When it comes to shoulder rehab and training, weight bearing exercises and closed chain exercises are one of the safest and most effective ways to train for size and strength while maintaining healthy joints. During closed chain exercise the body parts doing the work are moving against the ground, or a fixed point. Think of a push-up or squat. Open chain exercise is the opposite, the body parts doing the work are pushing moving a non-fixed point in the air. Think of a bench press or leg extension machine. Closed chain exercises of the upper body increase co-contraction of the rotator cuff and the surrounding musculature. They help contribute to the shoulder’s stability during movement and allow the scapula to move freely. The resultant efficient glenohumeral and scapulothoracic mechanics make them a safe bet for shoulder health and a great exercise for both strength training and shoulder rehab.
The landmine is a hybrid of this closed vs. open chain exercise model. It is open chain in the idea that it the resistance is moving in the air, yet closed chain in the sense that it is still attached to a fixed point on the ground and just pivoting from it. The landmine helps to mimic the feeling of weight bearing, as it’s fixed attachment point on the ground creates a vastly different stimulus to the muscle than a true open chain exercise. The landmine press and it’s variations facilitate more scapular upward rotation and serratus anterior involvement than a typical bench press. It also doesn’t require shoulder extension, thus avoiding a potentially uncomfortable when loaded range of motion for some. This shoulder friendly movement is safe to load and strengthen across almost all populations.
The resistance of the landmine works on an arc, as the bar is fixed and rotating about a pendulum. The motion of every exercise is dictate by this arc, doing shoulder raises on this feels vastly different than using a dumbbell or cable/band. In addition to the grounding effect of the landmine, the rotational bar path can help to mimic PNF patterned shoulder exercises and movement in the scapular plane as well. This creates a functional bar path and movement for the shoulder during front and lateral raises. It is very rare that we use our shoulders in one plane of movement, yet that’s how we often train them with bands, cables, and dumbbells.
The landmine is great for hypertrophy work. It is relatively easy to use and low risk to “cheat” and try to squeeze out a few extra reps. The resistance can be quickly changed by choking down on the bar and decreasing the lever arm as well. These kinds of adjustments allow you to extend out a set for maximal time under tension and create an optimal environment for muscle growth. The landmine is also great for cheating reps, as you can use momentum to swing the bar in it’s set path, and then slowly lower. When hypertrophy and increased muscle size is the primary goal, there are times when this is appropriate, and even necessary. This swinging motion can allow you to complete the set and increase the metabolic stress on the muscle, a necessary evil for hypertrophy.
There are a few rehab specific ideas that make the landmine nice for regressions and lateralizations. The landmine becomes much lighter at the very top of the arc, as more of the bar is supported by the fixed point. This can be advantageous for overhead pressing and decreasing load at the top. A lighter training barbell can also be used to further decrease the load of the landmine. I highly recommend having a 15 lb. barbell for landmines in the PT clinic. This is a great complement to your other supported active motion exercises that are used to regain motion after shoulder surgery.
Without further adieu, the videos below highlight some of my favorite landmine shoulder variations:
Landmine Side-Facing Posterior-Lateral Raise-The side facing posterior lateral raise takes the bar path up and out, targeting the posterior and lateral delts as well as the external rotators.
Landmine Front-Facing Lateral Raise-The front facing lateral raise is more challenging, as the bar path ends up further away from the body. This is a good lateral delt focus movement.
Landmine Bent Over Raise-The bent over raise is a brutal posterior delt movement that also gets the upper traps involved at the end of the bar path. It has a face pull feel to it, as it requires a lot of scapular retraction and does not really “isolate” the rear delts.
Landmine Strict Standing Press-The standing press is by far the landmine shoulder exercise I use the most. It facilitates incredible core support and serratus involvement as the bar path moves up, and is an extremely comfortable and natural pressing motion. This can be made into a push press for more full body involvement: a great movement for athletes.
Landmine Triple Superset-Supersetting these exercises can be a very effective way to burn out your shoulders and create some extra stress leading to muscle growth. In this 3-exercise combo I did half kneeling rear raises, front facing lateral raises, and side facing posterolateral raises: 5 reps of each.
Landmine Standing Scap Press-I call this the “C” press or scapular plane landmine press. The goal here is to flare the elbow and allow the arm to move closer to the scapular plane. The idea is to facilitate more scapular upward rotation. I will also sometimes encourage a trunk rotation away at the top here to create more shoulder flexion.
Dr. Teddy Willsey, DPT, CSCS, is the director of sports medicine at Healthy Baller, a sports performance gym located in Rockville, MD, a suburb of Washington D.C. In addition to his daily practice, Teddy writes, speaks, and posts on social media regularly with the goal of educating therapists, fitness professionals, and recreational exercises on practical approaches to exercise and rehabilitation with a sports medicine and performance focus. Teddy’s work can be found on Instagram: @strengthcoachtherapy