Shoulder Mobility Exercises: What They Are & Why You Need Them
Use these shoulder mobility exercises to reduce pain and tension in the shoulders and upper back. Fix tight shoulders and improve posture by making shoulder mobility a priority.
When it comes to shoulder mobility, more often than not we wait until we're experiencing pain before tackling it.
However, shoulder mobility exercises should ideally be done long before this point.
Implementing shoulder mobility exercises and a thoracic and shoulder stretching regiment will make a huge difference to your fitness goals as well as everyday life.
What Is Shoulder Mobility?
In simple terms, shoulder mobility is the ability to move your shoulders through a full range of motion without restriction or pain.
Since the shoulders are a ball and socket joint (learn more about what that means), they should be able to move in a variety of ranges.
Having good shoulder mobility requires a combo of strength, coordination, and flexibility through the joint.
What Areas Specifically Are Targetted With These Exercises?
If you’re unsure what area I’m talking about, it’s the area from your mid-back all the way to your neck. This is your thoracic spine. And while many people spend time strengthening this area (with posterior exercises) many people overlook making sure it moves.
Keeping your mid to upper back strong is insanely important as a mom and while pregnant. Most of my workouts while pregnant focus on the back and hip muscles. Likewise, for proper posture and less back pain, keeping the upper back strong is key.
And while I am all for being strong (learn more about the benefits of resistance training), making sure your body moves properly is important too. And many of us lack a range through the shoulders which causes a host of issues (scroll down)
What Causes Poor Shoulder Mobility?
If you don't use it, you'll lose it. A very old but very true statement.
Given that so much of our day is spent in a rounded forward position, we have no need to take our shoulders through a full (or overhead) range.
Eventually, the muscles responsible atrophy and the shoulder becomes stuck in its everyday position.
Other causes of poor shoulder mobility can be:
- muscle imbalances
- shoulder impingement
In my experience though, we lose the ability because we no longer require it for daily tasks.
Benefits Of Shoulder Mobility
Like any other goal, using shoulder mobility exercises to improve the shoulder joint requires effort.
However, the benefits of mobile shoulders are endless:
Shoulder Mobility Exercises Reduce Neck Pain & Headaches
This is perhaps the most crucial of reasons to implement shoulder mobility exercises. We carry a lot of stress on our shoulders.
One of the most common complaints I hear as a personal trainer is sore necks/upper backs.
We sit hunched all the time- at work, in the car, etc and then we round our backs to play on our phones too. So yes, these muscles normally end up weak but they’re also tight.
This means that we end up unable to sit up straight or rotate.
Fun fact: it’s your upper back that is supposed to rotate, not your lower back. Unfortunately, if our upper back can’t move our lower back ends up doing the job.
If your thoracic spine and shoulders do not move. All of this tension creates pain and one of the biggest symptoms is headaches!
Learning to get more movement into this area will increase the blood flow, place the body in it’s optimal position, and reduce tension. Thus, less pain and headaches.
Note: there could be a lot of other reasons you’re experiencing pain and headaches. Please get checked by a medical professional to determine the cause
Helps Prevent Injuries During Lifting Or Activity
Someone once told me that a tight muscle is also a weak muscle and is going to be an injured muscle.
And after a few years, I can’t agree more! More often than not, a muscle is tight because it needs to compensate for another muscle doing its job. Once a tight muscle is released, it needs to be strengthened. This is because it’s normally weak having not gone through the proper range of motion in a while.
If you leave a tight muscle as is and continue to train around it, it’s going to end up injured- which is why shoulder mobility drills are crucial.
Think of your hamstrings: if your hamstrings are super tight, what’s going to happen when you try a Romanian deadlift and lengthen them with weight? It’ll hurt.
Similarly, if your shoulders don’t move and you decide to hang from a bar. Or even more practically, fall and grab something to catch. They’re going to be injured.
The ability to move properly helps keep you injury-free both in the gym and out of it.
Side note: if a muscle is super locked/tight there could be a reason. Just releasing it could cause issues if the problem hasn’t been solved. For example, lots of people have tight hip flexors so they stretch and stretch and stretch. But the reason these are tight is partially due to a lack of glute activation.
Shoulder Mobility Exercises Improve Performance
Obviously one of the goals of exercise should be to remain injury-free! But there are lots of us who would like to smash some serious goals- like pull-ups (listen to episode number four of the podcast on how to train to get your first pull up!)
If your shoulders and thoracic spine don’t like to move, it means that you're not getting a full range of motion on your pull-ups. You can muscle it to an extent (I always let my biceps take over) but only for so long.
If you want to master pull-ups, work in a shoulder mobility routine (like this upper body warm-up for shoulder mobility).
When your shoulders are able to go through a full range of motion, your back muscles can take over. Since these muscles are far larger than your arms, your pull-ups will be more functional and far more badass.
Shoulder Mobility And... Back Pain?
But, lack of movement in the shoulders is another common cause.
For starters, without proper thoracic and shoulder mobility, your upper back isn’t where it ideally should be. This makes your lower back compensate, normally by coming into an anterior pelvic tilt.
This lumbar position isn’t ideal either. The spine was meant to have one vertebra on top of another. However, APT (anterior pelvic tilt) causes a swayback. This means that your weight against gravity is poorly distributed and your back hurts.
Similarly, your low back is not meant to perform a lot of rotation (I think maybe only 12 degrees?). It is your upper back (the thoracic spine) that is meant to rotate (up to 40 degrees).
If it doesn’t have the ability to do so, your low back ends up twisting and turning and again, causes pain.
Maintaining Mobility As You Age
You may be able to reach overhead to grab a can now… but what about in five years? Ten?
If you don’t start making shoulder mobility exercises a priority, you’ll lose a lot of the abilities you take for granted.
Aging doesn’t have to come with poor range of motion, hunched backs and complaints. Implement preventative measures like should mobility exercises and stay on top of it.
How Can I Increase My Shoulder Mobility?
Improving your mobility requires a combination of dynamic exercises as well as static stretching. Moreover, if we're we're getting into it you'd also need to strengthen the areas to support the shoulder joint.
Below is a video of some amazing resistance band exercises for shoulder mobility.
These exercises are dynamic (you're not just holding a static stretch) and use a resistance band to provide some tension to the exercise.
Remember, the goal is to work with the range you have currently and to improve. Not to just go through the motions and do things like flare your rib care or arch your back to get further.
All you need are a set of resistance bands which you can snag from prosourcefit.com
Another way to improve shoulder mobility and make it part of your routine is to use these mobility exercises in your warm-up routine before an upper-body day.
What Are Good Shoulder Stretches?
In addition to working the dynamic exercises for the shoulder. Focusing on stretching out the upper back, in general, will help to get some movement there.
Here are four shoulder stretches (video demo) I think most people should do.
- Inverted cat
- Thread the needle
- Elevated puppy dog stretch
Use these stretches in your post-workout or on active recovery days.
Likewise, here is a follow-along upper body mobility video if you prefer that approach. This video takes you through some dynamic work as well as some flexibility work for the shoulders and upper back.
Don’t forget to pin these Shoulder Mobility Exercises & Tips!
A shoulder mobility routine doesn’t have to take long, and it doesn’t have to be intense. But these little drills and shoulder mobility exercises will make a huge difference to the functionality of your body.
If you’re looking to get fit, strong and be able to keep up with your kiddos, check out my How To Get Strong AF E-Book. Full-body workouts perfect for busy moms. This strength training program takes busy moms through basic full-body workouts and slowly builds upon the routines over a twelve-week period to progressively boost strength. These workouts share a few things in common: The difference between these workouts and other at-home workout routines is that these full-body workouts are progressive. Meaning, they build on one another. Every four weeks the workouts change and the exercises are slightly more advanced than they were before. This is crucial to developing strength. Take the thought out of working out and follow a plan. Because being strong isn’t optional when you’re a mom. Grab your copy of the How To Get Strong AF E-Book (when you click on the button a new window will open that will take you to securely process payment)
If you’re looking to get fit, strong and be able to keep up with your kiddos, check out my How To Get Strong AF E-Book. Full-body workouts perfect for busy moms.
This strength training program takes busy moms through basic full-body workouts and slowly builds upon the routines over a twelve-week period to progressively boost strength.
These workouts share a few things in common:
The difference between these workouts and other at-home workout routines is that these full-body workouts are progressive. Meaning, they build on one another. Every four weeks the workouts change and the exercises are slightly more advanced than they were before. This is crucial to developing strength.
Take the thought out of working out and follow a plan. Because being strong isn’t optional when you’re a mom. Grab your copy of the How To Get Strong AF E-Book (when you click on the button a new window will open that will take you to securely process payment)