A few months back I hurt my shoulder performing bench press. I put on a little too much weight and let my form go and ended up with a sharp pain in my shoulder and the inability to sleep on my side or bench more than about 95 pounds without wincing. Luckily physical examination by my doctor and an MRI showed that I hadn’t torn anything or caused serious injury. A quick cortisone shot later and I was ready to start rehabing my shoulder. But, I’m determined to go beyond that. I want to build my shoulder health, mobility and strength beyond pre-injury. One movement that’s become the bread and butter of my shoulder routine is the shoulder dislocate.

It’s a movement I wish I had started doing the day I started lifting. Here’s your chance to learn from my mistake.

The Shoulder Joint

The shoulder joint is structurally classified as a synovial ball and socket joint and functionally as a diarthrosis and multiaxial joint. It involves articulation between the glenoid cavity of the scapula and the head of the humerus.

Shoulder Joint
Shoulder Joint

That anatomical mumbo-jumbo really means that the shoulder joint is incredibly complicated and is also the most mobile joint in the human body. Not only can the shoulder joint go through a full 360 degrees of motion, but it’s basically only held together by muscle, tendon, and ligament connective tissue. The scapula is the main driver of shoulder stability and it’s really nothing more than some bone held together with muscle and tendon that slides over other muscle. It’s not a very robust joint like ball and socket, hinge, saddle and pivot joints. Because of that, it’s vulnerable to instability which can result in injury.

Shoulder Injury

A lot of people blame certain exercises for shoulder injury. Instead of conceding that an exercise is too risky, for example, bench press is a common target, I would argue that it’s actually a person’s lack of preparation or condition that causes injury to the shoulder.

That’s why it is always more important to warm up, prepare the body for the movement, and execute each exercise with good form. It’s always important to be realistic about your current physical preparation before attempting a lift. And if you feel pain, stop.

The Shoulder Dislocate

In my years lifting I haven’t found a more bread and butter exercise for shoulder health, mobility, strength, and shoulder rehab after an injury than the shoulder dislocate. The movement puts your shoulder joint through its full range of motion which will buy you more mobility and help strengthen the shoulder along the way. Shoulder dislocate also give great opportunity for progression as you move from a resistance band, to a ridgid pole, to a narrower grip, to adding weight. I’ll go over that more below.

A lot of people have strength and mobility deficits in specific ranges of motion, I most commonly see issues with stability in front of the body to overhead – bench press, incline press, overhead press. The scapula is integral to straight arm strength and overhead stability, but is often overlooked. I see a lot of people who think arm strength is to blame when they can’t lock out an overhead press or bench press. Often that straight arm weakness is due to a compromised scapula which causes the arms to bend to take the load. The shoulder dislocate works the scapula through most all of its motions – rotation, retraction, depression, protraction, elevation and some tilting movement.

Here’s the what you need to know.

The shoulder dislocate is performed by holding a resistance band, broomstick, or towel in front of you horizontally, then you move your hands from in front of your body to behind your back in a circular motion over your head.

Shoulder dislocates will increase your shoulder health, mobility and strength if performed on a regular basis. I guarantee it.

Here is a great video of someone performing them:

Weighted Shoulder Dislocation

Video Link

Shoulder Dislocate Guidelines

  • It’s best to perform them with a stick. A ridgid stick allows for easy measurement of hand width to measure progress it also has some added benefit in bicep, forarm and wrist stretching.
  • If you lack the mobility to do them with a stick, start with a resistance band or towel.
  • Do them every day.
  • Start wide. You shouldn’t have to work through pain, pops, grinding or clicks to perform these. If you hear or feel those things go wider.
  • Keep a firm grip. Try and keep a firm grip on the stick throughout the motion.
  • Keep your arms straight during the motion. When you bend your arms, your scapula stops working right.
  • Slowly bring your grip on the stick inward until you reach around 1.5x your shoulder width. This will take awhile.
  • Add weight. Put a weight plate at the center of your stick. Go light, 3lbs or so to start. Add weight when you are once again able to do dislocates at 1.5x shoulder width.
  • Go slow. Good rep timing is about 5 seconds for one rep (front, back, front).

Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. If you have a shoulder injury, go to the doctor. I provide this stretch and advice to hopefully help you avoid injury, if you are injured you need a physical examination before any advice or a treatment plan can be given to you.