If your shoulders are always giving you problems even though you are stretching and foam rolling consistently, it’s time to look elsewhere to get out of pain and improve performance.
Here are three favorite shoulder mobility drills that will improve your movement and fix this common pain point forever.
1. HALF KNEELING DYNAMIC OSCILLATORY PEC STRETCH
We need to forget about static stretching when it comes to the pecs and shoulders in general. The true shoulder joint (referred to as the gleno-humeral joint) is already the single most mobile joint in the body, capable of an immense amount of range in every possible plane of motion.
So in reality, if your shoulders are banged up the last thing we need is to be stretching the pec and adding more mobility to a highly mobile area of the body.
But with that said, sometimes we need to take the word “stretching” with a grain of salt and instead of throwing out this method completely, just refine the way it’s executed and change the goal in mind. My preferred method for stretching the pecs is the half kneeling dynamic oscillatory stretch.
By placing the shoulder at around 120 degrees of elevation with the hand and forearm supported on a wall or rack, we can strategically move in and out of extension at the shoulder with complete control. This helps avoid over-stretching the front side of the shoulder, which has been linked to instability and pain.
Moving slowly in and out of an end range stretch while keeping tension through the pecs the entire time will allow the joint to lubricate, the tissues to decrease local tightness, and your body better able to respond to the new positions. Give it a try with 30-45 seconds of back and forth oscillations per arm.
2. SINGLE LEG LOCKED QUADRUPED THORACIC SPINE ROTATION
I’d be leading you down a narrow path to nowhere if I didn’t emphasize the importance of the shoulder blade and thoracic spine in relation to shoulder function and pain.
Simply put, if your thoracic spine cannot extend and rotate in coordination with your shoulder blade stabilizing nicely against the thoracic rib cage, your shoulder will be placed into poor positions to work from and maybe even end up injured.
Though there are many ways to synergistically retrain the upper quadrant (consisting of the gleno-humeral joint, scapular and thoracic spine together), one of my favorites is the single leg locked quadruped thoracic spine rotation.
By getting down on all fours, we can add to the stability of the opposite shoulder, hips and spine together, and get a more isolated movement pattern from one side of the body.
If you want to take this setup to the next level, extend out one leg to the side which places a stretch through the medial hamstring group and adductors, thus stabilizing the spine and pelvis, and holding it in place to a greater extent during this movement.
Before we start moving, focus on squeezing the glutes, core, and opposite side shoulder to stabilize this setup. From there, place fingertips on the top of the head and rotate upwards with slow and controlled movement patterns. Start with 10-15 reps per side trying to get a little more top end range of motion every single rep with perfect control of the rest of your body.
3. 3-WAY SIDELYING THORACIC SPINE ROTATION
The sidelying position is another excellent setup to work shoulder mobility from its coordination with the shoulder blade and thoracic spine. Since not every single shoulder problem presents with the same type of dysfunction of pain pattern, I’m going to bring you through three different drills out of the same sidelying setup here.
Before we jump into the variations, it’s important to note the perfect stable setup in side lying. First, lie on your side and bring your top leg up to a 90-90 position at the knee and hip and place it on a foam roller. Drive your knee down into the foam roller to stabilize the spine and pelvis.
Also from this position, you should be directly lying on your shoulder, and not tilted forward or backward. Finally, place tension and activation through your abs and core. This will be the same for all variations.
The first drill focuses directly in on the thoracic rib cage and its ability to rotate. Take your top hand and reach around the front side of your body and grab the back rib cage near the lat. Once you grab this area, you’ll be slowly rotating up to add mobility to this region.
The second position will add more direct shoulder mobility into the mix. Placing your hands on top of one another, you’ll be once again rotating up and out but the hand and arm on the top of the body will lead you.
Move slowly and try to get as much range of motion at the top as possible, but ensure that the rest of your body stays stabilized with that knee driving down into the foam roller.
Finally, we can emphasize the movement of the shoulder blade a bit more with the arm sweep variation out of the sidelying position. This drill will have you making a 180-degree arc up overhead and reaching as far as you can to mobilize all the key players in shoulder function together.
Move slowly and really feel this stretch through your rib cage. Start all these drills with 10-15 reps per side.
BONUS: FEET ELEVATED STRETCH PUSH UP
Though this exercise doesn’t really fit the “shoulder mobility” title, it can be a powerful player in maintaining or even enhancing shoulder mobility and function. The stretch push up offers an extended range of motion and pec stretch under load that is highly transferable for building muscle, strength, and of course mobility.
The setup is key here, so pay attention to the video. You’ll be setting up two elevated surfaces of the same height (like benches or boxes) together and essentially be extending the range of motion at the bottom of the push up.
If you are really strong, feel free to elevate your feet up, or to the same point, elevate your hands up more if you are struggling to get the reps in.
I want you to “feel” this movement move in and out of the stretch, so move slowly and under control. Lock in the core and glutes to stabilize the movement and shoot for 10-20 reps of constant tension movement. These are a killer way to end an upper body or bench day with a little flare of mobility, so give them a try!