5 Exercises to Improve Overhead Shoulder Mobility

Loss of overhead shoulder mobility can be subtle.  Often, a subtle loss of motion occurs slowly over time from our daily routines and habits.  Sitting at a desk for most of your day can result in changes in posture and loss of shoulder mobility.  Over time, the small changes in your shoulder mobility begin to accumulate.  Before you know it, your shoulder begins to feel a little tight.   You experience pain when reaching overhead.   Things snowball from there.

You may not realize you have lost shoulder mobility until you begin or resume an exercise program.  Exercises which 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.  Your shoulder can begin to break down.  With more weight, repetitions, and speed the problem is magnified.

Why is Overhead Mobility Important?

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 the 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 helpful also.

Shoulder Mobility Exercise

Full range of motion of the glenohumeral, or shoulder, joint is needed to function overhead.  Restrictions can be due to the joint capsule or the soft tissue (muscles and tendons) structures surrounding the joint.   Joint restrictions are treated best with manual therapy.  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 you can do.

Supine Shoulder Flexion

When lying on your back and flexing 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 the hands closer together.  You can also perform the exercise lying on a bench to allow for greater range of motion overhead.  Be sure to keep the abs engaged and low back flat to avoid compensations.

Bench T-Spine Extension

This exercise improves thoracic spine extension.  It also provides a stretch to your lats and triceps.  Both of these muscles can 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 flexed.  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 back flat against the floor.

Shoulder Flexion over Foam Roll

Lying over the foam roll helps maintain proper spine position when flexing the shoulder overhead.   It also facilitates stretching of the pectoralis major and minor muscles.  Adding a resistance band to the wrists engages your rotator cuff muscles.  Be sure to keep the 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 posterior tilting of your scapula.  Tilting of the scapula is an important part of functioning overhead.  Be sure to keep your abs engaged to avoid compensations in the low back.   As you gain mobility move your hands closer together.

Final Thoughts on Shoulder Mobility

The shoulder is the most mobile joint in your body.  However, mobility problems are very common and can lead to pain and a lot of frustration.  Performing any of these 5 mobility drills can combat and reverse loss of overhead shoulder mobility.  Don’t expect huge improvements after a few sessions.  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.  We want to help you move without pain.


Subscribe to Our Newsletter and Receive Similar Articles

Want to move better without pain? Join thousands of others who subscribe to our newsletter and get exclusive access to more helpful tips and exercises. Here's an example issue of our newsletter, so you can get a preview of what you are signing up for.

* indicates required