7 of the Best Shoulder Mobility Exercises for Less Painful Movement

A common yoga pose, child's pose is also one of the best shoulder mobility exercises.
Image Credit: PeopleImages/iStock/GettyImages

From the moment you roll out of bed, you rely on the mobility in your shoulders to get through the day. Standard activities, like reaching for something on a high shelf or pulling a shirt over your head, are a lot harder without sufficient range of motion in your shoulder joints.

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Unfortunately, painful or uncomfortable movement is fairly common, but shoulder mobility exercises can help. Passive range of motion (ROM) shoulder moves allow you to stretch your arm in various directions without actively engaging any muscles, which can help improve your mobility without exacerbating any pain you're experiencing.

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Noam Tamir, CSCS, owner and founder of TS Fitness, recommends incorporating both active and passive shoulder ROM exercises in your weekly workout schedule to help increase your shoulder flexibility. Here are seven to start with.

1. Shoulder Rotation

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Skill Level All Levels
Body Part Shoulders
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Keeping your elbow straight, raise your left arm in front of you, leading with your thumb.
  3. When your arm is straight over your head, rotate your arm so that you lead with your pinky as you bring your arm behind your body.
  4. Keep dropping your arm until you complete one full rotation.
  5. Once you finish all your reps here, switch arms.

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2. Trap Stretch

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Skill Level All Levels
Body Part Shoulders
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Clasp your arms behind your back, wrapping your right palm and fingers around your left wrist.
  3. With your shoulders down and back, tilt your head gently to the right.
  4. Pause here for a deep breath or two.
  5. Return your neck to a neutral position and repeat.
  6. Once you finish all your reps here, switch sides.

Your trapezius (traps) and shoulders are connected to the same joint, so if your traps are tight, your shoulder range of motion is limited, according to Carolina Araujo, CPT, a California-based strength coach.

Although this mobility move loosens the muscles on your neck, it's a passive range-of-motion exercise for your shoulder, too.

3. Foam Roller Quadruped Delt Capsule Stretch

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Skill Level All Levels
Body Part Back and Shoulders
  1. Begin on all fours with a foam roller resting on the floor outside your right hand.
  2. Bring your left arm across your body and place the back of your left palm on the foam roller.
  3. Holding your palm in place and your left elbow straight, slowly push the foam roller farther to the right, allowing your left shoulder to dip toward the ground.
  4. Keep pushing the roller away until your left shoulder is hovering above the ground.
  5. Pause here for a few breaths.
  6. Reverse the motion and return to the starting position.
  7. Repeat all your reps here, then switch arms.

This exercise focuses on stretching out your posterior shoulder capsule (the protective membrane around your shoulder joint). Over time, tightness in this area can lead to shoulder pain or a rotator cuff injury.

4. Side-Lying T-Spine Rotation

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Skill Level All Levels
Body Part Chest and Shoulders
  1. Lie on the floor on your right side with your right leg straight across the ground, your left leg bent at 90 degrees, knee in line with your hip.
  2. Rest your left knee on the foam roller.
  3. Place your palms together with your arms straight in front of you in line with your shoulders. This is the starting position.
  4. Keeping your lower body stable and your right arm glued to the ground, open up your left arm toward the sky.
  5. Keep opening your left arm until it forms a "T" shape, your gaze following your moving arm.
  6. Pause here for a breath or two.
  7. Reverse the motion to return to the starting position.
  8. Repeat for all your reps here, then switch sides.

Tip

As you do this move, it's okay if you can't get your moving arm flat against the floor — the key is to keep your lower body stable, according to Araujo.

"Tight pecs are another common reason you may experience stiffness in your shoulder," she says. This move can help loosen those muscles, increasing your shoulder mobility.

5. Wall Pec Stretch

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Skill Level All Levels
Body Part Chest and Shoulders
  1. Stand in front of a wall and place your hand against the wall at shoulder height, palm flat against the wall.
  2. Maintaining contact between the wall and your hand, slowly turn your body away from the wall.
  3. Twist gently until you feel a slight pull in your chest and shoulder.
  4. Hold, then repeat on the other side.

Tip

You can do this simple shoulder mobility exercise in a doorway or against a machine in the gym, Araujo says. The key is to keep your arm fully extended to really get the stretch into your shoulder.

6. Child's Pose Lat Stretch

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Skill Level All Levels
Body Part Back and Shoulders
  1. Start on the floor on your hands and knees.
  2. Lower your forehead to the ground and stretch your arms out to the right, left palm on top of right.
  3. Pause here for a few breaths, reaching forward with your finger tips.
  4. Switch sides, reaching to the left with your right palm on top of the left.

7. Foam Roller Supine Pec Stretch

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Skill Level All Levels
Body Part Chest and Shoulders
  1. Lie with a foam roller under your back and tailbone, knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
  2. Stretch your straight alongside your body.
  3. Keeping your arms straight, sweep your arms up to your sides in line with your shoulders.
  4. Pause here for a breath or two.
  5. Return your arms to the starting position and repeat.

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