Shoulder Mobility | Self-Assessment + Poses

Shoulder Mobility
In this article, I’m going to cover shoulder mobility (also referred to as shoulder flexibility) in each available range of motion.

We’ll look at how to assess your current level of mobility and choose the most appropriate poses for you. It’s unlikely that you’ll all have the same mobility and flexibility potential. Some of you will never touch your toes, and that’s ok. As Zen monk, Shunryu Suzuki, said:

“Each of you is perfect the way you are…and you could use a little improvement.”

There are many factors at play here—including genetics, age, injury history, lifestyle habits, and occupation. I can give you general recommendations based on your sport but it may also help to do some self-assessment. Then you’ll know where to focus your attention and where to back off and avoid over-stretching and risk losing some strength and power.

First let’s run some tests. 

WHAT IS NORMAL SHOULDER MOBILITY?

Can you lift your arms straight up by your ears? Can you extend them back behind you to roughly 60 degrees? Can you bring your palms together overhead with your arms straight? Can you reach one arm up, bend your elbow and touch the middle of your opposite shoulder blade? And can you bend your other arm back behind you to touch the middle of the other shoulder blade?

The technical terms for these movements are:

  • Flexion
  • Extension
  • Abduction
  • Adduction
  • External Rotation
  • Internal Rotation

I would hazard a guess that you aced internal rotation—because you have your arms out in front of you on the bike as well as for many of your other daily activities—but if you have tight lats and/or pecs, you may have struggled with some of the other ranges of motion. 

WHY IS MAINTAINING NORMAL RANGE OF MOTION IMPORTANT?

Restoring proper range of motion will increase your suppleness, eliminate the aches and pains caused by muscular imbalances, and reduce your risk of injury.

MISSING RANGES OF MOTION AND YOGA POSES TO FOCUS ON

1. LIMITED SHOULDER FLEXION

If you struggle to bring your arms straight up by your ears, you need to stretch the lats, backs of the shoulders (posterior deltoids, teres major) and triceps.

Modified Puppy Pose
PUPPY

Other poses in shoulder flexion include Chair, Wheel, Downward Dog and Low Lunge.

2. LIMITED SHOULDER EXTENSION

If you struggle to extend your arms back behind you, you need to stretch your pecs, biceps and the fronts of your shoulders (anterior deltoids).

Supported Bridge Pose
BRIDGE

Other suitable poses include Upward Facing Plank, SnakeSilver Surfer and all postures in which your fingers are interlaced behind your back.

3. LIMITED SHOULDER ADDUCTION AND ABDUCTION

If you can’t bring your hands together overhead with straight arms, you need to stretch the pecs, lats, serratus anterior (the wing-shaped muscle under your armpits) and shoulders in sidebends.

Neck Pain Stretch
SEATED SIDEBEND

Other sidebends include Extended Side AngleStanding Sidebend, Triangle and Reverse Warrior.

4. LIMITED SHOULDER INTERNAL ROTATION

This is the least likely range of motion to be restricted so please be careful not to over-stretch in these poses.

Child's Pose
CHILD’S POSE

Eagle, Seated Spinal Twist and Chair Pose Twist are also great to stretch the backs of the shoulders.

5. LIMITED SHOULDER EXTERNAL ROTATION

This category of poses is going to be most beneficial for mountain bikers—to stretch the pecs and the fronts of the shoulders (subscapularis and anterior deltoids).

Shoulder Opener
TWISTED SCORPION

Other poses include Thread The Needle, Supported Fish, Reclining Spinal TwistCow Face Pose (bottom arm).

5 VIDEOS TO LOOSEN UP TIGHT SHOULDERS

Here are 5 routines you can follow to evaluate and improve your overall shoulder mobility.

  1. Back and Shoulder Love
  2. All-Rounder 6: Backbending
  3. Post-Ride Stretch
  4. Strength 1: Upper Body 1
  5. Relaxation 2: Body Awareness

GET INVOLVED

I’d love to hear which yoga poses you have found helpful to loosen up tight shoulders and increase your range of motion. You get bonus points if you can tell me which category of shoulder opener they fall into—extension, flexion and external rotation will be the most beneficial for you guys.

Cover photo credit: Nala Rinaldo

4 comments

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  • Hi Abi,

    As you suggested, the Twisted Scorpion should “be most beneficial for mountain bikers” but I couldn’t find it on the poses pages nor in the videos descriptions. May you include it on a new video? 🙂

    • That’s a fantastic point. You’ll be happy to know that Twisted Scorpion features in the series of videos I am currently writing in a routine for the Thoracic Spine + Scapulae. I’ll try to get those up as soon as possible.

      • Great! Thank you. Still on this topic, I (and I guess other guys too) have a bit of trouble to interlace the fingers behind the back and get the elbows straight. Should chest and not only shoulder be part of the problem, or not? How do we fix this? ty

        • Great question. You’re absolutely right that this issue can be related to a tight chest as well as restricted mobility in the shoulders. I recommend that you do not actually try to straighten your elbows but that you keep your hands close to your back and focus on drawing your shoulders back and opening up the chest and fronts of the shoulders. I’ll have a new routine for this exact issue soon.

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