The shoulders are capable of versatile movement, but they’re also prone to injury. From pushups to planks, from crab walks to triceps dips, the exercises we choose for our classes often demand closed-chain actions for the shoulders. But do our warmups adequately prepare the shoulder joint for these actions, which it rarely performs in everyday tasks? Additionally, we work the shoulder in open-chain positions with load in various planes of movement; do we test these patterns without load during the warmup, to assess the need for modifications?

As fitness instructors, we can help prevent injuries in our participants by giving the shoulders plenty of attention during the warmup, with both open- and closed-chain options, in all planes of motion. Select one or two exercises from each plane shown here, based on the moves you plan to teach, and do 8–16 reps each, 6–8 minutes total.

Sagittal Plane

The sagittal plane cuts through the midline of the body, dividing the left and right sides. Movement is from front to back and vice versa.

Sample exercises:

  • front/anterior raises
  • hammer overhead presses
  • rear deltoid raises

If you teach these with load, incorporate the following movement patterns into the warmup. Cue proper shoulder position and good posture.

Warmup exercises

(no load):

  • step-touches with front raises
  • hamstring curls with hammer overhead presses
  • air squats with rear raises, palms up (think “skier” arms/triceps straight-arm lifts)

See also: Shoulder the Load: Mechanics and Programming for Shoulders

Frontal Plane

The frontal plane divides the body in half, separating the front body from the back body. Movement is side to side.

Sample exercises:

  • lateral arm raises
  • wide overhead presses
  • upright rows

Remind participants to keep the neck relaxed during frontal-plane shoulder exercises.

Warmup exercises (no load):

  • plié squats with full-range lateral raises
  • alternating overhead presses (add toe taps)
  • ballerina calf raises with upright rows

Transverse Plane

The transverse plane divides the body in half from top to bottom and includes rotational movement. Rotators are often weak, so start participants with very light loads during the workout phase.

Sample exercises:

  • pushups
  • shoulder rolls
  • shoulder rotation

Warmup exercises (no load):

  • lunges, with arms straight or slightly bent laterally with hands and wrists “turning the doorknob”
  • low and/or high wall plank with scapular depression/elevation and flexion/extension (important if doing pushups during class)
  • high-knee march with “jacket openers”: arms bent 90 degrees, palms up, arms open to sides, then returning to midline

See also: Shoulder Pain and Injury Prevention

Oblique Plane

While not often considered one of the primary planes of motion, the oblique plane is arguably the most functional. A sample exercise is straight-arm diagonal raise across the body, with a resistance band.

Warmup exercises (no load):

  • figure-eight shoulder rolls in plié hold with alternating heel raises
  • alternating front step/stomp with straight-arm Y lifts, palms up/down (4 counts each phase)
  • twisting plié squats with “Charlie’s Angels” arms

By incorporating a variety of movements from all planes, you will offer an effective, creative, safe and thorough warmup for the complex, versatile shoulders.

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