Body Parts: Four exercises for your shoulders

In this “Body Parts” series, Dimity McDowell gets you in playing shape, from head to toe.

Body part: Shoulders

What they do:Super mobile and surprisingly delicate, the shoulder joint aids in lifting, stabilizing, supporting and rotating the arms. They play a part in any movement that involves your arms, whether it’s giving them a solid platform from which to move or aiding them in movement. “Because of the tremendous range of motion, it’s one of the most unstable joints in the body,” says Joseph Potts, a strength and conditioning coach and owner of TopSpeed Strength & Conditioning in Kansas City, Mo. “In order to have injury-proof shoulder muscles, you have to stay on top of keeping them strong year-round.”

Used most commonly when you: Pitch or throw a softball; pump your arms in cross country or track; pass, set or spike in volleyball; hit any stroke in tennis or golf; hold a bat, lacrosse stick or field hockey stick; do push-ups or downward dog; and generally just move in any athletic motion.

Here are four exercises to strengthen your shoulders:

1. Overhead press

How to: Holding a 15-25 pound dumbbell in either hand — go lighter if need be — begin with your elbows bent, upper arms close to your sides, palms facing forward, knees bent slightly. Keeping your abs engaged, push both weights overhead in one smooth motion, so that your arms are nearly straight. Lower; do 8-10 reps, 2-4 sets. Note: if your sport requires regular overhead motion — volleyball players, tennis players, javelin throwers, freestyle swimmers, softball players — change your grip so that your palms face each other, as these volleyball players are demonstrating in the picture. “Switching the grip avoids the chance of impingement of the tendon that connects the bicep muscle to the shoulder,” Potts says. “Repeated impingement over time can cause that tendon to tear.”

2. Y’s and T’s

How to: Bend at the hips with a straight spine and hold a 5-pound weight in each hand. Keeping your upper body still and neck in line with your spine, let your arms extend straight underneath you, palms facing each other. Then raise your arms overhead so your body forms a “Y” shape. Return to the start; do 3 sets of 10. Staying in that position, extend your arms straight out from the shoulder, so that your body forms a “T”. Do another 3 sets of 10.

3. L’s

How to: Lie on your left side, left arm extended, head resting on your left forearm. Hold a 5-pound dumbbell in your right hand. With a 90-degree bend in your elbow, cement your right upper arm to your right side. Using just your forearm, lower the weight so that your right palm comes down toward your hip, then raise it back so that your forearm is perpendicular to the floor. One rep done; do 3 sets of 10, then switch sides.

4. Lateral Raise

How to: Stand with 10-pound weights in either hand (go lighter or heavier, if need be), abs engaged, knees slightly bent. Arms hang by your sides, palms facing in. In one smooth motion, raise both arms out to the side until shoulder-height, then slowly lower down. Do 2-4 sets of 8-12 reps.

Let’s hear it for the shoulders: “In volleyball, the shoulders are probably the most used body part. They need to be stable for passing, strong and controlled for swinging and serving. They connect the ball to your core. When my shoulders are strong, my arms swing faster, my serve is more powerful and I have more control. I can stop and start motions, which is key: having power without stability can lead to injury.” -- Aubrey Rumore, junior, defensive specialist, Bishop Miege (Shawnee Mission, Kan.)