Did you know that the shoulder joint is similar to placing a golf ball on a golf tee? This means that multiple muscles need to work together to stabilize the shoulder joint. However, this also means that the muscles around the shoulder can become stiff, leading to discomfort in the shoulder, neck, or arm. As a physical therapist and strength coach, I have learned 12 effective shoulder stretches over the past 10 years that have helped my clients increase flexibility, improve joint range of motion, and alleviate discomfort. Please note that this article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Always consult with a healthcare professional before trying any new exercises or stretches.
Here are the 12 best shoulder stretches that you should add to your exercise routine:
1. Banded Lat Stretch: This stretch targets the lats, which are important for shoulder extension and overall shoulder function. To perform this stretch, attach a resistance band to a bar overhead and place one hand into the band. Step back until there is tension in the band and hinge at the hips, keeping your back neutral. Allow the band to pull your arm away from your body.
2. Rack Pec Stretch: The doorway pec stretch targets the pectoralis major muscle, which can contribute to rounded shoulders and poor posture if tight. Stand before a squat rack with your shoulders elevated and elbow bent to 90 degrees. Place your forearm on the rack and step forward with the inside leg to open the chest. You should feel a stretch across the chest and anterior shoulder.
3. Sleeper Stretch: This stretch targets the posterior capsule of the shoulder and the rotator cuff muscles. Lie on your side with the target arm on the bottom and position the arm and elbow at 90 degrees. Apply gentle pressure to the back of the bottom hand using the top hand and press the bottom hand towards the floor until you feel a stretch in the backside of the shoulder.
4. PVC External Rotation Stretch: This stretch focuses on the anterior shoulder capsule and stretches the internal rotators of the shoulder. Hold a PVC pipe in one hand vertically and rotate the arm outwards, allowing the PVC pipe to rest on the outside of the hand and arm. Bring the arm to 90 degrees of elevation and maintain a 90-degree angle at the elbow. Use the opposing arm to grab the bottom of the PVC pipe and continue to pull upwards, rotating the target arm until you feel a stretch in the backside of the shoulder.
5. Cross-Body Arm Stretch: This stretch improves upper back flexibility and targets the posterior shoulder muscle, mid-trapezius, and rhomboid muscles. Reach one arm across your chest as far as possible and use the opposite arm to hook under the target arm and apply overpressure in the direction of the stretch. Continue pulling the other arm across your chest until you feel a stretch in the back of the shoulder.
6. Behind The Back Internal Rotation Stretch: This stretch is beneficial if you have difficulty reaching behind your back. Hold a strap, band, or towel in the opposite hand and place it over the opposite shoulder. Reach behind your back with the target shoulder and grasp the strap. Use the opposite hand to pull the strap upwards, creating a stretch in the shoulder.
These are just six of the 12 best shoulder stretches that can help improve flexibility, range of motion, and alleviate discomfort in the shoulder, neck, and arm. Incorporating these stretches into your exercise routine can be beneficial, but always consult with a healthcare professional before trying any new exercises or stretches. Remember to listen to your body and only stretch to a comfortable level.