Shoulder Mobility 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—including 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 so that you do not over-stretch. In this article, I’m going to look at shoulder mobility—assessment and yoga solution.

First, let’s run some tests.

WHAT IS NORMAL SHOULDER MOBILITY?

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 with some of the other ranges. 

WHY IS NORMAL RANGE OF MOTION IMPORTANT?

Normal range of motion will increase your suppleness, eliminate aches and pains caused by muscular imbalances (lower back pain is often caused by tight hips and hamstrings and pain in 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.

Modified Puppy Pose

PUPPY

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).

Supported Bridge Pose

BRIDGE

Other suitable 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.

Neck Pain Stretch

SEATED SIDEBEND

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 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

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

Shoulder Opener

TWISTED SCORPION

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

YOUR 5 CLASSES

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

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.