In my youth, I had terrible and traumatic experiences with my shoulders separating and dislocating at various times during sports. I had my first reconstructive surgery at 18 years old on my right shoulder. This was the result of a year’s worth of extreme snowboarding accidents. Three years later, I was back on the operating table — this time for my left shoulder. After the second surgery, my upper body was extremely tight and rigid. Over the years, I had developed major issues with larger muscle groups in my upper body trying to overcompensate for the smaller, weaker muscles surrounding both of my shoulder joints. Even after months of physical therapy, I was worried I may have complications with my shoulders for the rest of my life.
In one of my final physical therapy sessions, my therapist recommended a series of ongoing stretches to help me regain functional strength in my shoulders and to train other areas of my upper body to stop overcompensating.
I refused to do the exercises. Not only was it going to hurt, but I didn’t want to risk putting my shoulders in harm’s way again. All I could think about was another painful dislocation. But I reluctantly began moving in and out of what I would later discover to be a yoga Vinyasa flow, or Sun Salutation. And guess what? It felt pretty good.
I went home and practiced the flow over and over again for weeks until I had complete confidence in both my shoulders’ strength and was able to rotate them completely, without pain. My doctor had told me I may never be able to perform certain movements again with my shoulders, but today, I have almost 100 percent full range. I can throw a ball faster than before, and I know my shoulders are stronger than ever without the slightest indication of instability.
I think a lot of people — men especially — have misconceptions about the benefits of yoga, perhaps mistakenly believing you have to already be thin and flexible. If this is your belief, I encourage you to try the following yoga-inspired routine. It’s similar to the routine I was first taught by my physical therapist. If you do any type of weight training, you’ve likely felt joint pain in your shoulders, knees and/or hips. This routine will help stabilize these joints and build supporting muscle. As you’ll see in the video above, even after many years of practicing my shoulders still wobble as the smaller muscle groups work to stabilize the weight of my body. This is a great stretching and strength workout in general with cardio benefits when performed in a circuit.
If you have experienced severe shoulder instability including separations and/or dislocations, please see a doctor first.
Max out on as many Hindu push-ups as you can. Similar to a Chaturanga in yoga, make sure to exhale through the push-up and inhale on your way up. Keep your legs as straight as possible throughout this exercise.
Plank Dog Pointers
Moving into plank position, exhale while bringing your opposite arm and leg out to a point. It’s important to focus on your core, keeping it tight and stable. Hold for three seconds on each side.
Side Plank Pose
The tendency is to push your butt out. Keep it in line with your body. Use your core to stabilize your hips. Try not to sag downward in the middle. Hold for three seconds on each side. I do a push-up in between sides for added strength training.