Fitness Trail: Protect the shoulder joint and lumbar spine |

Fitness Trail: Protect the shoulder joint and lumbar spine

Jackie Wright
The Fitness Trail

The dumbbell bench press, bent over row and biceps curl exercises are three, among dozens, of excellent exercises for strengthening the upper body. However, while many clients are familiar with these three exercises, due to a misunderstanding of the proper range of motion and stability requirements to perform each correctly, the shoulder joint/lumbar spine may be placed at risk. Consequently, this week a few do’s and don’ts are featured. As always, prior to beginning any exercise program, please consult your physician.

Dumbbell Bench Press – targets the pectorals, deltoids and triceps muscle groups


Begin supine (i.e. face up on the bench)

Choose an increment of weight that you are able to safely/successfully lift and lower with meticulous form.

Begin with the arms at a 90 degree angle at the elbow joint, at shoulder height/knuckles facing the ceiling.

Fully extend the arms at the elbow joint arcing over the sternum as you press up.

Lower the arms back to the 90 degree angle, slowly and repeat.


Use momentum to either press up or lower—work in both directions and “fight” gravity on the down/eccentric phase.

Lower the arms below the 90 degree position as this places tremendous pressure on the anterior aspect of the joint capsule of the shoulder joint and may lead to shoulder injury/instabilities (i.e. think rotator cuff). When performed properly, the pectoral muscles are 100 percent engaged!

Hit the chest with your dumbbells!

Unilateral Bent Over Rows – targets the latissimus dorsi, deltoids and biceps muscle groups


Choose a weight increment that will fatigue the latissimus dorsi within 8-12 repetitions. This is a large back muscle (i.e. wide part of the back) and will require heavier external resistance to create muscular strength improvement. However, due to the bent over position, you must consider the lumbar spine and your ability to stabilize your nose-to-toes core musculature, holding your position while executing the row.

Hinge from the hip joint, shoulders/hips/knees/toes all facing the same direction with the arm pit closed, initiating engagement of the muscle from posterior humerus moving it and the scapulae toward the midline of the spine.

Row directly back until the upper arm is at a 90 degree angle at the elbow joint parallel to the floor and then lower the arm slowly to the beginning position.


“Fall” out of your repetition allowing the weight of the dumbbell to drag the arm downward causing that side of the shoulder joint to drop beneath parallel. This may lead to shoulder injury/instabilities.

Rotate the spine. Think of this position as “anti-rotation” only moving the arm at the shoulder and elbow joint.

Use any momentum to lift or lower.

Standing Biceps Curls – targets the biceps muscle group


Choose a weight increment that will enable you to hold your ground during the exercise (i.e. no rocking/swaying).

Curl the forearm from approximately zero (extension) to 150 (flexion) degrees.


Lean back as you curl the arms hyperextending the lumbar spine which places unnecessary stress on the lumbar spine.

Move the shoulder joint—keep it “quiet” throughout.

Accelerate on the down phase of the exercise.

Compensate by “bucking” the hips which is momentum, not strength.

Jackie Wright is the owner/manager Mountain Life Fitness, LLC located in Granby, Colorado. She may be reached at her website at, her email at and her Facebook Page at Mountain Life Fitness.

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