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The 8 Best Shoulder Warm Up Exercises For Before Your Workout

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With most of us rather busy and pressed for time, we often feel inclined to load up the barbell and jump right into our first set of shoulder presses or bench presses during our upper-body strength training workouts.

However, particularly if you are going to be lifting heavy weights, it is important to do shoulder warm up exercises before hitting your first set.

The best shoulder warm up includes different shoulder warm up exercises such as a rotator cuff warm up exercise, and shoulder warm ups for all three parts of your deltoids.

But, what are the best shoulder warm ups to perform before a workout? Should you do your shoulder warm up with bands or weights?

In this article, we will discuss if you need to do shoulder warm-ups and then give you step-by-step instructions on how to perform the following best shoulder warm up exercises:

Let’s dive in! 

A face pull shoulder warm up exercise.

Do I Need to Do Shoulder Warm Ups?

Although it is tempting to launch right into your strength training workouts and skip a good shoulder warm up routine, performing shoulder warm-up exercises before you hit the main set in your upper-body workouts is very important.

The shoulders are the most mobile joints in your body, allowing for a large range of motion in flexion and extension, horizontal abduction and adduction, and internal and external rotation.

Warming up your shoulders before your shoulder workouts and arm workouts will help make sure that your shoulder muscles are ready to go and your connective tissues and shoulder joints are moving properly.

A good shoulder warm up routine will prime this relatively unstable joint for exercises such as the bench press, overhead press, pull-ups, push-ups, rows, and other lifting exercises.

In this way, your shoulder warm up reduces the risk of injury and helps you start the first main set of your workout, firing on all cylinders for better performance.

The Best Shoulder Warm Up Routine

Here are some of the best shoulder warm up exercises:

#1: Arm Circles

Begin your shoulder warm up with forward and reverse arm circles, gradually increasing the size of the circles you are making as you go.

#2: Band Pull-Aparts

This is a great shoulder warm up with bands. It will specifically target your posterior deltoids and will also activate your rhomboid and upper traps.

You can also use this shoulder warm-up resistance band exercise between sets in bench press or overhead press workouts to keep your shoulders warm and mobile.

Here is how to do this shoulder warm up exercise with resistance bands:

  1. Grab a resistance band with a light or medium resistance.
  2. Use an overhand grip with your palms facing the floor and space your hand shoulder-width apart along the band.
  3. Straighten your arms directly out in front of your body parallel to the floor.
  4. Contract your rhomboids to squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull the band apart, sweeping your arms towards the outsides of your armpits.
  5. When you can move no further, or the band touches your chest, slowly return to the starting position. 

#3: Resistance Band Lateral Raises

This is another great shoulder warm up exercise with resistance bands, and it can also be used for home shoulder workouts when you do not have access to weights.

This shoulder warm-up will activate your middle deltoid, particularly the lateral fibers, and preps your shoulders for pressing exercises.

Here are the steps to perform this shoulder warm up with a resistance band:

  1. Stand in the center of a resistance band with both feet spaced hip-width apart. Hold one handle of the band in each hand with your arms straight down by your sides.
  2. Keeping your core and glutes tight and your shoulders down and away from your ears, bring your straight arms directly out to the sides until they are parallel to the ground like a giant letter T. 
  3. Slowly return your arms to the starting position.

#4: Face Pulls

Face pulls are a great resistance band shoulder warm up exercise, or you can perform them by using a cable machine. They will help activate all of the muscles in your shoulder while strengthening your core and posterior deltoids.

For this reason, it is a great shoulder warm up exercise for workouts that include deadlifts and overhead presses.

Here are the steps for how to perform this shoulder warm up exercise with bands:

  1. Anchor the resistance band or set the cable pulley to a height that is just above your face.
  2. Step back, holding one handle of the resistance band in each hand until there is tension in the band.
  3. Retract your shoulder blades, squeezing them together and pulling your shoulders down away from your ears.
  4. Pull the cable towards your face, bringing the handles in as close to your face as possible so that the handles pass just by the side of your face as if grazing your temples.
  5. Hold the contraction, squeezing your shoulder blades together for at least 2 to 3 seconds.
  6. As slowly as possible, return the band to the starting position. There should be tension in the band at all times, so make sure you are standing far enough away from the anchor point.

#5: Y’s, T’s, W’s, and A’s

These are excellent rotator cuff warm up exercises. You can use light dumbbells if you are strong enough; otherwise, just start with body weight.

Once you can do 15 reps without weight, you should add dumbbells.

Here are the steps:

  1. You will begin with the “Y” exercise. Lie on your stomach with your legs straight, your forehead resting on a rolled hand towel, and your arms up overhead like a giant letter Y. 
  2. Lift your arms up while keeping the rest of your body down on the floor. Slowly lower your arms back down.
  3. Perform 15 reps.
  4. Then, bring your arms out to the side like a giant letter T. Lift your arms up off the ground by squeezing your upper back muscles. 
  5. Slowly lower your arms back down.
  6. Perform 15 reps.
  7. Now, bend your elbows and bring your arms up and out to the sides of your ears so you form the letter “W.” 
  8. Squeeze, lift, and lower 15 times.
  9. Then, straighten your arms and bring them down by your hips at a 45-degree angle from your shoulder like a capital letter A. 
  10. Squeeze, lift, and lower 15 times.

#6: High Plank Lateral Walks

This is a great shoulder mobility exercise to include in your shoulder warm ups, and it will also strengthen your core, shoulders, chest, and upper back muscles.

Here are the steps for this shoulder warm up exercise:

  1. Get in a push-up position so that your palms are on the floor stacked under your shoulders and your toes/balls of your feet are on the floor behind you. Your body should be in a straight line from your head to your heels throughout the entire movement.
  2. Step your right foot and right hand simultaneously out to the right side of your body while keeping your hips square to the floor and in line with your body.
  3. Step your left hand and left foot toward the newly repositioned right hand and foot so that you are back in a push-up position.
  4. Then, step the left hand and left foot together at the same time to the left side and follow with the right.
  5. Keep going for 60 seconds.

#7: Banded Overhead Reaches

This is a good shoulder mobility warm-up exercise.

Here are the steps: 

  1. Place a mini loop resistance band around your wrists and straighten your arms out in front of your body, pointing downwards towards your feet.
  2. Throughout the duration of the shoulder mobility exercise, be sure that you keep your core as tight as possible.
  3. Separate your arms so that there is a good amount of tension on the band throughout the movement.
  4. Keeping your arms straight, raise your arms straight up overhead while maintaining tension on the band. Go as far as you can up and backward without bending your elbows. 
  5. Slowly return to the starting position.

#8: Shoulder Mobility Clocks

This shoulder mobility exercise also strengthens your core, upper back, shoulders, and rotator cuff muscles.

Here are the steps:

  1. Get in a push-up position with a loop resistance band around your wrists. Maintain tension in the band at all times.
  2. Keeping your body as still and stable as possible, step one hand out at a time to each position of the clock, Right hand to 1:00, then back to neutral. Then out to 2:00, and back to neutral. When you get to 6:00, switch to moving the left hand to 7:00, 8:00, and so on.
  3. Perform five full cycles of the clock.

Once your shoulders are warmed up, try a push/pull workout routine.

A W exercise.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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