Whether you are an OG functional fitness vet or you only recently dipped your toes into the world of WODs, mobility is and will be an ongoing concern. Gymnastic movements and Olympic weightlifting ask a lot of the upper body, which can present a problem for many, particularly those whose jobs call for plenty of sitting or desk work. Improving shoulder mobility to facilitate these movements must be a priority. Improved shoulder mobility = more effective and efficient movement patterns = better performance output. Improved shoulder mobility will also affect your joints and muscle health in everyday life, allowing your body to move and function as it should, with reduced risk of injury and pain.
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So, where do you start? First, while both flexibility and mobility play a part in the effective movement of the shoulders, consider there is a distinct difference between “shoulder flexibility” and “shoulder mobility.”
Shoulder flexibility refers to the ability of the soft tissue muscles to stretch or temporarily elongate. Someone with good hamstring flexibility, for example, will be capable of pulling with a resistance band their knees to their chest while laying flat on their back and maintaining a straight leg.
Shoulder mobility, on the contrary, is the ability for the shoulders to move through a range of motion with control before being restricted. This includes having the requisite strength, coordination, and body awareness along with flexibility. Possessing excellent mobility, then, will be of far greater benefit to an athlete than possessing excellent flexibility.
How to Improve Shoulder Mobility
- Foam rolling and myofascial release. Both concepts promote the break-up of scar tissue, improve blood circulation to targeted areas, and release knots.
- Dynamic motion stretching.
- Strength building.
- Static stretching. As mentioned, one part of possessing excellent mobility is to improve flexibility. One example is long-duration static stretching such as yoga.
8 Exercises That Improve Shoulder Mobility
1. Latissimus Dorsi Foam Roll
Latissimus dorsi muscles play a strong role in facilitating overhead mobility, particularly allowing the arms to pull back in the press and extend in the snatch. Lying on one side, place a foam roller behind your armpit and slowly rock back and forth, focusing on tight or sore areas.
2. Rotator Cuff Trigger Point Release
The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles coming together as tendons to form the cuff. They can become particularly problematic if tight when cycling through barbell movements such as low-load clean and jerks (think Grace) on the turnover. Grab yourself a trigger point ball and follow the below video.
3. Wall Extensions
Wall extensions are incredibly simple and can be performed anywhere with a wall, making them one of the simplest and easiest mobility exercises for shoulders. Sit or stand against a wall with your hips and whole back flat against the wall. Raise your elbows to a 90-degree angle, keeping in contact with the wall as much as possible. Attempt to slide your arms up the wall while maintaining hip, back, and arm contact.
4. PVC Shoulder Dislocates
You have probably hit a few of these in a pre-WOD warm-up and noticed the stretch through your chest and front deltoids. Grab a PVC pipe or broom handle with a snatch grip and roll it in front of your face and over behind without bending your elbows. Start cycling these regularly and you will notice your hand placement getting closer together.
5. Kettlebell Z Press
The kettlebell Z press is a fantastic exercise to build strength through the smaller deltoid muscles. Sitting on the ground with your legs fully extended and abs tight, perform a strict press overhead. Bonus points for incorporating a four- to five-second tempo.
6. Sotts Press
One for the more advanced athletes, the Sotts press is both a fantastic warm-up and a mobility exercise. While at the bottom of a back squat with an empty barbell, perform a wide-grip shoulder press while maintaining the perfect position in the squat. Not for the faint of heart! But this is one of our favourite mobility exercises for shoulders.
7. Doorframe Hangs
Another easy drill to do at home is doorframe hangs. Position yourself inside a doorframe, gripping the entryway anywhere from 90 to 180 degrees and pushing your torso through. Keep in these stretches for anywhere from 30 seconds or more while maintaining full-belly breathing.
8. Elbows Up
Are you struggling in the front rack position? This is a great stretch to help keep those elbows higher. Taking an empty barbell to the back squat position with a full grip on the bar, push the elbows through and high for about 30 seconds on each arm for five rounds while maintaining a tight trunk and hips. You can also do this while sitting at the bottom of a front or back squat.
Which one of these mobility exercises for shoulders will you try first? Let us know in the comments section below!