How to Increase Flexibility and Shoulder Mobility



Improve shoulder mobility

How often do you feel like some of your major lifts are being negatively affected by inflexible shoulders?

Having shoulder pain and other issues in the shoulder area is a pretty common hurdle weightlifters deal with.

Not only is it frustrating but it can put a serious dent in results. So what can weightlifters to do keep this from happening?

Work on increasing both their shoulder flexibility and their mobility. Luckily, we’re here to help you do this.

Shoulder injuries, pain and problems are all common with weightlifters. Why? Well, mostly because of poor lifting form. Injuries and issues can also pop up when there isn’t an even balance between back training and chest training.

Not sure what that means? A lot of guys spent way too much on their chest and not enough on their backs. This means the pectorals are actually pulling the shoulders in and down.

Thankfully, these issues can be overcome – as long as they’re handled properly in the first place.

Are you new to weightlifting? OK, keep reading. Are you an experience weightlifter? OK, keep reading. Are you already dealing with shoulder mobility issues? OK, keep reading. No matter what stage, level of training, or area you’re experienced in, it’s critical for everyone working out to spend time on shoulder mobility (and improving flexibility overall).

Don’t skimp on flexibility, this is one of the biggest rookie mistakes of new weight lifters. 

Rather, if you’re in the habit of performing shoulder impairment exercises, it’s going to improve any symptoms you’re having. If not, they’re going to help you keep your shoulders in good health and overall function, which is also going to prevent any injuries from popping up.

Improve shoulder mobility

Getting Started: How to Increase Flexibility and Shoulder Mobility 

How to increase flexibility is effectively based around two different areas that need to be improved. The first area is making sure you are giving your back enough attention. We know we might sound like a broken record but this is key to helping your flexibility. Like we said, having an imbalanced development between your back and chest is one of the most common reason behind shoulder problems.

The second thing you want to work on doing is completing shoulder flexibility-targeted exercises multiple times during the week. If you’re looking to build the ultimate shoulder routine, you’ll need to include these.

If you’re able to do both of these activities, you can get rid of these annoying shoulder issues and not deal with them any longer. If you don’t have any shoulder issues and you’re working to prevent them from happening, this is the right type of exercise and schedule you want to have to make sure it doesn’t happen.

But of course it’s not that simple. Nothing is, right? There are a few key points you’re going to want to keep in mind for improving shoulder mobility. 

One of the most important rules is this – do not stretch before you go into your weightlifting. Why? First, you should never stretch a cold muscle. This can actually increase your overall risk of getting a shoulder injury. The best time to stretch is following your weightlifting regime – or even a totally different time. It might seem a little strange but trust us – this is how you should do it.

Next, we know it’s probably a habit to try and push through that tight feeling you’re getting. But flexibility can’t be handled or viewed the same way as weightlifting.

Trying to hammer through those tight feelings can cause an injury. Here’s what you should do instead: When you start feeling that tight feeling we all recognize, hold where you are for five slow seconds and then release.

It might be frustrating to have to take the time to do this every single time you feel tightness. But like most things that come along with health and fitness, you have to be patient, especially when you’re working toward increasing your shoulder mobility and general flexibility.

If you’re just coming back strong from an injury, or just starting out, don’t just dive in headfirst. Rather, take it slow when you first start out. Building up your flexibility doesn’t just take patience – it also takes time. This is especially true if you’re just coming back after an injury.

Either way, even having a simple minor strain can take numerous weeks to heal, even if it’s been cared for in the proper way. If you continue to aggravate this spot, it’s just going to keep adding weeks onto your recovery time. So make sure you give yourself the recovery time you need, and go from there. It’s always better to start smaller and work your way up to where you once were.

Improve shoulder mobility

Key Exercises for Improving Shoulder Mobility

If you aren’t sure of where to start, allow us to help. From the list we’re about to provide, try to pick at least 3 exercises to incorporate into a routine, and aim for doing two sets of 10 reps. In between each set, give yourself a full minute to rest. How often should you do this? Twice a week, we suggest. If you take a step back and see that your flexibility is really improving, you can choose to add in more exercises. Or, if you’d rather, you can also add in more sets.

Shoulder Dislocation

The first exercise is going to be the shoulder dislocation. And before you start freaking out about dislocating your shoulder, we’ll say this – there is no kind of actual shoulder dislocation involved here. It’s just the name. It’s a great shoulder exercise that targets all areas. Depending on how tight your shoulders are feeling, that’s going to be the rule of thumb for how wide you can make your grip. The tighter your shoulders are, the wider you’re going to need to adjust your grip. But the good news is, you can expect your flexibility to be increased with this exercise. And you’ll actually be able to see the results, because you’re going to be able to continue to narrow down your grip. There are people (the super flexible ones you probably hate) that can actually do this exercise wit their hands not even 2 shoulders-widths apart. Yeah, consider that for a second! Make it your next goal if you need some extra motivation.

Wall Extensions

Next, go for wall extensions. These are an awesome (and easy) way to improve shoulder mobility. Not as many people are familiar with this type of exercise so we will break it down for you. First, stand with your back and heels pressed up against a flat wall. Next, extend both of your arms straight out to your sides. Make sure your palms are facing out, which means the back of both your hands should be against the wall. Then, bend your arms into a 90-degree angle. From here, you want to carefully raise your arms until they’re above your head. While you’re doing this, make sure to keep everything flat against the wall. If you already have good flexibility, you will be able to extend your arms completely and eventually touch your hands together, all while keeping everything (your wrists, your elbows and your arms) on the wall the entire time.

Around the World Exercises

Another exercise you’ll find beneficial are around the world exercises. These don’t just improve your shoulder flexibility – they’re also killer for gaining strength in your rotator cuffs. If you’re just starting out, stick with a 25-pound plate. Make it your goal to work up to a 45-pound plate.

Doorway Stretch

Next up is the doorway stretch. This is a quick and easy way to stretch out your shoulders as well as your anterior deltoids, especially. You can also mix it up by doing one-arm variation.

If you need a weekly routine for these, give these a shot. Twice a week, do 2 sets of door stretches, 2 sets of shoulder dislocations and 2 sets of around the worlds. It’s going to help you keep your shoulders flexible, with the joint nice and aligned.

If you aren’t sure exactly what your range of motion is for your shoulders, stalling you from getting started with these, there’s a quick test you can do to check it. In a perfect world, you should be able to bring your shoulder joint to a 180 degree angle of flexion in order to safely pull and/or press vertically. So here’s how to check it.

First, on the floor or standing with your back against a wall, straighten yourself up. This means keeping your low back neutral and even position in your pelvis. Next, make sure you keep your rib cage sucked in, and get your abdominals ready to keep all of these areas maintained. Exhale deeply. While keeping your arms straight, reach toward the skin and try to bring both of your arms to the side of your ears.

If you’re able to get your arms up, and keep them straight, without having your ribcage stick out, your shoulder mobility is on point. If you find yourself having some movement from your lumbar or ribcage while you straighten your arms out, then try to avoid vertical pressing and pulling exercises until you’re able to build up your shoulder flexibility. Don’t worry, you will get there eventually.

It’s pretty difficult to try to determine what exactly is causing a block in shoulder mobility. There are many different things that can contribute to cutting back on your shoulders range of motion, ranging from tight muscles to improper shoulder blade movement.

Use a Foam Roller

Another exercise many weightlifters find successful involves a foam roller. Here’s how it works – lie down with your back over a foam roller, making sure its perpendicular to your spine (basically, right underneath your shoulder blades) and put a barbell on the ground but above your head. Reach your arms up toward the barbell, like you’re making the shape of a Y with your arms. Key point here: keep those elbows straight! Put your feet so they’re flat on the ground and push your hips into the air. Take a deep breath out and slowly lower your hips back down to the ground.

The spot where you should feel most of a stretch is in the very front of your chest and in your upper back. After you’ve tried this, give yourself five seconds to rest. Then lift your hips up and move the roller a bit closer to your shoulders. Lower your hips back down and rest for another five seconds. You can do this with the roller in many different spots in your lower back to improve shoulder mobility. Pro tip: having a foam roller at home or to bring with you to the gym will save you a lot of soreness.


If you’re not already incorporating yoga into your fitness routine, you should recalculate your math. Another great way to work on your shoulder mobility is a yoga-inspired pose. Yoga is great for a number of things, so it is no surprise it can help us out here.

Here’s how you can do it – first, get on your hands and toes. Your hips should be in the air, with your knees bend at a slight angle. Keep your abs braced and gently push yourself up into the air. A better visual of this is like you’re trying to lengthen out your spine. As you’re doing this, you want to gently push your chest back toward your toes. Try to picture yourself forming a straight line with your arms and tailbone, but keep your knees bent. If you can, keep this up for a minute. You’ll feel it in your posterior shoulder, as well as your lats. 

It’s really critical that you consider making yoga a part of your weekly routine. Yoga improves shoulder mobility and every other area of flexibility. Do you also know about how yoga helps build muscle mass?

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It might seem like there’s an awful lot of work to be done to increase your shoulder mobility. However, making sure you do this is key to increasing your strength and fitness. Because you might be at risk for injury, it’s critical to spend enough time getting your shoulders ready for the workout you have planned for them. After all, nothing hinders great results quite like an injury at the gym.

Following these simple steps on a regular basis and making sure you are focusing on the right areas with the right balance is going to help make sure everything you do is safe and effective. Incorporating these exercises into your routine will help ward off injury and make strides towards increased shoulder mobility. So, get strong, get mobile, get out there and get after it.

-Terry Asher

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Gym Junkies Founder & Editor in Chief at Gym Junkies LLC
I’m Terry and I’m here to help you achieve your fitness goals. I truly believe anyone can achieve the figure they want with the proper guidance. Through my extensive fitness blog, top fitness videos, leading workout supplements, and top selling eBooks, I have been able to help thousands of people online lose weight, tone up and get in shape. My passion is helping people all around the world change their lives for the better.
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