Best Shoulder Warm-Up Exercises to Try Before Your Overhead Lifts

by Evelyn Valdez

Having strong and rounded shoulders isn’t only attractive, but it’s also incredibly helpful when it comes to strength training. This is because a lot of upper-body and even some lower-body exercises use the shoulder joints to rotate your arms and move the weights around, or to hold your own weight.

Because they’re involved in so many movements, both inside and outside of the gym, your shoulders are at a higher risk of injury than other areas of your body. This means that you should take care of your shoulder health properly, and a great way to do this is to have a good warm-up before your routine!

Warming up your shoulders is especially important when you’re doing overhead lifts since you’ll be holding heavy weights over your head, which can be dangerous if done incorrectly. In this article, we’ll show you some of the best shoulder warm-up exercises that you can do to have a safer lifting session next time you step into the gym!

Band pull-apart

This warm-up movement will help improve the external rotation of your shoulders by pulling from both ends of a long resistance band, which you can find at UPPPER if you don’t have any! 

How to do it:

  1. Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and a long resistance band in your hands firmly grasped at each end with an overhand grip.
  2. Extend both arms in front of you while you hold the resistance band as if you were holding a steering wheel, and begin the movement by pulling from the band with both arms until they’re completely open and in line with your shoulders.
  3. Squeeze your shoulder blades in this position for a moment while you keep your core engaged, then bring your arms forward again and repeat.

Dumbbell shrugs

This is a popular shoulder strengthening exercise that you can do with a pair of dumbbells or a barbell for a more advanced challenge, but you can also do it without any free weights as a light warm-up exercise. You choose!

How to do it:

  1. Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and your shoulders down and back. You can choose to grab a pair of dumbbells, a barbell, or nothing.
  2. Keeping your chin up, begin the movement by shrugging your shoulders up. Make sure to drive them straight upward instead of rounding your back or shoulders.
  3. Hold this position for a moment, then lower your shoulders back to the starting position and repeat.

Wall slide

Also known as scapular slide, this is a great warm-up exercise to do before any overhead lifting session because it prepares your shoulders for that straight overhead movement while also improving your lifting posture.

How to do it:

  1. Find a smooth wall and stand with your back against it and your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Open your arms and press them against the wall on both sides, so that each arm is parallel to the floor and your forearms are pointing upward.
  3. With your shoulder blades pressed against the wall, begin the movement by sliding your arms upward without taking them off the wall until they’re completely pointing up along with your forearms.
  4. Hold this position for a moment, then go back to the starting position and repeat.

Face pull

This exercise is another popular shoulder strengthening exercise and it’s most commonly done with a cable machine, but you can also do it as a warm-up at home with a long resistance band attached to a high place.

How to do it:

  1. Find a long resistance band and attach it somewhere high, such as a pole in your backyard, or a power rack if you’re at the gym.
  2. Grab the loose end of the resistance band with both hands while you stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. Engage your core and begin the movement by pulling from the resistance band toward your face, drawing your elbows to the sides and back until the band almost touches your face.
  4. Hold this position for a moment while you squeeze your shoulder blades together, then slowly go back to the starting position and repeat.

Alternating chest hugs

This is a warm-up exercise that requires no equipment, so you can do it anywhere! It helps prepare your shoulders for exercises that involve wide ranges of motion, such as reverse flyes and pec deck flyes, as well as ease them for overhead presses.

How to do it:

  1. Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart with your arms open to your sides, as if you were preparing to give a big hug.
  2. Begin the movement by closing your arms in front of you, hugging yourself by touching your shoulders with the opposite hand.
  3. Open your arms again and perform this movement repetitively, alternating which arm goes up and down on each rep.

Single-arm banded lateral raise

You need to warm up your shoulders from every angle, and the banded lateral raise helps hit yet another one. During this unilateral movement, you’ll prepare your shoulders for pressing movements by warming up your lateral deltoids with a long resistance band.

How to do it:

  1. Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and loop a long resistance band around your right foot, so that you’re stepping on it.
  2. Grab the loose end of the resistance band with your right hand in a neutral grip and begin the movement by lifting your arm upward and to the side while pulling from the resistance band.
  3. When your arm is parallel to the floor, hold for a moment while your squeeze your deltoids, then bring your arm back down and repeat.
  4. Finish your reps and switch to the opposite side.

Pike push-up

Another bodyweight exercise, this time involving your lower body. The pike push-up is like a regular push-up, except your body will form a “pike” figure with your hips up in the air, aiding in balance and taking some of the pressure off your shoulders.

How to do it:

  1. Get down in a high plank position, with your hands and feet on the floor, then walk your hands and feet closer together until your glutes are up in the air and your body forms a triangle with the floor.
  2. Engage your core and begin the movement by doing a push-up, slowly bending at the elbows to lower your body until your head is near the floor.
  3. Hold this position for a second, then press back up to return to the starting position and repeat.

Banded internal and external rotation

The last exercise to make the list is yet another banded shoulder warm-up because resistance bands are a great piece of warm-up equipment. This time, you’ll be working on your internal and external shoulder rotation unilaterally.

How to do the internal rotation:

  1. Attach a long resistance band to a pole or a power rack at around hip height.
  2. Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and your right side next to the pole or rack, then grab the loose end of the resistance band with your right hand in a neutral grip. Your right arm should be close to your body and your elbow bent with your forearm parallel to the floor and pointing to the right. 
  3. Begin the movement by rotating your right shoulder while you drive your forearm to the front until it’s pointing directly forward. 
  4. Hold for a moment while you squeeze your deltoids, then go back and repeat.
  5. Finish your reps and switch to the opposite side.

How to do the external rotation:

  1. Attach a long resistance band to a pole or a power rack at around hip height.
  2. Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and your left side next to the pole or rack, then grab the loose end of the resistance band with your right hand in a neutral grip. Your right arm should be close to your body and your elbow bent with your forearm parallel to the floor and pointing to the left. 
  3. Begin the movement by rotating your right shoulder while you drive your forearm to the front until it’s pointing directly forward. 
  4. Hold for a moment while you squeeze your deltoids, then go back and repeat.
  5. Finish your reps and switch to the opposite side.

Have safer shoulder workouts by warming up properly

Warming up should be an essential part of any active person’s routine, whether you’re working out to improve muscle, endurance, power, or fat loss. And if you’re someone who enjoys overhead lifting in particular, or it’s just an essential part of your routine, warming up your shoulders will ensure that you achieve your fitness goals safely in no time.

Need long resistance bands to up your warm-up game?

UPPPER has your back! Our Long Resistance Bands Collection are highly durable, comfortable to use, and super stylish so you can have safer and more effective warm-ups and workouts while still looking great!

Find what your gym bag is missing at UPPPER Gear.

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