Shoulder Mobility Exercises: 6 Proven Stretches for Better Range of Motion

In an ideal world, we’d all have active jobs that didn’t keep us hunched over our computers all day.

But that’s not the world we live in.

As a result, a lot of us have limited shoulder mobility, which can keep you from being able to do movements like an overhead squat or lead to lots of discomfort in your neck and upper back.

Whatever is going on in your shoulders, the answer is certainly not to quit your job and become a farmer.

Instead, adding some simple shoulder stretches to your daily routine can make a huge difference in how you’re feeling and functioning.

Below, I’ll share a simple and effective shoulder mobility routine that’ll take just a few minutes out of your day, but will help you get your shoulders feeling and moving the way you want them to. Before you start putting these movements into action, it’s a good idea to understand why you’re having these issues and why it’s so important to get your shoulders moving well.
👨‍🎓 Our Credentials: When you search for health advice online, it’s important to consider the source. The primary author of this article is Jarlo, Ilano, MPT, with contributions and review by our team of highly qualified trainers.

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Why You Should Prioritize Shoulder Mobility

Before I get into the routine, I want to address the elephant in the room: stretching sucks.

…or, at least it can the way most people do it and teach it.

A lot of trainers will throw a bunch of random stretches at you, and when you don’t arbitrarily get “more flexible,” they tell you to just “stretch more.” That’s not very useful, and if that’s the way you’ve always stretched, then yeah, it’s probably sucked. No one likes to put in effort without any payoff.

What makes this routine different is that it’s not random at all.

I’ve been working with patients as a physical therapist since 1998, and have seen a lot of issues with tight shoulders over the years. And our clients at GMB have shared their experiences with us as well.

While there are countless issues that could be going on in the shoulders, the exercises in this routine were carefully chosen to target the most common motion restrictions.

When your shoulders are tight, they keep you from moving freely throughout your daily life, as well as in your training. For people with advanced levels of tightness, something as simple as reaching to grab something from a high shelf can feel impossible.

The routine I’m about to teach you is geared toward creating physical autonomy by freeing up those restrictions so you can move with freedom and confidence.

6 Shoulder Mobility Exercises for Pain-Free Range of Motion

The following routine is made up of 6 shoulder stretches, some of which you may have seen before, but all of which work together to address the most common issues we’ve seen in clients.

Work through these slowly and do not push into any painful positions. Stay within a range that is comfortable for you.

🎁 Free up your shoulders with this proven routine that’s helped thousands of people move better with less pain. Completely free. Just tell us where to send it.

You’ll notice a lot of the movements have two parts:

Pulsing in and out of the stretched positionHolding the stretch

This mix of static of and dynamic stretching has been shown to help your body feel comfortable allowing more range of motion.

Instead of pushing into discomfort, relax into the holds.

It helps train your nervous system that this is a safe position for you.

Shoulder Mobility Exercise Details

Quadruped Shoulder Circles: Full-ROM Scapular Movement

Target: serratus posterior and anterior/lower traps

You’ve probably done standard shoulder circles before from a standing position. The benefit of doing these on your hands and knees is the floor gives you some feedback so you can adjust the pressure easily.

Start on your hands and knees with your knees just beneath your hips and your hands just beneath your shoulders.Press into the ground and keep your elbows straight as you shrug your shoulders up toward your ears, back toward your hips, down away from your ears, and then forward toward your head, creating a nice circle.Do these circles in both directions, and then you can try doing the circles with alternating shoulders.

Do 5 circles in each direction with both shoulders, then do 5 in each direction with one shoulder at a time.

L-Arm Stretch: Horizontal Adduction

Target: posterior shoulder capsule and rotator cuff

This is one of my favorite stretches because it’s very effective at stretching the rotator cuff and the back of the shoulder. It can feel a bit awkward at first, but just play around with finding a position that feels relatively comfortable for you.

Start by lying on your stomach with one arm by your side. Stretch your other arm across your chest with your palm facing up and without letting your shoulder shrug up toward your ear too much.Use your shoulder muscles to pull your chest down toward the floor, creating a nice stretch in the shoulder capsule.Move in and out of the stretched position, and then hold the stretch.

Once you find a comfortable position, move in and out of the stretch 10 times, then hold for 30 seconds. Repeat this sequence a total of three times.

Prone Bent Arm Chest Stretch: Horizontal Abduction

Target: pec major

Here’s a stretch that targets the chest and front of the shoulder. You’ll work on one side at a time with this one.

Start in a prone position (on your stomach) with one hand on the floor and your elbow bent.Shift your weight toward your hand to feel a stretch in your chest.Move in and out of the stretched position, and then hold the stretch.

Once you find a comfortable position, move in and out of the stretch 10 times, then hold for 30 seconds. Repeat this sequence a total of three times.

Tall Kneeling Arm Raises: Shoulder Flexion

Target: lats

This one engages the hips as well as the shoulders, and will really help with opening up your tight shoulder muscles.

Start in a kneeling position (also called “seiza”), sitting with your feet under your butt.Lift your hips as you raise your arms straight up overhead.At the top, you will be in a “tall kneeling” position with your arms straight up. Make sure to really open up the shoulders in that top position, but don’t arch the back.

Move in and out of this shoulder stretch 5 times and then hold for 15-30 seconds.

Tall Kneeling Arm Raises to Side: Shoulder Abduction

Target: lats and obliques

This stretch starts in the same position as the last one, but you’ll feel this one more in the lats and the back of the shoulder.

Begin in the same tall kneeling position, where you have your feet under your butt and then you drive your hips forward until you are kneeling on your shins.Now, instead of reaching straight up overhead, keep one arm down by your side and reach the other arm up and over to the opposite side.Really focus on reaching through the shoulder so you feel a nice stretch through your lats and back of the shoulder.

Move in and out of the shoulder stretch 5 times and then hold for 15-30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.

Clasped Hands Extension: Shoulder Extension

Target: rear deltoids and mid/upper traps

The last stretch in this sequence will help you work on shoulder extension, combating that rounded posture so many of us find ourselves in.

Start in a seated position. In the video, you’ll see that Jeff is sitting cross legged, but sit however feels comfortable for you. If sitting on the floor is uncomfortable, you can sit on a chair or bench as long as it does not have a back.Clasp your hands behind your back and straighten your elbows. Sit up with a tall posture as you pull your arms up and back. Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together as you move into the stretch.

Move in and out of the stretch 5 times and then hold for 15-30 seconds.

When tight shoulders are holding you back the most important thing to do is to address that problem! That’s what these exercises will help with.

But you might also wonder why your shoulders are so tight in the first place. So let’s take a look at that…

Download the Shoulder Mobility Routine

Get the proven 6-stretch sequence that’s helped thousands of people free up their shoulders, yours free.


What’s Making Your Shoulders Tight?

There are a lot of different things that could be going on in your shoulders. For many people, the situation I just described – sitting hunched over a computer or phone all day – is the culprit, but for others, there might be some other issues.

The way you exercise might be a factor. If you spend a lot of time in the gym doing bench presses or working your chest fly, that could encourage the shoulders to rotate forward.

I won’t go into too much detail here about how the shoulders work, but what I will say is this: the shoulder girdle is a complex area made up of at least 16 major muscles. The innate complexity of this region means there’s a lot that can potentially go wrong, but there’s also a lot of tissue to support the shoulders through some pretty rough episodes.

Of course, the shoulders don’t operate in a vacuum, and there’s a good chance if you’ve got some shoulder issues, that you also have some aches and restrictions in other parts of your body, especially in the neck and spine.

Addressing Your Shoulder Mobility Holistically

If shoulder issues are holding you back from stuff you’d rather be doing, you probably want them fixed ASAP.

Consistently practicing this sequence will help a lot.

But shoulder mobility doesn’t work in isolation. The capabilities you want come from strength, mobility, and control working together.

And not just in your shoulders. True physical autonomy means you can coordinate your whole body to help you achieve your goals without restrictions holding you back.

That’s what our Elements program is designed to help you build.

It uses variations of 4 deceptively simple exercises to get you stronger, more flexible, and to help you develop skillful control over your whole body. So if you want your shoulder mobility to contribute to full-body capability and confidence, take a look at Elements.

Free Up Your Shoulders and Move Better Than Ever

Shoulder mobility is one key component of all-around physical autonomy. The Elements program walks you through a process to build strength, mobility, and control throughout your body.

Elements Details


Your Foundation for Physical Autonomy

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