Best Ways To Improve Shoulder Mobility

Don’t let poor shoulder mobility ruin your potential for huge growth.

The strength and flexibility of your shoulders are incredibly important for your overall physical health. But mobility is often overlooked which can lead to unnecessary strain and injury. Having mobile shoulders allows for increased flexibility and muscular strength allowing for harder workouts and heavier weights to promote muscle growth. As the weakest yet most mobile joint in your body, strong, stable shoulders can promote better movement and give your upper body some great definition.

The shoulder is rather complex and consists of three bones, being your collarbone, shoulder blade, and humerus. These three work together along with four tendons, three ligaments, and four muscles to allow for optimal movement of both of our arms. When these start to break down, or become disconnected from one another, we can run into shoulder problems keeping us feeling sore and stressed.

But there is good news. As vulnerable and fragile as our shoulders can be, not all hope is lost. Through hard work and increased effort, many shoulder exercises and stretches exist to get us back on track and moving freely and pain free. While flexibility and mobility are often used as synonyms, they aren’t really the same (1). Flexibility is a muscles ability to lengthen, while mobility refers to a joints range of motion. There are limitations to both, but by working on your overall shoulder health, you can improve all aspects of this vital joint to promote growth, good posture, and overall health and confidence.

shoulder mobility

Benefits To Having Shoulder Mobility

Your shoulder is strongly influenced by the muscle surrounding it and if those start to break down, it can lead to muscle imbalances (2). As a result of such imbalances, you run the risk of shoulder problems, including injury, poor flexibility, and that unfortunate chronic shoulder pain many of us know all to well. Our bodies are smart, or so it seems, and they will find other ways to make up for this lack of mobility. While in the short term this may seem okay, eventually that compensation leads to more issues with other parts of our bodies starting a downward spiral that can keep us from the gym.

Without proper shoulder mobility, you won’t be able to perform many of the great exercises that will allow for substantial growth and no one wants that. For example, an overhead movement may become limited and your body will resort to other muscles that may not be suitable to conduct that exercise (3). Not only does this mean poor form, but it puts those secondary muscles at risk for injury. Even movements like the squat would be affected because your hand placement may be stunted by poor mobility and add increased tension to your shoulders and back. For muscle growth and overall physical ability, shoulder mobility is incredibly important to understand and correct.

shoulder mobility

What Can You Do?

If you suffer from lack of shoulder mobility, you still have time to fix it. Your lifts will improve, as will your confidence, and you will be glad you decided to make the change rather than down the road if something happens. These shoulder mobility exercises and stretches are great for a pre-workout warmup, mid-workout pump, or post-workout recovery to give you the opportunity to really boost that much needed shoulder mobility.

Exercises

Kettlebell Z Press

These are great exercises to build strength with the added bonus of increasing mobility. You will really notice an increase in strength in the smaller deltoid muscles. Sit on the floor with your legs extended out in front. Holding two kettlebells, tighten your core and perform an overhead press.

High To Low Rows

High to low rows are great cable and band exercises to not only increase strength and mobility, but also on mind-muscle connection. Due to the fact it is lighter weight, you can really work on form and your ability to squeeze through the exercise. Grab a band and attach to any machine, wall, or stationary object in front of you. Step back allowing the band to stretch and drop to one knee. Pull the band into your body in a rowing motion really squeezing as you do.

shoulder mobility

Reverse Fly

Reverse flys work to target the upper back and thoracic muscles which are staples in shoulder mobility (4). All you need is a pair of dumbbells for this strength-building exercise. Standing shoulder-width apart, hinge at the waist with a flat back and tight core. Raise your arms so they are parallel to the ground and at around shoulder height. Squeeze at the top and return to the starting position.

Stretches

Rotator Cuff Trigger Point Release

Your rotator cuff works to stabilize the shoulder and allows for that much needed mobility to take place (5). When these become tight, your entire shoulder and range of motion is greatly affected. Grab a lacrosse ball, or some other massage or dense ball, and place it on the wall. Lean against the wall with the upper corner of your back resting on the ball. This will be just below the top of your shoulder on your back next to your armpit. Gently roll around in different directions loosening the muscles.

shoulder mobility

Lat Foam Roll

Your lats are huge muscles and play a vital role in overhead mobility. As a result of a number of workouts, your lats can become tight and greatly affect motions like a press or a swing. Grab a foam roller and lay on one side. Place the roller under your armpit and gently move back and forth working on those tight areas.

Wall Extensions

Wall extensions are very simple yet very effective for shoulder mobility. Sit back against a wall with your back and hips touching, as if you were doing a wall sit. With your arms at 90-degrees, try and keep contact with the wall as you slide your arms up and down over your head. If your arms don’t stay on the wall, with increased practice, you will start to see a difference in your mobility.

Wrap Up

While we all want to get big and see that hard-earned muscle growth, things like mobility and flexibility tend to take a back seat. But having shoulder mobility is more than important when it comes to working hard and staying physically fit overall. Since our shoulders tend to be vulnerable and prone to injury, taking solid care of them can make or break our workouts and our gains. Using exercises and stretches are great for pre-, during, or post-workout routines to stay fit, healthy, strong, and of course, mobile.

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*Images courtesy of Envato

References

  1. Haley, Jimmy. “The Importance of Flexibility and Mobility”. (source)
  2. Lucado, Ann M. (2013). “Scapular muscle imbalance: implications for shoulder pain and pathology”. (source)
  3. Wilk, Kevin E.; Obma, Padraic; Simpson, Charles, D; Cain, E. L.; Dugas, Jeffrey; Andrews, James R. (2009). “Shoulder Injuries in the Overhead Athlete”. (source)
  4. Yang, Seong-Rae; Kim, Kyung; Park, Sun-Ja; Kim, Kyung (2015). “The effect of thoracic spine mobilization and stabilization exercise on the muscular strength and flexibility of the trunk of chronic low back pain patients”. (source)
  5. Bartoszewski, Nicole; Parnes, Nata (2018). “Rotator cuff injuries”. (source)
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Austin Letorney is a writer, actor, and fitness enthusiast. As a former rower, he has shifted his focus to sharing his knowledge of the fitness world and strength sports with others.