Improve Shoulder Complex Mobility

Mobilize your shoulder complex and unlock your lifting potential with these five essential stretches.

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When it comes to the human body, shoulders win the crazy-complicated prize. Each shoulder complex contains three bones (clavicle, scapula, humerus), two joints (acromioclavicular, glenohumeral) and is the origin or insertion point for more than a dozen muscles, some tiny (rotator cuffs) and some large (pectoralis major).

On one hand this is great — your shoulders can move in all planes of motion as well as in rotation, and figure into every upper-body exercise either as primary movers or as stabilizers. However, if you’re not practicing mobility, all this pushing, pulling, turning and swinging can mean stiffness and inflexibility, leading at the least to reduced performance and at the worst, injury.

These five moves can help release the muscles in and around your shoulder complex, increasing your range of motion and improving your lifting or athletic performance. Integrate them into your warm-up, moving at a steady pace to push blood into the joints and muscles and increase your range of motion. Postworkout, slow things down and use them as a cool-down measure to help move metabolic wastes out of your muscles, accelerating recovery, while improving long-term flexibility.

Back Scratcher

Targets: Internal/external rotators, anterior delts, triceps

Hold a resistance band loop, towel or strap in your left hand vertically behind your back, elbow lifted. Grab the other end with your right hand at your lumbar spine. Extend at your left elbow to pull the band upward, stretching the right shoulder, then pull down with the right hand to stretch your left shoulder. Do five to 10 pulls with each hand, then switch so your right hand is on top and your left is on the bottom.

Tip: As your shoulders loosen up, grip higher and/or lower on the band with your hands to increase the stretch.

Foam Roller “Snow Angel”

Targets: Front delts/chest

Lie on top of a foam roller so it runs along your spine with your head supported, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Open your arms to the sides, palms up. Slowly raise them over your head, then move them in an arc all the way down your hips. Do two sets of 10 reps, then repeat with your palms facing the floor.

Tip: Repeat the sequence with your palms facing the floor to hit your shoulders and chest in a different way.

Cross-Body Pull

Targets: Rear/lateral delts, rhomboids, levator scapulae

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and bring one arm across your body at shoulder height, keeping it straight. Pull it into your chest with your opposite arm, press your shoulders down and hold. Alternate sides for 10 total reps.

Tip: Intensify this stretch by dropping your head away from the extended arm.

Chicken Wing Head Drop

Targets: Levator scapulae, trapezius, rotators

Grab your right wrist with your left hand behind your back at your lumbar spine. Pull your right arm across your back, then drop your left ear toward your left shoulder and hold. Repeat on the other side. Do two or three sets.

Tip: With your head to the side, try looking up then looking down to further stretch the smaller muscles of your neck and traps.

Stability Ball One-Arm Stretch

Targets: Scapulae, serratus, lats

Get onto all fours with your hips over your knees and extend one arm on top of a stability ball, palm facing inward. Keeping your head neutral and your back straight, drop your chest and sit back slightly with your hips to stretch your extended arm and hold. Do two or three times per side.

Tip: Try this with both arms at the same time, palms pressed together on top of the ball.

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