Shoulder Mobilization Exercises

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Keep your shoulder limber with these mobility exercises. (Image: Staras/iStock/Getty Images)

Cranky shoulders not only prevent you from doing certain upper body exercises, they can hold you back from fun activities like playing tennis, swimming or even cooking. Your shoulder should typically have a lot of freedom because it is a ball and socket joint, which means that there isn't much preventing it from moving besides your muscles and ligaments. In fact, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the shoulder has more range of motion than any other joint. In order to keep your shoulders healthy and moving freely, you need to take care of the muscles surrounding it.

The Shoulder

Your shoulder has two parts: the actual shoulder joint and the scapula. The shoulder joint is the part that we know as the actual "shoulder," where a bone called the humerus -- the arm bone -- meets the scapula. The scapula -- or shoulder blade -- connects your arm to your rib cage. If your scapula doesn't move well, your should will have less stability and range of motion, according to commentary published in a 2013 issue of the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy.

Scapular Action

Since the scapula is the base of the shoulder joint, address it first thing in a warm-up in a move such as the shoulder circle.

Shoulder Roll

Instead of making your shoulder joint do all the moving, this exercise forces your shoulder blades to take charge and lead the movement. Perform three sets of five repetitions clockwise and three sets of five repetitions counterclockwise.

Step 1

Stand tall, preferably near a mirror so that you can watch your form.

Step 2

With your arms straight by your sides, make a circle with your shoulders by rolling them forwards and up, then straight up towards your ears, then down and back and finally sink them as low as possible.

The benefit of this exercise is that it removes the arms from the equation and forces you to focus on the shoulder blades.

Follow the shoulder circles up with a little light resistance to get the muscles around your scapula warm and ready to work by incorporating scapula push-ups.

Scapula Push-Ups

Read More: Scapular Push-Ups

Even though this exercise involves less movement than a push-up, it's still challenging. Perform three sets of 10 repetitions.

Step 1

Get into a push-up position with your hands under your shoulders and elbows completely locked out.

Step 2

Without bending your elbows, lower your chest towards the ground by pinching your shoulder blades together and sinking down towards the ground.

Step 3

Push your shoulder blades away from each other to rise back up into the push-up position.

Eric Cressey, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, warns that if you feel shoulder pain during this exercise you should either put your feet on an elevated surface or focus on keeping your hips up and bracing your abs to prevent your hips from sinking.

If this exercise is too challenging, perform the same exercise but keep your knees on the ground the entire time.

Shoulder Joint Exercises

After you get your scapula moving, it's time to move on to the actual shoulder joint. The first exercise is a wall circle.

Wall Circle

A more advanced version of the shoulder circles, this exercise requires you to move your scapula and shoulder joint together to complete one circle. Perform three sets of five circles with each arm.

Step 1

Stand perpendicular to a wall with a tall posture and your shoulder touching the wall.

Step 2

Keeping your elbow straight, draw a big circle on the wall with your hand by moving your hand forwards and up, reaching as far forward as you can to make the biggest circle possible against the wall. Allow your palm to face out and your knuckles rub against the wall.

Step 3

When you reach the highest point of your circle, with your arm pointed straight overhead, flip your hand over so that your palm faces the wall and finish the other half of the circle by reaching back and down.

Downward Dog

Complete your shoulder mobilization workout with the downward dog, a traditional yoga move that takes your shoulder through a large range of motion. Perform three sets of 10 repetitions.

Step 1

Start in a push-up position with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees completely straight.

Step 2

Press your upper body back and stick your butt up in the air while keeping your knees and elbows straight.

Step 3

Let your head fall between your arms and press into the ground with the palms of your hands.

Step 4

Lower yourself back into a push-up position.

If you watch someone's shoulder blades as they do this exercise you will realize that there is a lot of movement of the scapula, making it a great shoulder mobility exercise.

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