Bow is an excellent exercise for the whole Back muscles. If you hold your arms to your sides like a plane or bird, the Rear deltoid muscles get activated much more.
Bench lying Reverse Fly
This is basically the Reverse Fly exercise but you are lying on the Bench. Thus the exercise gets a little bit easier, as you do not need to pay attention to your lower back position that much.
This exercise hits the Rear deltoid, as well as the Rotator Cuff muscles that help to externally rotate the shoulder joint. When you pull the Band towards your face, make sure you are only using your Upper Back Muscles and Rear delts. Once your arms have reached your face, slightly turn them so that the shoulder joint is externally rotated. Watch this video, as this is a complicated but very effective exercise.
Exercises for the Lateral and Front Deltoid Muscle:
This is by far the best exercise to build strength in the lateral fibers. There are many variations to this exercise that target different parts of the deltoid muscle. You can try it out yourself and choose the version you like best. To hit the posterior deltoid muscles too, you can hold your hands next to each other at the starting position (thumbs point at each other). Now, as you raise the weights, contract your Rear deltoid muscles, as well as the Upper Back.
You may not feel the muscles work right away, especially if you have not done the exercises targeting the rear deltoids yet. With time, you will notice your brain connects easier to the muscles and you will feel the proper muscles activate.
To say the truth, I rarely utilize this exercise in my own routines. The front deltoid muscle is oftentimes quite strong and does not need to be isolated during training. However, if you would like bigger shoulders, give this exercise a try. Make sure to contract your core during the motion.
Military Shoulder Press
This is a variation of the Shoulder Press that targets mostly the anterior and lateral fibers of the deltoid muscle. Again, keep your core contracted the whole time and make sure that you do not shrug your shoulders up. Before you start the exercise, push your shoulder blades down.
Exercises that involve all muscle fibers:
The Shoulder Press should not miss in any workout plan. Again, contract your Abdominal and Gluteal muscles and push your shoulder blades down. As you push the weight up, feel the stretch in your Upper Back. Always keep your arms slightly bended to protect your joints. As you lower the weight, contract your Upper Back and Lats muscles and control the motion. Do not lower the weights more than shoulder height.
One arm Shoulder Press
I like the one arm Shoulder Press because it allows you do address muscle imbalances. Everyone has a slightly stronger side, which is completely normal as our anatomic structure is not symmetrical. With training we can address those imbalances and prevent overuse injuries. The Shoulder Press done with one arm also engages your core much more.
Pike Push ups
You can certainly build healthy strong shoulders with bodyweight too! This is a very difficult exercise, but works all fibers of the deltoid muscle. As you lower your head between your arms, make sure you keep your arms close to your body as with the push ups. Push your shoulder blades down and feel your Back muscles work with this exercise too. The first time you try this exercise, do it from your knees. Then, you can progress to your toes and spread your legs wide apart. As you get stronger, take a narrow stance. For more difficulty, elevate your feet by stepping onto a small chair or even table.
Exercises for the Rotator Cuff Muscles
This is an excellent exercise to warm up before lifting weights. Make sure to Push your shoulder blades down and squeeze the Upper Back muscles. Don’t use heavy weight. This exercise activates the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint very effectively, thus you will feel the burn very quickly.
External Rotation with Bands
This is a standard rehabilitation exercise for the shoulder joint. Strengthening the muscles that externally rotate the shoulder joint prevents all kind of shoulder joint and muscle injuries. With this exercise, it is very important that you keep your elbows close among your body and never move them away. The motion may be small but you should feel it at the outside part of your shoulder and Upper Back.
Here is a Video by Fitnessblender, demonstrating other Exercises to hit all muscle fibers of the Rotator cuff:
Sample Workout for The Shoulders
- Scarecrows -15x
- External Rotation with Bands -15x
- Bodyweight Reverse Fly -15x
- Face Pull – 15x super set with Lateral Raises -15x
- Shoulder Press -8x super set with Lying/ Bentover Reverse Fly -10x
- One arm Shoulder Press – 10x super set with Back Bows -15x
- Pike Push up -10x super set with Standing Reverse Fly with Bands -15x
This concludes the Muscle Activation – Series! I hope you enjoyed reading and learned a few things.
Is there any other muscle group you struggle to activate? Speak up and I will write a post on that as well!
I wish you all a wonderful day!