achieving a solid overhead position won’t be possible making overhead pressing, snatches, overhead squats, and efficiency suffer.
Far too often, athletes waste time foam rolling and performing band distraction drills that only temporarily improve their range of motion. Then the next day they must repeat the process again, never seeing the long term improvements they want in their performance. The following shoulder mobility exercises are my favorites for creating lasting improvements in shoulder mobility that translate to more load on the bar, reps on the rig, and better WOD times!
If you want a done-for-you shoulder mobility program, check out our OVERHEAD MOBILITY OVERHAUL. This is a four-day per week program has helped thousands of athletes unlock their shoulder joint range of motion in just ten minutes per workout!
The Best Shoulder Mobility Exercises
Posterior Capsule PAILs & RAILs
The sleeper stretch has long been used as a shoulder mobility exercise, but this variation with a strong isometric contraction at the end range of internal rotation. When posterior shoulder tightness is present, we’ll often see limitations in overhead positioning as well. So addressing this will often create the improvements in shoulder flexion we want. By combining with isometrics muscle contractions, we also can work on improving shoulder strength at the same time.
Eccentrics (the lowering portion of a lift) performed slowly are perhaps the best mobility technique to use for any muscle or joint. The combination of a supinated grip and legs being flexed that you’ll see in the below drill really emphasizes lat flexibility. With overhead lifts, lat flexibility very commonly affects our ability to get into optimal positioning.
Prone Lift Offs
Prone lift offs are a great shoulder mobility drill because they also provide a significant stimulus to build upper back strength while increasing flexibility. Start with a wide grip opening the arms up until they are in line with your ears. As you are able, narrow your grip to increase the difficulty of this exercise. Be sure to keep your abs and glutes tight to focus the movement on the shoulders and not cheating with thoracolumbar spine extension. This shoulder exercise will not only improve your motion, but build valuable strength at end ranges of flexion.
One of the most forgotten shoulder mobility is shoulder extension, or the ability of your arm to reach back. This is a key mobility piece for movements such as dips, bench press, pushups, and muscle-ups. Addressing this can also be a way to rapidly decrease shoulder pain in some athletes.
One of my favorite drills for this is crab sliders, demonstrated by my Performance Plus partner, Pamela Gagnon.
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Scapula CARs while Hanging
Hanging from a pull-up bar can be a great mobility drill for the shoulders. But if we want to improve our performance we need to focus on more than passive mobility. Performing slow, controlled scapula movements while hanging will improve mobility, control for gymnastics movements, and makes a great rehab move as well. This is an exercise that I commonly prescribe for individuals having shoulder pain with pull-up variations such as kipping pull-ups and muscle-ups. Us a resistance band to reduce the difficulty if needed.
Overhead Opener for Shoulder Mobility
The overhead opener is a great exercise for stretching the entire shoulder girdle and thoracic spine. When wanting to improve overhead mobility, maximizing thoracic extension is a must. Try the overhead opener as well as these drills I’ve previously discussed HERE and HERE.
When the shoulders go into elevation, the scapula (shoulder blade) should also go into upward rotation. We can perform the traditional yoga exercise of the downward-facing dog with an emphasis on serratus anterior activation to help improve scapular motion while mobilizing the thoracic spine and shoulder
Bench Thoracic Spine Mobilization for Shoulder Mobility
Another great drill to stretch not only mobilize tight shoulders but also the thoracic spine. We can adjust the stretch to bias the lats, thoracic spine, or shoulder external rotation by altering our technique as shown in this video:
Need More Help?
If you are wanting a more in-depth solution to your shoulder mobility issues, check out our Performance Plus Overhead Mobility Overhaul program. This 4-week plan combines the above drills with many more to provide you with an efficient roadmap to unlock your shoulder joint mobility.