Shoulder Flexibility Self-Assessment

Shoulder Flexibility

Not all mountain bikers are going to have the same 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 can use a little improvement.”

When it comes to flexibility, there are many factors at play—primarily genetics, age, gender, injury history, lifestyle habits and occupation. I can give you general recommendations based on your sport but it may also be useful to do some self-assessment. Then you’ll know where to focus your attention and where to back off and not over-stretch. In this article, I’m going to look at shoulder flexibility—assessment and yoga prescription.

First, let’s run some tests.

What is normal shoulder flexibility?

Can you lift your arms straight up by your ears? Can you extend your arms 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 bend your other arm back behind you and touch the middle of your opposite shoulder blade that way?

The technical terms for those movements are:

  • Flexion
  • Extension
  • Abduction
  • 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 on some of the others. 

Why is normal flexibility important?

Normal flexibility will give you a sense of overall suppleness in your body, eliminate chronic aches and pains caused by muscular imbalances—lower back pain is often caused by tight hips and hamstrings and pain between the shoulder blades by tight pecs and anterior deltoids, and reduce your risk of injury.

Missing ranges of motion and 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 deltoid, teres major) and triceps.

Puppy Pose

Modified Puppy Pose

You can hold this pose for several minutes.

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

Bridge Pose

Supported Bridge Pose

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

3. Limited shoulder adduction and abduction. If you can’t bring your palms together overhead with straight arms, you need to stretch the pecs, lats, serratus anterior and shoulders with side-bending poses.

Seated Sidebend

Neck Pain Stretch

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

4. Limited shoulder internal rotation. This is the least likely range to be restricted so please be careful not to over-stretch in these ones.

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. These poses are going to be most beneficial for mountain bikers, to stretch the pecs, subscapularis and fronts of the shoulders.

Twisted Scorpion

Shoulder Opener

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

Best vids for shoulder flexibility

Combining shoulder mobility and flexibility is going to give you the best results and is where yoga really excels. Here are 5 routines for you to try to evaluate and improve your shoulder flexibility.

  1. Shoulder Love
  2. All-Rounder 6: Backbends
  3. Post-Workout Stretch
  4. Strength 1: Upper Body 1
  5. Relaxation 2: Body Awareness

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