A woman in a grey sports top pulling her one arm across her chest with her other arm.

With so many of us spending our days in front of computers and our nights locked in our phones, tight shoulders are something that nearly everyone has had to deal with at least once. Adding mobility training to your fitness routine can help ease the tension in your shoulders and set you up for better posture and less pain in the future.

We’ve put together a set of easy shoulder mobility exercises specifically targeted to help increase the range of motion in your shoulder joint, build strength in your shoulder muscles, and reduce shoulder pain in muscles and joints.

Shoulder Stretches

Stretching your shoulders should be a standard part of your upper body stretching routine, but, to improve shoulder mobility, additional stretches should be practiced to ensure that all parts of the shoulder are being properly addressed in your stretches.

Many of these stretches may already be familiar to you, meaning you may have your own variation of how you do the stretch. As long as you are maintaining proper form through your variation and feeling the stretch where you should, adapting a stretch or exercise to your own body and needs is always a smart idea.

Feel free to add these stretches in at the start, end, or in between the strengthening exercises that we’ll explore in the next section.

Cross Arm Stretch

Woman in a burgundy tank top holding one arm across her chest with her other hand while standing in a gym.

The cross arm stretch is likely already part of your pre-workout stretching routine, but a more dedicated and mindful practice of this stretch can be a beneficial addition to your shoulder mobility workout. 

There’s not much in the way of variation on this stretch other than being done from either a standing or seated position. The main thing to keep in mind with this stretch is that the shoulder you are stretching should not pull forward with the rest of the arm. Your shoulder blades should be down and back in their normal position creating tension through both the side and top of the shoulder.

  1. Start in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart. 
  2. Bring your right arm straight across your chest just under shoulder height with your palm facing you.
  3. Raise your left arm and hook it around your right arm to pull your arm into the stretch. 
  4. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds then release your arms back down to the start position.
  5. Switch arms and repeat on the left side. 
  6. Repeat 3 times.

 

Doorway Stretches

Doorway stretches are a great way to stretch the often difficult-to-reach front of the shoulder as well as the connected aspects of your upper chest. 

The instructions for this exercise have your arm bent at a 90-degree angle for a more intense front stretch. You can also repeat this exercise with your arm out straight, though be careful not to pull through your locked elbow, to target a little more of the side of the front of the shoulder. 

  1. Stand in a doorway with your shoulders in line with the frame.
  2. Raise your arm to shoulder height. and bend your elbow at a 90-degree angle to place your forearm vertically on the doorframe. 
  3. Bring your outside leg in front to take a split stance as you lean forward into the stretch. 
  4. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
  5. Repeat with your opposite arm.
  6. Repeat 2-3 times.

 

Kneeling Arm Raise Side Reach

Woman standing next to a lake in black leggings and a white sport top with one arm raise leaning to the side in a side stretch.

A side stretch may not seem to have much to do with the shoulder, but this single-arm stretch, done from a kneeling position to keep the stretch in the torso and out of the knees, targets the deep shoulder muscles found under the shoulder blades that attach down into your lower back as well as your lats stretching all the way down to your hips. 

You can do a side stretch from a standing position if you do your best to keep the stretch in your torso and don’t lean with your legs, but seated is a more preferable alternative for this particular stretch.  

  1. Start on your knees in a tall kneeling position with your shins flat on the ground and your body straight in line with your thighs.
  2. Raise your right arm up over your head and reach over to the left to stretch through the bottom and back of the shoulder as well as your lats.
  3. Hold for 20-30 seconds before releasing your arm back down to your side.
  4. Switch arms and repeat.
  5. Repeat 2-3 times.

 

Child's Pose with Variations

Woman in grey yoga attire on her knees, torso bent pressed against thighs, head facing the ground, and arms stretched out overhead in a child's pose.

If you’ve ever done any kind of yoga, you already know child’s pose. It is one of the most essential poses for any yoga practice as it is the go-to resting pose and the ultimate swap-out move that can be used anytime you need a break or feel unsteady in a new or advanced pose. 

Even though this pose is considered a rest pose, that doesn’t mean it isn’t doing something. In fact, child’s pose is an excellent position to stretch a range of areas in the shoulders through a series of small and simple variations we have included below.

  1. Start out kneeling on a mat or pillow with your knees splayed out slightly wider than hip-width apart.
  2. Sit up tall and stretch through your whole spine as you take a deep breath in.
  3. Hinge from the hips and lengthen through your low back as you exhale and slowly lean forward, crawling your hands out in front of you until your forehead touches the ground.
  4. Hold this position for 10-15 seconds.
  5. Walk your hands over to one side without lifting your torso and hold for another 10-15 seconds.
  6. Walk your hands back to and then over to the opposite side to repeat the stretch for another 10-15 seconds.
  7. Turn your palms up and feel the difference in the stretch as you hold for a final 10-15 seconds.
  8. Turn your palms back down and start walking yourself back up to a seated position.
  9. Repeat 2-3 times.

 

Shoulder Mobility Exercises

While stretching helps to improve your flexibility and can certainly provide some pain relief in the moment, strengthening your muscles is the only way to truly improve your posture, flexibility, and mobility. 

As much as we need our muscles to be able to lengthen, we also need them to be able to snap back, and that’s where strengthening comes in.

IYTLs

IYTLs are a great exercise to start off your shoulder mobility workout. Each letter represents one phase of movement during the exercise where, much like doing the YMCA, you use your arms to form the shapes of the letters “I”, “Y”, “T”, and “L”. 

You can do this exercise either seated or standing, just make sure that you keep your back straight and your head up as you move through the phases of movement. Start out with no weights at first to get a feel for the correct posture of each movement then gradually add small amounts of weight. Remember, it’s about the full range of motion, not how much you can lift. 

  1. Stand straight with your feet about hip-width apart and your arms down at your sides.
  2. Keep your palms facing inward as you raise your arms straight out in front of you and then up straight over your head to make the “I”.
  3. Pause at the top of the motion before lowering your arms back to the starting position.
  4. Bring your arms up in front of you at an angle. slightly out to the side, and raise them over your head to make the “Y”.
  5. Pause at the top of the motion before lowering your arms back to the start position.
  6. Bring your arms straight up and out to the side at shoulder level to make the “T”.
  7. Pause at the top of the motion before lowering your arms back to the start position.
  8. Keep your elbows tucked into your sides as you raise your forearms out in front of you making the “L” with your arms.
  9. Rotate your hands out to the sides to open the front of your shoulder and hold the stretch for a moment.
  10. Bring your arms back to the start position.
  11. Repeat for 8-12 reps
  12. Repeat for 2 sets.

 

Wall Angels

Woman in grey yoga attire lying on a pink mat on a concrete floor with her arms reaching up over her head.

Wall angels are somewhere between a stretch and an exercise which makes them an excellent movement to follow the IYTLs. 

You can do wall angels standing or seated against a wall or even laying on the floor if you don’t have a blank wall to use. The most important part of this exercise is to keep all your points of contact with the wall or floor as you move through the motion.

  1. Stand with your back flat against a wall, heels against the baseboard, and your head touching the wall.
  2. Bring your arms up to shoulder height and bend your elbows so your forearms are pointed up perpendicular to your shoulders.
  3. Keep your head, body, and arms pressed against the wall as you raise your arms straight up overhead.
  4. Pause at the top before reversing the motion and bringing your arms back to shoulder height.
  5. Repeat for 10-15 reps.
  6. Repeat for 3 sets.

 

Shoulder CARs

Controlled Articular Rotations (CARs) are mobility-specific exercises that target often undertrained or overstrained areas that can cause problems for mobility in daily life. For the shoulder, the primary suspect is often the rotator cuff. 

The rotator cuff is the name for the group of muscles and tendons that connect your arm to your shoulder and hold the head of the humerus in the shoulder joint. Adding shoulder CARs into your mobility workout will help to strengthen the muscles of the rotator cuff and the shoulder as a whole.

  1. Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Raise your right arm straight out in front of you so it is parallel to the ground.
  3. Keep your elbow straight as you push through your arm to move your shoulder back and up and then forward and down in a circular motion in a locomotive-like movement.
  4. Repeat the rotation for 8-12 reps.
  5. Reverse the direction of the motion and repeat for another 8-12 reps.
  6. Switch arms and repeat for 8-12 reps in both directions.
  7. Repeat for 2 sets.

 

Bent-Arm Shoulder Rotations

A woman in a red sports top holds a small red dumbbell in her hand as she holds her arm at shoulder height with her elbow bent so her forearm is pointing straight up and her hand is level with the top of her head with a tree covered hill in the background.

This final exercise is one of the most essential and beneficial movements you can practice to improve your shoulder mobility. It also works to build strength throughout the rotator cuff as well as the connected muscles in the arm. 

You can do this exercise standing or seated. The main things to keep in mind are to not lean back, draw the elbow back, nor change the angle or height of the elbow. Have a gym partner place their hands under your elbows at first to get a feel for the form.

  1. Stand straight with your feet about shoulder-width apart and keep a slight bend to the knees.
  2. Hold a small dumbbell in your hand and raise your arm up to shoulder height with your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle so that the weight is held up at head height.
  3. Keep your elbow at the same angle and height as you lower the weight forward and down until your forearm is laid out flat at the same level as your upper arm.
  4. Pause for a moment at the bottom of the movement before reversing the motion and returning to the start position.
  5. Repeat for 10-15 reps.
  6. Switch arms and repeat for another 10-15 reps.
  7. Repeat for 2 sets.

 

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