Should mobility exercises are an important tool because every lifter will have shoulder problems someday.
The key is to understand what’s going on and have a plan for keeping them loose. Stay proactive!
In this article, I’ll briefly list the pertinent anatomy, give your shoulders some principles to live by, and leave you with a free, 18-minute shoulder mobility circuit.
Shoulder Anatomy Primer
- Humerus, or upper arm
- Scapula, or shoulder blade
- Clavicle, or collar bone
We can break the muscles up into two groups:
- Muscles that control scapular position
- Serratus anterior
- Muscles that move the arm bone
- Pectoralis major and pectoralis minor
- Latissimus dorsi
- Rotator cuff
The shoulder is a series of four joints working together:
The Scapulothoracic joint is considered a “physiologic joint” because there is no literal bone-to-bone contact. This joint, however, is perhaps the most important because it has the most influence on shoulder mobility.
Shoulder Mobility Principles
Most shoulder mobility exercises should prioritize movements of the spine and rib cage. Full thoracic flexion, extension, and rotation accompanies a flexible rib cage. When selecting shoulder mobility exercises, you should start with exercises that increase this core mobility.
If the rib cage moves well and the shoulders still need mobility, some light stretching may be appropriate. My favorite is prolonged hanging from a bar or traction with a band as this stretches all the muscles evenly, minimizing the risk of over-loosening any particular muscle or ligament.
Overbreathing and breath-holding stiffen the rib cage. Practice nasal breathing when warming up, performing light cardio, or during the rest of the day. Mouth breathing is only appropriate with highly intensive exercise and even then should be minimized.
Practice full, skinny exhales to fully mobilize the rib cage. Big muscles like the pecs and lats love to elevate the ribs, but forced exhales teach these muscles to shut off in favor of a strong core. Make sure to pause for five seconds in the fully exhaled position and avoid crunching hard.
Don’t forget to loosen the hips! Every piece of the body is connected and sometimes the shoulder stays inflexible because of stiff hips. You might consider some quad stretches or my modified pigeon stretch.
Shoulder Mobility Exercises: An 18-Minute Circuit
Here’s a video where I walk you through my go-to shoulder mobility exercises. I do them with you so you don’t have to play-pause while watching. I also outline some of the common mistakes to avoid.