A couple of rounds of boxing practice or several sets of shoulder presses can make your shoulders and triceps feel stiff and tired. Since your shoulder muscles, including your trapezius and deltoids, are connected to your triceps and other arm muscles, the mobility of your shoulders can affect how your arms and hands move. Stretch both your shoulders and triceps together to improve suppleness in both muscle groups.
Stretch to Relax Your Shoulders and Triceps
Static stretching is something you often see people do at the gym or outdoors. By stretching your trapezius, deltoid or triceps for 15 to 30 seconds, you decrease the amount of neural stimulation to your muscles and increase the activation of the Golgi tendon organ, which is a sensory receptor near the tendons. This special sensor stimulates the muscle fibers to relax and increase their length. In some cases, static stretching can cause instability in your tissues and thus can increase your risk of injury before training, according to exercise physiologist Len Kravitz. So, save static stretching for after your workout. Cross your right arm across your chest while slightly pulling your right elbow with your left hand. To stretch your upper trapezius and neck, tilt your head to your right with your left hand extended out to your left side and your left palm facing up.
Preparing for the Game
Before you swing that tennis racket or do a few pullups, perform dynamic stretching to warm up your shoulders and triceps and increase blood flow. This involves moving your shoulders and arms together repetitively within your normal range of motion by using some momentum. A sample dynamic stretch would be to swing your arms to your sides and across your body. Bend your elbows as you cross your arms in front of you, and extend them as you swing your arms to your sides. Other dynamic stretches for your shoulders and triceps include neck rolls, shoulder rolls, and arm circles to your sides.
Never Stretch When They're Sore
Stretching a sore muscle can delay your healing process. After a hard workout, your muscles contain many microscopic tears and need to rest in order to heal, adapt and grow. When you stretch your sore triceps and shoulders, you're lengthening the muscle, which further tears the muscle fibers apart. Your nervous system protects the muscle from further damage by making the muscles tighter, according to massage therapist Todd Hargrove. This causes a stiff sensation in the muscle that prevents you from stretching further. Thus, a tight shoulder or any other muscle should not necessarily be stretched.
Don't Force It
Stretching your shoulders and triceps too quickly and too far can cause your muscles to undergo a stretch reflex, especially if you try to force a muscle to stretch further. This is a protective mechanism that can cause a painful, automatic contraction of your muscles and tendons. Always breathe deeply with your belly as you stretch.
- IDEA Fitness Journal: Stretching -- A Research Retrospective
- Anatomy Trains: The Arm Lines
- NeuroSoma.com: The Stretch Reflex Mechanism
- Better Movement: Should You Stretch a Sore Muscle
- NeuroScience, 2nd Edition; D. Purves et al.
- NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training; Michael Clark et al.