Get Mobile: Our 10 Favorite Shoulder Mobility Exercises
Whether you’ve had a shoulder injury, want to prevent an injury, or have mobility loss due to factors like age, shoulder mobility exercises can help.
Exercise isn’t all about getting stronger. Working on your mobility can help protect you, promote healing, reduce pain, and improve your quality of life. Shoulder mobility exercises also help supplement other muscle-building exercises for a well-rounded workout.
Which shoulder mobility exercises should you try? We’ve put together some of our favorites here, along with information to help you get the most out of them. Keep reading to learn what shoulder mobility exercises can do for you!
WHO NEEDS SHOULDER MOBILITY EXERCISES?
Having flexible shoulders is helpful for everyone. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons shoulder mobility exercises can help you, no matter where you’re at in your fitness journey.
The shoulder joint carries a lot of responsibility for the rest of your body. It has to offer mobility in many different directions, while also staying strong enough to do everything you need it to. You use your shoulders for basic tasks like lifting, reaching, and throwing.
The shoulder is actually one of the body’s most complex joints because it can move in so many different directions. Move your shoulders in every direction that you can, and then try doing the same with your wrists, ankles, or hips. Your shoulders can do things that other joints can’t!
Of course, that useful range of motion means there’s also a lot to lose, and your shoulders are prone to injury because they get used so heavily. Shoulder mobility exercises will help prevent injuries. If you injure your shoulder joint, it can seriously impact your quality of life for a long time.
REASONS YOU MIGHT LOSE MOBILITY
Lots of things can contribute to poor shoulder mobility. While shoulder mobility exercises are important for everyone, they’re extra-important for anyone with these issues.
“Use it or lose it” applies to the shoulders. If you don’t move your shoulder joint enough, your connective tissue becomes harder and thicker. This can create a “frozen shoulder” effect, which makes it difficult and painful to use the joint.
Typically, this issue begins with pain, which makes you move the shoulder joint less and less. As you stop moving the joint, it becomes even more difficult to move over time because you develop a frozen shoulder.
Sometimes, a traumatic injury can lead to frozen shoulder, or other shoulder mobility issues. These injuries can include dislocation, fracture, or soft tissue problems.
A rotator cuff tear is one of the most common injuries that affects shoulder mobility. The rotator cuff is made up of a group of tendons that surround the top of your humerus. When one of those tendons gets partly or completely torn, it’s a rotator cuff tear. Sometimes, these tears happen all of a sudden. But they can also happen gradually over time.
If you use your shoulders in a repetitive motion, you can get a gradual rotator cuff tear as the tendon wears down. You can also get other injuries that affect your shoulder mobility.
Many different activities involve repetitive motion. These injuries can happen to athletes, baristas, construction workers, and more. Sometimes, these symptoms appear so gradually that you may not notice the problem until you’ve lost a lot of mobility.
Tiny sacs called bursa surround the rotator cuff and help lubricate your joint. When you have shoulder impingement, your clavicle moves closer to your humerus, pinching your rotator cuff and surrounding bursa.
This condition causes a lot of pain and makes it much more difficult to move your shoulder. You might also have swelling in the affected area.
Arthritis can greatly reduce the mobility of many joints, including your shoulders. There are many different types of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are among the most common, but all of them can hurt your joints.
These conditions affect your joints and cause pain. Sometimes, you’ll lose mobility due to issues like swelling. Other times, the pain will cause you to use your shoulder less often, so you’ll lose mobility over time.
THE PARTS OF THE SHOULDER
Before you try shoulder mobility exercises, it’s helpful to understand the basic parts that create your complicated shoulder joint.
Your shoulder is where your upper arm bone (humerus), collar bone (clavicle), and shoulder blade (scapula) meet. Your shoulder blade and collar bone are connected by the AC (acromioclavicular) joint. But the main joint of the shoulder, the glenohumeral joint, connects your upper arm bone to the socket of your shoulder.
Many muscles and tendons also support this system. If you work out, you’re probably quite familiar with the bigger muscles of the shoulders, like your deltoids and trapezius (delts and traps). However, many smaller muscles and other tissues make your shoulder joint function correctly.
Your shoulder’s health depends on the whole system, not just some parts of it. For example, you’ll need strong back muscles to support the shoulders, not just strong delts and traps. And mobility also helps keep the entire shoulder area working smoothly.
WHEN TO DO SHOULDER MOBILITY EXERCISES
Shoulder mobility stretches can stand alone, or become part of your regular workout routine. Here’s how to seamlessly incorporate your shoulder mobility exercises.
BEFORE AND AFTER A WORKOUT
It’s always good to stretch before and after you exercise. Doing this helps protect you from injuries that can harm your shoulders and other body parts. It’s also a good idea to work with a trainer, at least at first, so you can make sure you’re doing the stretches properly.
You can also boost your exercise time by stretching in between your sets.
For example, if you’re doing weight training and focusing on your shoulder muscles, it’s a good idea to add stretches in between reps. Improving your mobility will protect you from injury, as well as helping you get more out of your workout.
ON THEIR OWN
Even if you’re not exercising regularly, you’ll still benefit from shoulder mobility exercises. Isolated stretches will promote your recovery from injury, prevent future injury, and make basic tasks that involve the shoulders easier. You can also do these stretches on your rest days between working out.
SHOULDER EXERCISE SAFETY
To stay safe while doing these shoulder mobility exercises, make sure to always stop if you run into severe pain. Don’t push yourself too far past your natural limits. Increasing mobility takes time, and it’s important to let it happen naturally.
Take care with your form while doing any shoulder exercises. It never hurts to book an appointment with a physical therapist who can teach you safety tips in person. However, if that’s not an option, try doing these exercises with a friend, or at least in front of a mirror, so you can be sure you’re doing them right.
However, we’ve selected shoulder mobility exercises with minimal safety risk. As long as you follow the instructions carefully, you can do these exercises with confidence. And you don’t need a gym membership — they’re designed for your home.
OUR 10 FAVORITE SHOULDER MOBILITY EXERCISES
Now, let’s get into the top ways to protect your shoulders now and in the future.
1. TOWEL STRETCH
Take a towel (about three feet long) and hold it behind your back, with one hand holding either end. Pull with your non-affected arm to stretch out the shoulder with mobility issues. Repeat the exercise 10 to 20 times.
Put a soft blanket or yoga mat on the ground, and lay down on your front, with one arm at your side. Stretch the other arm across your front, palm-up, keeping your shoulder away from your ear as much as you can.
As you lower your chest toward the floor, you’ll feel a nice shoulder stretch. You can do this stretch three times, for 30 seconds each time.
3. CAT-COW STRETCH
This popular yoga stretch offers a low-impact way to improve shoulder mobility.
For this exercise, you’ll get down on all fours. Then, stretch your body into “cat” position by lifting your spine into an arc, crunching your abs as you go. Hold this position for a few seconds, then slowly move into “cow” pose. Arch your back, gently raise your chin and flex your back muscles.
4. INWARD ROTATION
Stand next to a closed door with a handle for this exercise. Take a rubber band or resistance band, and fasten one end of it to the door handle.
Use your less-mobile shoulder to hold the other end of the rubber band. Keeping your elbow bent at 90 degrees, pull the band a couple of inches toward you. Hold it for about five seconds, and repeat about 10 times.
5. KNEELING ARM RAISE
Kneel on the ground, then lift your hips so that you’re upright from your knees upward. Stretch one arm above your head, then reach it across toward your opposite side. Hold this stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
6. UNDERARM STRETCH
Stand in front of a shelf that’s chest height or above, and place one or both arms on it. Then, bend your knees softly, keeping your arm in place so you can feel your shoulder stretching. Bend your knees a little farther each time, but don’t push yourself too much. Try this exercise 10 to 20 times per day.
7. SHOULDER CIRCLES
Get on your hands and knees for this exercise. You can also do shoulder circles standing up, but the floor lets you add or take away pressure to get a custom stretch.
Make sure your hands are directly below your shoulders and your hips are directly below your knees. Press down, and with straight elbows, move your shoulders up to your ears, down toward your hips, and forward toward your head, forming a circle. Circle five times with both shoulders, then five times with each one. Try both directions.
8. PENDULUM STRETCH
Stand near a table, and relax your shoulders while leaning slightly forward. Let one arm hang down at your side while keeping the other arm on the table for support.
Swing the arm that’s hanging down in small circles. Try 10 circles in each direction. As you gain more mobility, you can make the circles bigger. When your mobility increases, hold a small weight in your hand to make this exercise more challenging.
9. HAND EXTENSION
Sit down on the floor in a comfortable position, such as cross-legged. You can also do this exercise while sitting on a bench or a chair.
Bring your hands behind your back, clasp them together, and gradually straighten your elbows. Sit up straight, and pull your arms back. Work towards squeezing your shoulder blades together behind you, and hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds.
10. FINGER WALK
Face a wall that’s a little less than one arm’s length away. Reach out so that your fingertips touch the wall, at about the height of your waist.
Keeping your elbow bent, “walk” up the wall with your fingers. Stop when you’ve reached the limit of your mobility. Let your fingers support your arm, rather than using your shoulder muscles to raise it. Gradually lower your arm, then repeat about 10 to 20 times.
READY TO IMPROVE YOUR LIFE WITH SHOULDER MOBILITY EXERCISES?
Shoulder mobility exercises become crucial when you’re recovering from an injury, or training with intense workouts. But it’s a good idea for everyone who’s physically active to invest in their shoulder mobility. Your shoulder is one of your body’s most important joints, and it pays to protect it.
Are you looking for workouts to supplement your shoulder mobility exercises? Check out our favorite shoulder workouts here!