These are my favorite shoulder mobility exercises to reduce stiffness and pain. They allow a large range of motion and actually stretch AND strengthen the most important muscles of the shoulder. I’ll demo the exercises and show you how to avoid compensations to make sure you are doing them right.
3 Exercises to Improve Shoulder Mobility
- Dumbbell (DB) Fly
- Eccentric Shoulder Flexion
- Incline Dumbbell (DB) Curl
These exercises plus focusing on your upper back mobility will definitely improve your shoulder mobility.
#1 Dumbbell Shoulder Fly Exercise
Good for: pec muscle stretching and strength
- start arms up, thumbs facing each other
- INHALE and pretend your elbows are BIG compressing springs to the ground as your arms move apart
- EXHALE as you being your biceps back together (this flexes the pecs)
- 2-3 sets 1:00
You don’t need heavy weight, especially since the arm is nearly locked out. If you experience shoulder pain, just bend the elbow more.
A note on shoulder mobility, there is NO difference between a fly movement and a press. The same muscles have to work. A fly does “isolate” the pec more but that just means it’s easier to compensate with your traps if your mobility sucks.
#2 Eccentric Shoulder Flexion
Good for: great exercise for overhead shoulder mobility
- Lay on your back, knees bent, low back flat on the surface
- INHALE and reach the DB back, low back stays flat on the surface
- EXHALE as you bring the arm back to start position
- Perform 2-3 sets of 1:00 each arm
Most shoulder issues are a result of shoulder blade muscle weakness PLUS shoulder joint stiffness. This shoulder mobility exercise fixes both but focuses on the joint stiffness.
#3 Incline Hammer Curl
Good for: shoulder extension mobility, THE most important shoulder motion. If you can’t get here, then most exercises will be screwed up
- Lay on an incline, the LOWER the incline the better
- You can lay back or sit up, just make sure the bill of the hat is facing forward, so pack the neck
- Let the arms hang down, you should not be shrugged up (too much trap)
- Curl the weight without moving the upper arm, slowly return to the start position
- 2-3 sets 1:00 each side
The reason why extension is so important is because it’s the START position for all pushing exercises (bottom of bench, dips, and pushups) and the FINISH position for most pulling exercise (rows).
You can’t effectively load the pecs and lats if your extension sucks.
Correct Shoulder Exercise Technique
Mobility means keeping tension in the target muscle through the ENTIRE range of motion. The goal of these exercises is simple:
- load the pecs and lats (push, pull)
- don’t overload the traps (shrug)
How do you do that?
Shrug up, you should feel your traps.
Now, PULL you shoulders down, you should feel lats, and you can flex your pecs if you try.
It’s that easy. Make sure you feel tension in the lats and pecs when doing these exercises.
The end range of each shoulder mobility exercise is likely where you lose tension, so this is where you’ll most likely compensate:
- DB fly – arms apart
- DB shoulder flexion – arms overhead
- DB incline hammer curl – when arms are hanging
Not sure you are losing tension? Shrug up, then PULL the shoulder blades down. This will reestablish the tension.
Stretching is more beneficial for the shoulder since most issues are related to stiffness in the actual joint. These shoulder mobility exercises focus on the eccentric, so you get the stretch PLUS strengthening benefit as you move through the entire range of motion. If you don’t keep the tension, the exercise is worthless.