Shoulder extension is the motion that I always look to improve with all patients battling shoulder pain. If you lack shoulder extension, you can’t GET into position to perform your favorite strength exercise. You will compensate with muscles that are not suited for the task, and your shoulder and neck pain will probably always come back.
Exercises to Improve Shoulder Extension
- Repeated Extension Dips
- Thoracic Bridge
- Incline bicep curls
- Bench press
#1 Repeated Shoulder Extension Dips
Good for: general ROM, getting the joint to end range
- Grab something stable with a thumbs down grip
- Grab as high as you comfortably can
- Dip the shoulder forward, then back
- Repeat 10-15x every 2-3 hours, try to get the hand higher over time
Compensations have prevent you from getting to end range shoulder extension (or any movement), and this is important for every joint. The dip is a “safe” way to start to get those reps in.
Two progressions also in the above tweet thread:
- Forward Lunge
Keep pain to a minimum, no greater than a 5/10. If you aren’t sure, your pain should not be WORSE the next time you do them.
#2 Thoracic Bridge
Good for: loading the shoulder and the thoracic spine in ALL directions.
Hands on the ground is a great way to get shoulder extension as well as upper back mobility.
It also includes hip extension, which most people can use more of.
Do 5-10 reps per side, try to maintain nasal breathing.
Yes, you’ve seen me post about this one before.
#3 Incline Hammer Curl
- Use an incline that lets the shoulders hang STRAIGHT down
- Keep the shoulders PULLED down
- When you curl keep the elbow under the shoulder
- 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps/side
This works the bicep through the entire length, and just like #1 Repeated Extension Dips, the shoulder should not be dumped forward.
The lower the incline the better.
Yes, we’ve posted this one before, too.
#4 Barbell Bench Press
Good for: General shoulder extension mobility AND strength
- Stack the wrists (not bent back)
- “Make the bar shorter” (THE secret trick)
- PULL the bar down – tension will dictate the bar path but generally to the sternum/nipple line
- PUSH the bar to the ceiling
- “Make the bar shorter” the ENTIRE time
The thing that makes bench press so tough for people is getting to the bottom. They can get there but not without a lot of compensations.
“Making the Bar Shorter” is key here as it puts tension in the right place.
The pecs main job is squeezing the arms together, also called horizontal adduction. By exerting this inward pressure, you create pec tension. Maintain this through the ENTIRE movement. Up. and down.
What is Shoulder Extension
Shoulder extension is just getting your arm behind you. Normal is considered 40-50 degrees, and that’s just from the shoulder joint.
Getting more than that requires contribution from the upper back, so limitations in any of the joints around the shoulder can cause compensations.
For some exercises (bench press, dips), you could need up to 70 degrees.
Why is Shoulder Extension Important?
Shoulder extension is how you get into the start position to do any pushing exercise. It usually manifests itself as using too much trap, which can cause
- Issues with the shoulder blade mobility
- Issues with the neck
Here’s an example of that and why I find it’s really an issue. (hint: pec tension)
When it comes to shoulder dysfunction, I prioritize extension. You have to be able to get back without excessive compensations to truly strengthen the shoulder. If you can’t, any rehab exercise you do will be a waste.
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