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Improve your Overhead Shoulder Mobility with these 3 Exercises!

And ditch Compensations down the Chain

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Let me tell you a story!

There was a guy named little Kevin – sick of partying and plain hedonism. So he stumbled upon working out. As he began his training career1 around 4 years ago his overhead shoulder mobility, was nonexistent. His first overhead presses looked even more horrible than the thing Donald Trump calls his hair.

Playing WoW and Dota 2 semiprofessional for at least 5 hours a day for my entire youth wreaked havoc on many parts of my body2 – but especially on my shoulders.

I bet you can tell somewhat like the same story. Even if you moved regularly in your youth many folks have issues when it comes to their shoulder.
It is a very mobile joint and needs movement, like the hip. And modern lifestyle stands in most cases contrary to that.



Funnily, nowadays shoulder mobility is one of my strengths. What regular movement and trying to do every function your joints can express daily can do, is really impressive.

Therefore, I wanted to share, the three exercises that helped me the most with you. Let’s have a look at these three guys.







The most common Shoulder Mobility Limitations

The shoulders are very mobile and depend heavily on muscles and ligaments.3 That’s why movement and strong, well-functioning muscles are crucial.

You would be surprised how many adults can get their arms properly overhead without pain. Not that much!


The most common restrictions when it comes to shoulder movements are found in:

  • Flexion – is important for overhead work
  • Extension – is crucial for getting your arms behind your body
  • Rotation – is the combination of all of them


I found that bettering one issue through targeted mobility helps the others as well. And exactly these movements are addressed by the following three exercises.




This is an infographic about the three biggest troublemakers which cause stiff shoulders.






Three Overhead Shoulder Mobility Exercises

Prone Overhead Stick Flexion


This one can be a pain in the beginning – I won’t lie to you! But nonetheless, it is a great mobility exercise to work specifically on your overhead shoulder flexion. You can see in this video how it is done the right way.

  • If comfortable with this exercise you can play around with isometrics – try to hold the stick at the highest position for about 10s for fewer reps.


Another great thing to play around with is supersetting this exercise with a stretch for your shoulder flexion – combining passive and active work. I always use this stretch and would recommend doing it while catching your breath in the breaks. You can find it done in this video by How to Handstand.

Stick Shoulder Dislocates

I bet you’ve encountered this exercise before. Most use it with a band* for their warmups. But done with a stick and maybe later on some light weights*, it is a great overall shoulder mobility exercise.

Just start out slow – don’t try to be a hero here. There is no price for moving 5 kg on a stick. This exercise is all about control! When you’ve mastered the basic rotations you can either get your hands closer together or load the stick with some very lightweight plates.

Have a look at GMBs in detail video about this great exercise.


Just as a hint here4: later on, you can try to play around with Skin the Cats on bars or rings. STCs are a more advanced exercise targeting your shoulder rotation and building strength within that range.

Check out Antranik’s tutorial on that move.




Table Stretch

The table is a fun move targeting your shoulder in extension. This one is a real feel-good move! When comfortable with the standard table stretch you can add an overhead reach to this exercise and get even more out of it.

It is the movement shown in this GMB Instagram post.



I also like the combination of this active movement with the more passive shoulder extension stretch many gymnasts do. It is this stretch – just be sure to go slow. In the beginning, it is very hard on your biceps tendon.




This infographic shows my three favorite mobility drills to improve your overhead shoulder mobility.






How to use these Shoulder Mobility Exercises

I would do all these exercises in one session two times a week.
That’s enough and can go a long way with a little thoughtful movement variety every day.

Do it after your regular workout is done. Then you should be warm and limber.

An example routine could look like that:

  1. Prone Stick Flexion 2-3x12r
    supersetted with
    Quadruped Shoulder Flexion Stretch 2-3x30s
  2. Shoulder Dislocated 2-3x10r
  3. Table Stretch 2-3x10r
    supersetted with
    Lying Shoulder Extension Stretch 2-3x30s


Just stay mindful and self-observing while doing this. Start slow and err on the side of doing less. Mobility itself is stress and if not used to it – it is even more so. But – as with any range work. Stay focused! Check first if flexion, extension, and rotation are really what you are missing.

Mobility for the sake of mobility isn’t the goal. It is getting bendy for the sake of being better in the other stuff you are doing!


That said, I hope this routine can help you solve some mobility issues with your shoulder! If anything is unclear – don’t hesitate to ask. It helped me a lot and I hope it can get you a long way, too! I would love to hear about what mobility you are struggling with right now the most. Shoot me a comment if you like!


As always, stay mobile, stay strong!

THis is my Signature.

Sources and further reading:

  • Most of this post originated from my own experience. As I had severe problems with my overall overhead as well as general shoulder mobility I dove deep into the topic and tried out much stuff.
    I achieved the greatest results with these exercises and getting stronger in general.
    Another great tool to develop my overall shoulder mobility was simply training on rings*. Rings are taxing and great strength as well as mobility builders.
  • Besides my own experience, I really benefited from Tom Merricks’s general shoulder mobility routine, although after some time it was too long for me.
  • Another great video especially targeting shoulder extension is by Sid Paulson – as preparatory work for an inlocate on rings. So if you wanna delve really deep into overhead shoulder mobility, give this one a try.
  • A more general approach and more on the how of why shoulders get dysfunctional can be read in this wonderful article by GMB.





Footnotes

  1. If you can name this whole odyssey of chaotic occurrences and random events like that…
  2. As well, as the quest I’ve been on to get to know every dutch harder style festival there is…
  3. A great introductory post on the shoulder is this one by Physio Predia, although going a bit into details.
  4. Because I don’t think there can a shoulder mobility guide exist without naming this awesome exercise!
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