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5 Best Shoulder Exercises for Osteoporosis

Dressing in the morning. Grooming yourself in the mirror. Cleaning the house. Imagine if you could no longer take care of these everyday tasks by yourself…

That’s your independence right there.

Well, approximately 14% of folks aged 65 and over need assistance with such tasks. 

Why are so many older folks struggling with activities most people take for granted? Well, a big factor is shoulder strength…

As you get older, you start to lose muscle mass (the condition is called sarcopenia). The amount of muscle loss varies from person to person, but research suggests the average rate for people over 70 is 5 to 1% of loss per year.

Now, your shoulders are crucial for performing activities like the ones I listed above, but people often overlook them in favor of exercises that solely target the arms. But if the muscles in your shoulders become too weak, you’ll start to struggle with those basic activities… As well as your independence.

That’s why I’ve put together a list of the top shoulder exercises – with videos – to help you stay mobile, pain-free, and living life on your terms!


Alternating Front Dumbbell Raise

Why the alternating front dumbbell raise?

This exercise works your anterior deltoid– the muscle at the front of your shoulder. The anterior deltoid runs from your shoulder blade, across your shoulder to the top of your humerus (the bone of your upper arm) and is the primary muscle for lifting your arms up in front of your body. So you need strong anterior deltoids for things like reaching for the top cupboard and lifting heavy grocery bags up on to the counter!

Two birds, one stone bonus: The alternating front dumbbell raise also works a trio of secondary muscles. Your pectoralis major (the primary muscle in your chest), biceps brachii (the muscle in your upper arm), and your serratus anterior (the muscle that spans the upper eight or nine ribs) all assist your anterior deltoid with this exercise.

Here’s how to do the exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold one dumbbell in each hand with your knuckles facing down towards the ground.
  3. Lift your right hand out in front of you and raise it until your arm points straight out in front of you, parallel with the floor.
  4. Don’t raise your hand above your shoulder.
  5. Gently lower your hand back down to the starting position, and repeat the motion with your left hand.
  6. Repeat the action 10 times for one set (5 on each side), and complete 3 sets in total. Take a short break (around 30 seconds) between each set.

Tailor the exercise to you: You don’t need a lot of weight to reap the benefits of this exercise. Start light, and if you reach a point where you feel the exercise is far too easy, try the next weight up.


Scaption

Why the scaption?

The scaption exercise primarily works your rhomboids– the muscles in your upper back. Now, your rhomboids are responsible for pulling your shoulders together, so they’re essential for actions like scooping up a big pile of laundry or giving someone a hug!

What’s more, the scaption can help strengthen your rotator cuff too. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that stabilize your shoulder joint. And get this; rotator cuff issues are one of the leading causes of shoulder pain. In fact, over 4.5 million people in America visit a physician every year with rotator cuff issues! So it pays to give yours a little attention.

Two birds, one stone bonus: The scaption exercise is also great for your posture as it can help strengthen the muscles in the middle of your back.

Here’s how to do the exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Hold one dumbbell in each hand with your knuckles facing down towards the ground and your palms facing each other.
  3. Bring both dumbbells up in front of you, and slightly out to the side at the same time.
  4. Imagine you’re making a Y shape with your arms, but stop when you’re hands are about level with your shoulders.
  5. Gently lower your hands back down to their starting position.
  6. Repeat the action 10 times for one set, and complete 3 sets in total. Take a short break (around 30 seconds) between each set.

Tailor the exercise to you: Again, you don’t need a lot of weight to reap the benefit from the scaption exercise. Good form is more important than the amount of weight you use. So start light and perfect the motion before you try heavier weights.

Tip: If possible, perform the exercise in front of a mirror. It’ll help you see if you’re performing the exercise correctly.


Lateral Shoulder Raise

Why the lateral shoulder raise?

The lateral shoulder raise emphasizes all three deltoid muscles– anterior, medial, and posterior. (That means it works the front, middle, and back of your shoulders). So this exercise helps strengthen your entire shoulder! Plus, it promotes a full range of motion in your shoulders too.

Two birds, one stone bonus: Tense your core during the lifting stage of this exercise to strengthen your abdominal muscles too!

Here’s how to do the exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Hold one dumbbell in each hand and start with your arms by your sides with your palms facing in towards your hips.
  3. Slightly bend your knees to protect your lower back.
  4. Raise your arms out to your sides and lift them until your hands are in line with your shoulders. (You’re aiming to create a T shape with your torso and arms).
  5. Keep your spine straight and your elbows locked throughout the motion.
  6. Gently lower your arms back to the starting position.
  7. Repeat the action 10 times for one set, and complete 3 sets in total. Take a short break (around 30 seconds) between each set.

Tailor the exercise to you: You know the drill by now; you don’t need a lot of weight to reap the benefit from this exercise. In fact, the lateral shoulder raise works just as well with resistance bands if you’d prefer. Place your feet in the middle of your band, and hold a handle in each hand. Then complete the exercise as described above!


Tricep Press

Why the tricep press?

The triceps are the group of muscles located at the back of your arm. So why is exercising your triceps important for shoulder strength? Well, your triceps attach to your shoulder blade and could play a minor role in stabilizing the shoulder joint.

Two birds, one stone bonus: Studies show the tricep press (along with other upper extremity exercises like the lateral shoulder raise) can increase pulling strength and one repetition maximum strength too.

Here’s how to do the exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Hold one dumbbell behind your head with both hands. Your elbows should be pointing the way you’re facing, and your forearms should be facing the ceiling.
  3. Raise the dumbbell until your elbows are almost locked.
  4. Hold the dumbbell at the top of the lift for a second or two, and then gently lower it back down to the starting position.
  5. Repeat the action 10 times for one set, and complete 3 sets in total. Take a short break (around 30 seconds) between each set.

Tailor the exercise to you: I’m demonstrating the tricep press in a standing position here, but you can do it in a seated position too if you’d like a little extra back support. Or, you can even perform the tricep press lying down on a bench. Don’t overdo it with the weight though. Choose a weight light enough to allow you to go through the full range of movement.


Diagonal Shoulder Raise

Why the diagonal shoulder raise?

The diagonal shoulder raise works pretty much every muscle in your shoulder. And that includes your rotator cuff. (Remember, the rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that stabilize your shoulder. And rotator cuff injuries are one of the most common causes of shoulder pain!)

Two birds, one stone bonus: The diagonal shoulder raise mimics the motion of many everyday actions– like reaching for the top cupboard or starting a lawnmower!

Here’s how to do the exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Start with a dumbbell in your right hand, with your right arm crossed over your tummy, so the dumbbell is resting on your left thigh.
  3. Slightly bend your knees to protect your lower back during the lift.
  4. Lift the dumbbell up and across your body back to your right side until your hand is slightly above shoulder level. (The motion you’re looking to achieve is a little similar to that iconic dance move John Travolta performs dancing to the Bee Gees in “Saturday Night Fever”– without the hip thrusts though of course!)
  5. Gently lower the dumbbell back across your body to the starting position.
  6. Repeat 8-10 times and then mirror the action with the dumbbell in your opposite hand.

Tailor the exercise to you: Take your time with this exercise. Try not to “swing” the dumbbell through the repetitions. Each repetition should be a clean movement in itself. Tip: Exhaling during the lifting phase, and inhaling during the downward phase will help you stay in control throughout.


Shoulders, the Key to Independence

You use your upper body for a whole host of everyday activities. Brushing your teeth, tying your shoelaces, and playing with your grandchildren to name just a few.

It’s true that your arms are important for those activities too. But arms get a lot more attention than shoulders when it comes to exercise, so it’s time to give a little love to your shoulders… They’re essential to your independence after all!

Now, did you know your posture is an important factor for mobile, pain-free shoulders too? It’s true! A common look is a hunched back with the shoulders rolled forward. This causes pain in your shoulders because your scapular muscles become weaker as they’re overstretched. What’s more, this poor posture can also cause the muscles in the front of your chest to shorten and cause pain too!

But don’t worry, you can discover a couple of exercises that’ll help fix your posture and keep your shoulders pain-free in our “Simple Posture Exercises for Osteoporosis That Make a Difference” post.

I hope you find these shoulder exercises useful. And if you have any other shoulder strengthening exercises or tips you’d like to share, please let me know in the comments section below.

Author: Monica Straith, BS

Monica is the PR and Outreach Manager and Fitness Lead at AlgaeCal. She’s an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Specialist, and has a B.S. and B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she played varsity soccer for four years. Monica pulls from her experience in athletics and health to contribute to AlgaeCal and has also been featured on myfitnesspal blog, Prevention, and Huffington Post.

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