Do you struggle with a lack of mobility in your shoulders? You’re not alone. The complex and somewhat delicate nature of the shoulder girdle, coupled with training regimes and the stresses of daily life can cause this joint to seize up.
Of course, in the case of acute injuries to the shoulders, or chronic pain, seeking medical advice is of paramount importance. But if your shoulder issues are more frustrating niggles than full-blown pain, there are plenty of things you can try to increase your range of motion.
Here are three golden rules for improving your shoulder mobility, including yoga-inspired techniques and exercises.
1. Always warm up your shoulders.
Begin every training session where you will be using your shoulders (which, let’s face it, is most sessions) with shoulder mobilisation exercises. These don’t have to be complicated. Simple shoulder rolls, shrugs and even a little self massage will help to warm the muscles that move your shoulders, decreasing your risk of injury and increasing your range of motion.
2. Do specific shoulder stretches several times per week.
Some people like to do these straight after they train, and it’s certainly a good idea to stretch out at the end of each session. But you can also build in stand alone shoulder stretching sessions several times per week, while you focus on restoring your shoulder mobility.
Exercises to try include:
1. Belt releases
Hold a belt or strap in both hands, with hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Start with the belt in front of your body, then inhale as you reach both arms forward and up over your head, exhaling as you take your hands over your head and down behind you, still holding the belt. Reverse the direction of the movement, inhaling to bring your hands back and up and exhaling to take them forwards and down. You may need to take your hands wider apart, to make this easier, or bring them closer together to get more of an intense stretch. Repeat the full cycle 5-7 times.
2. Yoga Arms
Practice the arm movements of two great yoga postures - Eagle Pose and Cow Face Pose - in order to release tight muscles that might be restricting your shoulders.
For Eagle Pose Arms, with your arms spread in a T-Shape. Bring the arms towards each other in front of you. Cross the right arm over the left and bend your elbows, pointing your hands straight up. Either take the backs of the hands towards one another or wrap the forearms around each other, taking the palms together if you can. Relax your shoulders away from your ears as you lift your elbows, stretching the posterior delts, the mid and lower trapezius, the rhomboids and the rotator cuff muscles. Hold for 3-5 breaths and repeat on the other side.
For Cow Face Pose arms, which stretches the triceps and the rotator cuff muscles, again start with both arms out in a T-Shape. Turn your right thumb to the ground, then to the back of the room, so your right arm is inwardly rotated. Take your right hand around your back and reach it up between your shoulder blades. Lift your left arm up and over your head, reaching your left hand down to clasp fingers with your right hand if you can reach, or hold a belt between your hands to buy yourself some extra space. Hold this one for 5 breaths and repeat on the opposite side.
3. Keep moving.
Too much stillness, especially when followed by periods of intense activity or training is the enemy of the shoulder joint. Be mindful of your movements throughout the day. Make an effort to regularly roll your shoulders, wiggle them and shrug them up and down, releasing tension, bringing blood flow back into the area and maintaining their range of motion. This will also help prevent you from getting into habitual poor postural patterns, avoiding the classic forward slump of desk workers or drivers.
Keeping your shoulders moving, active and stretched will help release them and restore a full range of motion.