The Top 8 Shoulder Mobility Exercises

Shoulder Mobility Exercises

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Shoulder mobility exercises aim to improve the range of motion, flexibility, and stability of the shoulder joint through targeted movements and stretches.

Shoulder mobility exercises are a valuable aspect of your fitness and health activities. Flexibility in your upper back allows you to perform daily activities with ease and can help prevent injuries.

So, when you discover how simple it can be to incorporate mobility exercises into your shoulder workouts you become more aware of when to add them in your day.

In Part 1 of this series on Shoulder Mobility we discussed ‘How can you increase shoulder range of motion?‘ and now in Part 2, we dig into 8 effective exercises and why they make a difference.

The Best Shoulder Mobility Exercises

As you’re looking for ways to build shoulder mobility exercises into your fitness plan, at the gym you can consider some of the best shoulder exercise equipment, but there are also pure body weight options to add.

1. Wall Angels

The wall angel exercise improves posture and helps reduce pain, and can yield benefits such as:

  • Improved thoracic spine mobility
  • Helping to develop good posture
  • Lengthening and strengthening the chest, spinal, and trunk muscles
  • Activating postural muscles in your upper back that help keep your shoulders pulled back
  • Relieve stress in the shoulders, making it easier to raise your arms above your head
  • Reduce stress in your neck muscles

Wall angels are a beneficial exercise to help undo the effects of a more flexed posture. They are also helpful if you sit a lot throughout your day or have a lot of upper-body resistance training in your workout regimen.

Performing the exercise the recommended 2 to 3 times a day is quick and simple, and only needs a small amount of wall space.

How to do Wall Angels

Stand with your back against a wall and your arms bent at a 90-degree angle. With your elbows and wrists ‘stuck’ against the wall, slide your arms up above your head then back down to where you began. Do this several times.

Variations: Try these different options.

  • Single-arm wall slides: If wall angels are too challenging or cause pain, you can perform single-arm wall slides. This variation is performed by standing with your side to the wall and sliding one arm up and down the wall while keeping your body still. This option can help you focus on one arm at a time and alleviate pressure on your spine.
  • Wall angel with a resistance band: You can use a resistance band to make the exercise more challenging. To perform this variation, loop a resistance band around your wrists and perform the wall angel exercise as usual. The resistance band will add extra resistance to the movement.
  • Wall angel with a foam roller: To do this option, place a foam roller between your shoulder blades and perform the wall angel exercise as usual. The foam roller will add extra resistance making it more challenging and helping to improve thoracic spine mobility.
  • Wall angel with a stability ball: Place a stability ball between your back and the wall and perform the wall angel exercise as usual. The stability ball will activate different muscles again.

Performing these variations can help you target different muscles and make the exercise more challenging. It is imperative to perform the exercise correctly and not push yourself too hard, especially if you are a beginner.

2. Scapular Release

Scapular release exercises strengthen the muscles around the shoulder blades and improve posture, reducing the risk of shoulder injuries and enhancing overall upper body strength. Here are some benefits of doing scapular release exercises:

  • Improve your posture
  • Reduce the risk of shoulder injuries
  • Enhance your overall upper body strength
  • Warm up the muscles in preparation for upper body training
  • Connect your mind and muscles
  • Decrease pain and neck disability index score
  • Increase the strength of the upper trapezius, rhomboid, and serratus muscles
  • Improve your shoulder mobility
  • Build a strong upper body

Be mindful to perform the exercises correctly and not push yourself too hard, especially if you are a beginner. If you have any pain or discomfort while performing these exercises, you should see a physical therapist to help ensure that your movements are correct.

How to do scapular release exercises

Lie on your back with your arms at your sides. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for a few seconds before releasing. Repeat for several reps.

Variations of scapular release exercises can also target different muscles and add a challenge. Some examples of scapular release exercises include scapular retractions, scapular protraction exercises, band scapular retractions, face pulls, and stability ball push-ups.

3. Internal/External Rotation

Internal and external rotation of shoulder exercises has several benefits for the shoulder joint and surrounding muscles, these can include:

Benefits of Internal Rotation Exercises:

  • Strengthens the rotator cuff muscles
  • Increases stability of the shoulder joint
  • Improves range of motion
  • Reduces the risk of injury
shoulder mobility exercises with internal and external rotations

Benefits of External Rotation Exercises:

  • Strengthens the external shoulder rotator muscles, including the infraspinatus muscle
  • Improves performance in overhead athletes
  • Keeps your shoulders healthy
  • Improves your posture
  • Improves overhead lifting and reaching overhead

Performing internal and external rotation exercises can help promote healthy rotator cuff function. These exercises focus on the muscles of the rotator cuff, which stabilize two of your most important ball-and-socket joints. Strengthening these muscles can boost athletic performance and reduce the risk of injury. 

How to do Internal/External Rotations

Stand with your arms at your sides and your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle. Slowly rotate your arms inward and outward, keeping your elbows at your sides.

We go into more detail about Internal Rotation and External Rotation of the Shoulder Muscles in Part 3 of our Shoulder Mobility Series.

4. Z Press and Shoulder Press

Z Press and Shoulder Press are two popular exercises that target the shoulders, traps, and core muscles. You body will enjoy the results from either of these exercises.

Benefits of Z Press:

  • Increased upper body strength and overhead pressing strength
  • Improved shoulder health and mobility.
  • Improved core strength and activated muscles.
  • Increased hamstring flexibility.
  • Provides exercise variety and deload option
  • Builds bigger traps
  • Improves quality movement patterning
  • Can be used over time to increase strength and performance.
  • Improves core stability

Z Press is an advanced workout technique for strength athletes who rely heavily on their shoulder and core strength, from powerlifters to weightlifters and strongman competitors. Also, athletes in general and everyday people will improve their overall fitness level by incorporating these movements.

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How to do the Z Press

  1. Place the barbell on your thighs and grip it with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Start by sitting on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and your feet together.
  3. Clean the barbell up to your shoulders and press it overhead.
  4. Once the bar is overhead, move your feet in closer to your body so that your knees are bent and your feet are flat on the ground.
  5. Keep your core tight and your back straight as you lower the bar down to your shoulders.
  6. Press the bar back up overhead, making sure to keep your core tight and your back straight throughout the movement.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Remember, the Z press is an advanced exercise that requires good hip mobility and core strength. If you’re new to the exercise, start with a lighter weight and focus on maintaining good form throughout the movement. 

Benefits of Shoulder Press:

  • Builds muscle mass in your shoulders
  • Targets the deltoids, triceps, and upper chest muscles
  • Improves shoulder strength and stability
  • Enhances overall upper body strength
  • Increases bone density
  • Improves posture

The shoulder press is a classic exercise for beginners and advanced lifters alike. It is a great exercise to build muscle mass in your shoulders and improve your upper body strength.

How to do the Shoulder Press

  1. Start by setting up the barbell in a rack at about chest height.
  2. Step into the rack and hold the bar with an overhand grip, with your hands just wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Brace your core and drive your hands upwards to press the bar overhead, maintaining a neutral spine throughout.
  4. At the start of each rep, focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together, then focus on using your shoulders to initiate the lift and get the bar moving.
  5. Lower the bar under control, ensuring that your shoulders are fully engaged and your core is braced.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Remember to keep your hips and knees locked from start to finish, and to exhale, raise your chest, and set your forearms vertical after each rep. It’s also important to start with a weight that you can comfortably lift with good form, and to consult a fitness professional or physical therapist if you’re unsure about how to perform the exercise safely and effectively.

5. Cable Row

The Cable Row is a back exercise that primarily targets and strengthens the muscle groups of the back and arms. While it is not a shoulder exercise, it can still assist shoulder mobility. Here are some benefits of doing the cable row exercise for shoulder mobility:

  • Improved shoulder health and mobility
  • Improved core strength and activated muscles
  • Provides exercise variety and deload option
  • Improves posture
  • Helps to prevent back strains and injuries

This row exercise, whether seated or standing, is a full-body movement that relies on glute and core activation to maintain stability and an upright posture. It is a functional movement that can help you in everyday life and improve your other, heavier lifts, such as the deadlift and squat. 

How to do the cable row

Stand facing a cable machine with the handle at chest height. Grab the handle with both hands and pull it towards your chest, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Slowly release and repeat for several reps.

6. Shoulder Circles

You can try adding shoulder circles to your routine. They are deceptively simple but can improve shoulder mobility by:

  • Increasing range of motion in the shoulder joint
  • Improving flexibility in the shoulder muscles
  • Helping to warm up the shoulder muscles and joints before physical activity
  • Helping to reduce shoulder pain and stiffness
  • Helping to improve posture
  • Be done anywhere, anytime, without equipment

Shoulder circles can be done in a standing or seated position, and can be performed with or without weights, use them as part of a warm-up routine or as a standalone exercise to improve shoulder mobility and flexibility.

How to do shoulder circles

Stand tall with your arms hanging at both sides. Lift your shoulders and roll them back in a large circular motion. Gradually make the circles bigger and reverse the direction after 1 minute. Repeat for a total of 4-6 minutes on both arms. 

7. Resistance Band Exercises

Using a resistance band can help improve shoulder mobility and flexibility by:

  • Increased range of motion in the shoulder joint
  • Improved flexibility in the shoulder muscles
  • Help to warm up the shoulder muscles and joints before physical activity
  • Help to reduce shoulder pain and stiffness
  • Help to improve posture
  • Be done anywhere, anytime, without equipment
  • Safe and low impact

Resistance band exercises provide a low-impact workout that can warm the shoulder muscles and joints before physical activity and help reduce shoulder pain and stiffness. They are safe and low impact, making them ideal for people recovering from an injury or surgery. 

How to do resistance band exercises

Some examples of resistance band exercises for shoulder mobility include shoulder circles, reverse fly, front raise, and shoulder flexion.

Variations:

  1. Pass-Through (warm-up): Hold the resistance band in front of your body and pass it over your head and behind your back. Repeat for several reps.
  2. High Pull: Put your feet on the band, shoulder-width apart, and pull the band up to your chin, keeping your elbows high.
  3. External Rotation: Hold the band with an upper-hand grip, closer than shoulder-width, and rotate your arm outward.
  4. Front Raise: Stand on the band and hold it with both hands in front of your thighs. Raise your arms straight out in front of you, keeping your elbows straight.
  5. Standing Side Bend: Stand on the band and hold it with both hands. Lean to one side, keeping your arms straight

Other resistance band exercises for shoulder mobility include the reverse fly, mini band archer row, mini band overhead reach, mini band bent over the overhead press, and prone floor slides. 

8. Thread the Needle

Thread the Needle can be added to the shoulder mobility exercises because it can:

  • Releases tension in the spine, neck, and shoulders
  • Stretches the upper back and shoulders
  • Increases range of motion in the shoulder joint
  • Improves flexibility in the shoulder muscles
  • Help to reduce shoulder pain and stiffness
  • Help to improve posture
  • Done anywhere, anytime, without equipment

How to do thread the needle

Exercise: To perform Thread the Needle, begin on your hands and knees in a tabletop position. Reach one arm up towards the ceiling, then thread it underneath your body and reach your opposite arm out in front of you. Rest your ear on the ground and hold the pose for several breaths. Repeat on the other side. Perform the movement slowly and with control to avoid injury. 

Shoulder Stability and Flexibility Exercises as a Daily Routine

Listen to your body and avoid pushing beyond your limits or any shoulder discomfort. Throughout your day, there will be ways you can add some small movements or give one or more of our top 8 shoulder mobility exercises a go. It is only for your good to have more flexibility and protect yourself from injury.

If you experience pain or discomfort during any exercise, stop immediately and consult with a healthcare professional. Gradually increase the intensity and duration of the exercises over time to improve shoulder mobility and flexibility safely.

As with all exercises, there are some cross over when you want to break down specific areas to focus on. In Part 3 and 4 we are going to look at two such areas: the internal rotation and the external rotation.

This is Part 2 in the ‘Shoulder Mobility’ series.

Read Part 3: Shoulder Internal Rotation Mobility Exercises

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