Shoulder Mobility Exercises Pt. 1 By: Mark Wallace
For someone with tight, achy shoulders with poor mobility, everyday life can be harder than you may imagine. Poor posture, back pain, knee pain, tight hips. These are all examples of things that you may see in someone who also suffers from shoulder immobility. I, for one, suffer from shoulder immobility and it has affected my life dramatically over the years without me even knowing, until now. I’ve found that people who have had pass shoulder injuries either avoid exercising their shoulders all together, or they are doing weighted exercises. And from my experience speaking with these people, their symptoms are staying, if not getting worse. So how can we fix this? Well look at it this way, most shoulder injuries have to do with some sort of rotation defect. I find people have pain or discomfort while rotating the joint itself. Not by actually using the mucsles. So when you’re lifting weights, you’re trying to strengthen a muscle that has weak support behing it which weakens the joint even more, in sense, making your injury worse. Instead of weights, try free movements.
Try this quick easy test to see if you may have shoulder immobility: Take a straight bar, a long stick, a broom, something long enough you can hold with both arms that is very light in weight. Place your hands a little further than shoulder width apart and raise the bar over your head with your arms straight. (Picture example below) Make your body a straight line. If you find yourself having a hard time lifting your arms perfectly overhead, you may suffer from immobile shoulders.
If you don’t see or feel any issues raising the bar directly overhead, you can try a more advanced way to check for shoulder immobility. Start by doing the same exercise as the first example except this time when the bar is completely raised, squat down as far as you can, still holding that bar abover your head. Once all the way down, squat back up. Proper form would be keeping your back, arms and the bar in a straight line and in the same position throughout the entire squat. If this is difficult or not possible for you, or you find you and your momentum leaning forward and you can’t keep your back upright, you may have immobile shoulders. However, just because you can’t perform this exercise perfectly, that does not automatically mean you have immobile shoulders. You may suffer from other imbalances in your body but without me taking a look at everyone individually it’s impossible to tell. Having said that, you still may have shoulder mobility problems and in most cases, unless you’re constantly doing things to prevent shoulder tightness or immobility, you’re going to have them. So I still suggest the following exercises.
Whether or not you find yourself with tight or immobile shoulders, try these exercises out every once in a while to avoid future physical disfunctions:
Shoulder Circuit/ Y-T-W-L
Y-Exercise: Lay on your stomach on a flat surface elevated from the ground. A bed (as long as it’s not too soft), a bench (at a gym of if you have one at home). Anything that your whole body can lay on. Once you find your surface and have lied down on your stomach, scoot to the edge of the surface to where your arms and shoulders comfortably hang off and chest is about halfway off. Relax arms at the start. Keep the chest down, and lift your straightened arms at 45 degrees to make a Y. Only lift to where arms become parallel with floor. Once arms have been lifted to the top of the exercise, return them to the relaxed starting position. Repeat. Get into a slow swinging motion. Someone with great shoulder mobility would be able to raise their arms parallel with floor but just go as far as you can without stressing yourself. Don’t hold at the top position. These are NOT strength exercises. (Picture example shows arms elevated parallel to the floor.) Do about 15-20 slow repetitions then move on to the next exercise.
T-Exercise: The same concept as the Y-Exercise but this time making the shape of a T with your body. First, hang arms down but place palms together. Keeping arms straight, extend them out to form a T with your body. Your arms and shoulders should make a straight line. While extending out, turn palms upward in motion so your palms are facing the ceiling. Don’t lift your arms further than parallel to the floor. Once at the top of the exercise, relax arms. Remember to keep them straight at all times. 15-20 slow repetitions.
W-Exercise: Like the other exercises stay lying on a bench or whatever surface you used. Now with arms hanging down in front of you, bend them to a 90 degree angle in front of your face and place palms together and if possible, touch elbows. It should look like you’re lying down on your stomach praying while also touching your elbows together. Keeping your arms at 90 degrees, try to touch shoulder blades together while bringing your arms apart. If you were standing, your upper arms (biceps) would be parallel to the floor and your lower (forearms) would be bent at 90 degrees perpendicular to the floor. Try not to scrunch your upper shoulders and neck together. 15-20 slow repetitions.
L-Exercise: Stay lying on bench and this is much like the W-Exercise. Instead of starting where your palms are touching, you’re going to start where the W would end and internally and externally rotate your shoulders. This is done by keeping the end of the W placement with your upper arms. So looking back, that would place your shoulders and elbows in a straight line with your arms bending 90 degrees still parallel to the floor. Now rotate your elbows up and down keeping arms bent at 90 degrees. Your forearms should be perpendicular to the ground. Bring back up parallel to the floor. . Performing this exercise perfectly is uncommon, but that’s why it’s good to practice. 15-20 slow repetitions.
***ALL EXERCISES SHOULD BE DONE AFTER ANOTHER AND WITH NO WEIGHT NOR TENSION. FOCUS ON SHOULDER MOBILITY NOT JUST MOVING THE ARMS UP AND DOWN. ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT THE MORE THESE EXERCISES ARE DONE, THE MORE MOBILE THE SHOULDERS WILL BECOME OVER TIME. IF THEY ARE NOT DONE, THE SHOULDERS WILL NOT MOBILIZE!!!
Think of your body like a door and its hinges. When you first get a new door and set it up on its hinges, it’s going to swing open and close, smooth and quietly like it should. This can relate to when you’re a baby and you’re at the most flexible time of your life and you can put your feet over your head with ease.
Use the door over and over every day for years and over time things will change. The door will get a little harder to open. It may make squeaky noises. (Like when you get older and your joints start to hurt and possibly crack when moved in certain positions)
Let’s say you only ever open the door about halfway because that’s all you needed it to do. (And If you’re not a gymnast you don’t need to be able to scratch your own back with your foot. lol)
Over time, the parts of the hinges that are not constantly being used will get rusty, and harder to operate. Eventually you may not be able to open the door completely like you did when it was new. (Same goes for your joints. Over time they become less and less mobile and able to reach their full potential)
This is because your body adjusts and becomes accustom to the lifestyle that you live and put yourself through. So if you’re not constantly doing exercises to keep your full mobility, you’ll become less mobile. That’s just how it is. Like anything else really. If you’re not constantly lifting weights, you won’t become a bodybuilder. If you’re not constantly practicing your drawing skills, you won’t become an artist. Anything you want to keep, you have to keep doing. So try these few shoulder mobility exercises. You can do these whether you have shoulder issues or not. Either way they’re a great way to practice your limits and see your strengths and weaknesses.
Stay tuned for more exercises on shoulders and shoulder mobility.