5 of the Best Exercises for Overhead Shoulder Mobility

Loss of overhead shoulder mobility occurs slowly over time from your daily routines and habits.  A subtle loss of mobility will make a big impact on how your shoulder functions.  Sitting at a desk for most of your day results in a slow loss of shoulder range of motion.  Over time, the small changes in your shoulder mobility begin to accumulate.  Before you know it, your shoulder begins to feel a little tight.   Next, reaching overhead is painful.   Things snowball from there.

You may not realize you have lost shoulder mobility until you begin or resume an exercise program.  Exercises that require overhead shoulder mobility include the shoulder press, push press, snatch, and pull-up.  These types of exercises are performed at or near end ranges of motion.  Without your full range of motion, your shoulder begins to break down.  With more weight, repetitions, and speed the problem is magnified.

Why is Overhead Shoulder Mobility Important?

shoulder mobility exercise
Full shoulder flexion range of motion is crucial for overall shoulder health

Your ability to function overhead requires mobility of your shoulder joint, scapula, and thoracic spine.  Your scapula must freely rotate and tilt in order to reach fully overhead.  Exercises that target your serratus anterior and lower trapezius are helpful.  Also, your thoracic spine must be able to fully extend in order to achieve end-range overhead positions.   Thoracic mobility drills are essential to maintain or restore overhead mobility.

Manual Therapy & Shoulder Mobility Exercise

Full range of motion in your shoulder joint is needed to function overhead.  Restrictions can be due to your joint capsule (frozen shoulder) or your soft tissue (muscles and tendons) structures surrounding your shoulder.   Joint restrictions are treated best with manual therapy performed by your PT.  Soft tissue restrictions are treated by combining soft tissue manual therapy techniques with mobility exercises.  The remainder of this article describes 5 shoulder mobility exercises to get your overhead mobility back.

Supine Shoulder Flexion

There are many variations to this exercise.  When you lie on your back and flex your arms overhead, shoulder flexion is assisted by gravity.  To increase the stretch to your lats, position your palms up.  As you gain mobility move your hands closer together.  You can also perform the exercise lying on a bench to allow a greater range of motion overhead.  Be sure to keep youe abs engaged and low back flat to avoid compensations.

Bench T-Spine Extension

This exercise improves thoracic spine (your upper back) extension.  It also provides a stretch to your lats and triceps.  Both of these muscles restrict your overhead mobility.  By moving your hips back to your heels, your lumbar spine flexes.  This adds to the stretch in your upper back and lats.

Floor Slides

Perform the floor slide with your hips and knees bent.  This position facilitates a neutral low back position.  This is a great way to stretch tight pectoral muscles that contribute to rounded shoulders and limited overhead mobility.  Be sure to keep your abs engaged and back flat against the floor.

Shoulder Flexion over Foam Roll

Lying over a foam roller helps maintain a proper spine position when flexing your shoulder overhead.   It also facilitates stretching of your pectoralis major and minor muscles.  Adding a resistance band to your wrists engages your rotator cuff muscles.  Be sure to keep your abs engaged and low back flat to avoid compensations.

Prone Lifts

This is a challenging exercise but it can be very effective for restoring the last bit of your shoulder mobility.  The prone position also facilitates the tilting of your scapula.  Backward tilting of your scapula is an important part of functioning overhead.  Be sure to keep your abs engaged to avoid compensations in your low back.   As you gain mobility move your hands closer together.

Let Us Know if You Need Help Restoring Your Shoulder Mobility

The shoulder is the most mobile joint in your body.  However, mobility problems are very common and lead to pain and a lot of frustration.  Performing any of these 5 mobility drills will combat and reverse the loss of overhead shoulder mobility.  Don’t expect huge improvements after a few sessions of stretching.

Your results can be expedited by combining these exercises with manual therapy performed by your physical therapist.   It takes consistent and disciplined performance to achieve the best long-term results.  If you need more help, contact your physical therapist.  The physical therapists at BSR have been helping people move without pain since 2007.


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