The Lawn Mower Exercise Is the Key to Stronger Shoulders

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Have you ever tried the lawn mower exercise? And no, I’m not referring to pushing a metal device across your front yard to trim the grass. The lawn mower exercise is a type of row that can help build scapular stabilization. And if you’ve never heard of it, that’s not entirely surprising, considering that most of us skip shoulder stabilizing moves altogether. But the benefits of the lawn mower exercise make it worth adding to your usual workout routine.

Here’s everything you need to know about this underutilized strength move, including how to do a lawn mower exercise with proper form and how to incorporate it into your own fitness routine.

The Benefits of the Lawn Mower Exercise

The biggest draw of the lawn mower exercise is that it can help support and build shoulder strength. Now, it’s worth noting that the shoulder is a pretty complex area of the body. The shoulder girdle includes the clavicle and the scapula. And there’s a collection of joints — ternoclavicular (SC), acromioclavicular (AC), scapulothoracic, and glenohumeral. Plus, other scapular muscles, including the upper trapezius, lower trapezius, pectoralis minor and serratus anterior, work together to place the scapula in optimal position for shoulder function, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).

So, how does the lawn mower factor into all this? This exercise is a multi-joint movement that engages the lower trapezius (traps), serratus anterior, and other back muscles, all of which play a role in supporting and stabilizing the shoulder.

Why does this matter, exactly? Well, research in the journal Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy suggests that individuals with alterations in scapular position are at a higher risk of shoulder injury, and it can hurt fitness performance. But, on the flip side, prioritizing this part of the body can help set you up for strength-building success.

As an added bonus, if you do the move correctly, it also engages the muscles in your core and lower body.

Lawn Mower Form Tips

As the name of the exercise implies, this movement mimics starting a lawn mower. That means that while it’s a type of row, you’re going to be adding in some rotation, rather than moving your arm straight up and down.

Proper form includes keeping a wide split stance, hinging forward at your hips, and maintaining a strong, flat back. It’s also crucial to engage your core muscles as you move through this exercise — not only will this help strengthen that part of your body, but it will also protect your back and ensure you’re getting the most out of the exercise.

Now, it’s also important to note that the “lawn mower” refers to the movement itself, and it isn’t tied to a specific type of resistance — so you can perform a lawn mower with dumbbells, resistance bands, cable machines, or even your own body weight.

However, before you go reaching for some heavy weights, check in with your shoulder mobility. If it’s subpar, you could be setting yourself up for injury, or just an inefficient workout. How can you tell? Try this: stand with your back, shoulder blades, and wrists against a wall, with your hands overhead. If you can’t slide your arms down while keeping all those touchpoints against the wall, your mobility could likely use some attention. If that’s the case, start with a bodyweight lawn mower and other shoulder mobility exercises.

How to Do a Lawn Mower Exercise

  • Get into a split stance position, with your left foot forward and right leg back. Keep a slight bend in both knees.
  • Hinge at the hips to bend slightly forward, and keep your back flat. Engage your core. Extend your right arm towards your left foot.
  • Rotate your torso slightly, pull your elbow up and back while keeping your arm close to your body, and imagine bringing your hand towards your pants pocket. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and down.
  • Using control, bring your hand back down to the starting position.
  • Complete all reps, then repeat on the other side.

Lawn Mower Alternatives and Variations

As mentioned, there are a number of ways to do this exercise, using different types of resistance. You can opt for bodyweight only (which is best if you’re still honing shoulder mobility or recovering from a shoulder injury), resistance bands, cables, or dumbbells. To make this exercise more challenging, you can simply scale up the weight.

However, if you want to try an alternative to the lawn mower exercise that still targets similar muscles, consider one of these moves instead.

Plank Row

This type of row really targets your core and challenges your shoulder stability, as you work to maintain your plank form while rowing with alternating arms. It also hits your lats, rhomboids, and traps.

  • Start in a plank position with a dumbbell in each hand (or simply try bodyweight).
  • Row one dumbbell up to your chest while stabilizing with the other arm. Engage your core to keep your hips from rotating.
  • Lower the dumbbell back to the ground and alternate sides.

Deadlift Row

This exercise combines the classic row with a deadlift, which means it challenges your lower back, glutes, hamstrings, traps, and core in one move.

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, hinge at the hips and knees to grasp a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Keeping your back flat, lift the weights up and back, squeezing your shoulder blades together and keeping your elbows close to your body.
  • Lower the dumbbells back down with control.

Superman

The superman is a nice bodyweight alternative to the lawn mower. It can similarly help strengthen your back and shoulders, without excessive strain.

  • Lie face down on the floor with arms extended in front of you.
  • Lift your arms, chest, and legs off the ground simultaneously, holding the position briefly before lowering back down.

Kristine Thomason is a lifestyle writer and editor based in Southern California. Previously, she was the health and fitness director at Mindbodygreen and the fitness and wellness editor at Women’s Health. Kristine’s work has also appeared in POPSUGAR, Travel + Leisure, Men’s Health, Health, and Refinery29, among others

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