Exercises for Increased Shoulder Flexibility

man doing a shoulder stretch
Shoulder flexibility is important for injury prevention. (Image: Travis McCoy/LIVESTRONG.COM)

From the moment you roll out of bed, you rely on the flexibility in your shoulders to get through the day. Activities such as bathing, dressing, driving and preparing a meal are not possible without sufficient range of motion in your arm.

In addition, stretching your shoulder can decrease the risk of injuring your rotator cuff. Several different exercises can help you improve the flexibility in your shoulder.

man doing a foam roller stretch
Roll it out. (Image: Travis McCoy/LIVESTRONG.COM)

1. Foam Roll Stretch

The foam roll stretch improves the flexibility of your pectoralis minor muscle, which can become tight in people with rounded shoulders.

HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back on a foam roll or rolled towel that is aligned vertically over your spine. Support your head on a pillow so it remains neutral with your body.

Let each of your arms hang out to your side at shoulder level and lower them down toward the ground. When a gentle stretch is felt in the front of your arm or in your chest, hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds. Complete the stretch two to four times.

man doing shoulder stretch
Open up your shoulders. (Image: Travis McCoy/LIVESTRONG.COM)

2. Posterior Shoulder Stretch

This exercise focuses on stretching out your posterior shoulder capsule. Tightness in this area can lead to shoulder pain or a rotator cuff injury.

HOW TO DO IT: Reach across your body toward your left shoulder with your right arm. Use your left arm to lightly push on the right elbow to further the motion. When you feel a mild pull in the back of the shoulder, maintain the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds before releasing it. Perform this exercise two to four times before repeating with the left arm.

man doing corner shoulder stretch
Nobody puts baby in the corner. (Image: Travis McCoy/LIVESTRONG.COM)

3. Corner Stretch

The corner stretch focuses on the shoulder's internal rotation muscles, which can become tight in people who sit a lot throughout the day. Improving flexibility in this area helps to retract the shoulders.

HOW TO DO IT: Assume a staggered stance with one foot in front of the other and stand 8 to 12 inches away from a corner. Lift both arms away from your body to shoulder level and bend both elbows to a 90-degree angle.

Place your forearms and palms against the wall. Then, slowly shift your weight to your front leg until a stretch is felt in the front part of your shoulder or in your chest. Make sure you do not crane your neck forward or arch your low back while you do this.

Hold this stretch for 10 to 30 seconds before returning to the starting position. Do two to four repetitions of the exercise.

man doing a shoulder stretch
All you need is a table or tall box. (Image: Travis McCoy/LIVESTRONG.COM)

4. Table-Top Stretch

This exercise helps to improve your flexibility into shoulder flexion, making it easier to complete overhead activities with your arm.

HOW TO DO IT: Stand facing a table or a countertop and place both palms face down on the surface. Without allowing your palms to move, slowly step backwards as you simultaneously lean your body forward.

When a stretch is felt near your underarms, maintain the position for 10 to 30 seconds before walking inward and releasing the tension. Make sure not to shrug your shoulders as you complete this exercise. Perform two to four repetitions.

man doing a shoulder stretch in the gym
They call this the sleeper stretch. (Image: Travis McCoy/LIVESTRONG.COM)

5. Sleeper Stretch

The sleeper stretch loosens the external rotator muscles in the shoulder making it easier to reach behind your back.

HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your right side and extend your right arm out in front of your body at shoulder level. Place a small rolled towel under your elbow to keep the arm in alignment with your body. Bend your right elbow to a 90-degree angle. Using your left hand, gently push the right forearm and rotate it toward the ground.

When you feel a gentle stretch in the back of the shoulder, hold for 10 to 30 seconds before allowing your forearm to return to the initial position. If the stretch is too intense, you can rock your body backwards slightly to decrease the pull. After doing two to four repetitions of this exercise, repeat it on your left shoulder.

Guidelines and Precautions

To improve the flexibility in your shoulders, complete each stretch two to three times each week. The exercises should cause a gentle stretching sensation; however, they should not cause increased pain. Make sure to check with your doctor prior to beginning the stretches if you have recently injured your arm or had shoulder surgery.

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