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May 26, 2022
You have spent a lot of time building boulder shoulders, but have you ever thought about stretching them? The shoulder is a shallow ball and socket joint that has an incredible ability to move in multiple directions. This allows you to grab things, throw, hug your family, and most importantly, lift weights...powerfully. Strengthening the deltoids to do all of this is great but stretching the deltoids plays an equally important role in the health and longevity of your shoulders.
Shoulder stretches are a must because they help you maintain shoulder mobility and muscle flexibility, which in turn boosts your performance. Plus, deltoid stretches can help you reduce tension and soreness.
In this article, we’ll go into the anatomy and function of the deltoids, the benefits of stretching them, when to stretch, and the 13 best deltoid stretches for improved range of motion and reduced muscle tension.
The deltoids are a large triangular-shaped muscle made up of three heads, the front, lateral and posterior deltoid. The three muscle heads originate from the clavicle (collar bone) and scapula (shoulder blades) and insert into the upper humerus (upper arm bone).
The deltoid muscle lies over the ball and socket joint. It powers movements of the arm and protects and stabilizes the shoulder joint. It also gives your shoulders that boulder look when you flex (that is, if your delts are well-built).
Here are the main movements for the deltoids with the specific deltoid muscle used.
|Shoulder Movement:||Deltoid Muscle:|
|Shoulder Horizontal Abduction||Lateral & Posterior|
|Circumduction||All Three Heads|
All in all, it's important to strengthen the deltoids via the above actions for better shoulder stability and strength, as well as to stretch them to maintain good mobility and flexibility. It's the most mobile joint, and with that, it is also the most susceptible to injury. A lot of people take shoulder mobility for granted, but if you were to lose it, you'd realize just how important optimal mobility is for even the smallest things in daily life.
Shoulder Strength + Shoulder Mobility = Shoulder Durability (aka resilience!)
You probably know all of the benefits of strengthening the deltoids. But what about the benefits of stretching them? Well, here are a few of the main points:
1) Improved Performance:
Being a shallow ball and socket joint with a huge range of motion, a big responsibility of the delts is to allow for all that mobility, and to do so in a stable manner. If you have tightness, achieving a full range of motion will be difficult. This will decrease movement efficiency and you will be leaving gains on the table. To best build muscle after performing moves like the front raise, a full range of motion is important.
2) Less Soreness & Pain:
Stretching the deltoids after a workout helps the shoulder muscles return to their resting length faster and this may reduce soreness after a workout. When you stretch the shoulders after a workout, it brings healing blood flow and nutrients there to help start the recovery process. Also, you may find that stretching your shoulders helps alleviate deltoid pain caused by a lack of movement over an extended period of time (i.e. sitting at the desk or on the couch too long).
3) Injury Prevention:
When the deltoid muscles are sore, tight, or not adequately flexible, movement compensations will occur. This leads to other muscles and joints doing things they are not really designed for, which is often what injuries are made of. By stretching your deltoids before and after exercise, you can reduce your chances of a shoulder injury. Plain and simple.
Note: Shoulder mobility is also important for exercises like front squats and even back squats. To hold the bar in position, you need good shoulder mobility. As such, should mobility plays an important role in exercises that don't directly involve the shoulders too!
When you think you’re stretching the muscle, it is not the only thing you are stretching. The fascia which surrounds the muscles like webbing is getting stretched too. Think of the fascia as taffy you eat at the fair. When it is cold, it’s harder to stretch and chew, but when it is warm it’s easily stretched and eaten.
So, when you want to improve the recovery and flexibility of the deltoids, the best time to stretch them is after training when the shoulders are warm because it’s more likely you will see better flexibility results. Holding your stretches for 30+ seconds works well.
But that doesn’t mean stretching has no benefit when the shoulders are cold. Moving your shoulders through a full range of motion, and holding the end range for 5-10 seconds each rep - which is called dynamic stretching - will optimize your mobility, release muscular tension, and help you get your shoulders ready for the work ahead.
Here are 13 of the best deltoid stretches to keep your shoulders performing well and feeling good.
Shoulder circles are a dynamic stretch that moves your shoulders through a large range of motion and lubricates the shoulder joint by bringing blood flow to the area. This movement is shoulder circumduction which involves all the movement of the shoulder joint and all three deltoid muscles. This is an oldie but it’s a solid exercise to warm up the shoulders.
How to the Standing Alternate Arms Circling Shoulders:
The standing Phelps is a dynamic shoulder stretch that involves repeatedly opening up your arms and chest and then swinging your arms across the body, hugging yourself or slapping your back. It is sometimes called a dynamic bear hug stretch. This stretch opens up the chest, shoulders, biceps and upper back. Be sure to switch which arm swings on top with each rep.
How to do The Standing Phelps:
The standing wring the towel exercise works more as an isometric exercise because you are holding the arms at shoulder height. This alone will have you feeling all of your shoulder muscles. But wait there is more. You’ll turn your head to the right while rotating your right hand to the ceiling. And then to the left, while you rotate your left hand up and right hand down. This works on external and internal rotation of the shoulder to get your rotator cuffs ready for action.
How to do The Standing Wring the Towel:
This deltoid stretch is part mobility and part dynamic stretch. Mobility because you are training shoulder circumduction which is training all the shoulder movements. And stretch because you are opening up your chest and anterior deltoid with the stick reaching overhead. This is a great move to get the shoulders ready for anything.
Note: You can also use a resistance band for this stretch.
How to do the Stick Pass Around Stretch:
The standing reverse shoulder stretch is a static stretch that opens up your chest and stretches your anterior deltoid and biceps. You control the intensity of this stretch by how high you can raise your hands behind you and how long you can hold it. This is a good stretch to perform after an intense shoulder and/or chest workout.
How to do the Standing Reverse Shoulder Stretch:
The reverse shoulder stretch is similar to the standing one above except your doing it from a sort of seated position, your arms are propped up behind you, and your hands are spread apart a bit. Essentially this allows for an even deeper stretch of the front delts. This is a great static stretch to release tension in your shoulders and upper chest after a workout. If you do it before a workout, just don't hold the stretch long or go too deep too fast.
How to do the Reverse Shoulder Stretch:
The standing doorway shoulder stretch is similar to the classic chest doorway stretch except you’re raising your hands above your head. Here you’ll get a little more of a stretch in your biceps and anterior shoulder and less chest. You will need a doorway high enough to straighten your arms overhead
How to do the Doorway Shoulder Stretch:
The one-arm behind the back shoulder flexor stretch stretches your anterior deltoid, middle deltoid, biceps, and chest, and works on the external rotators of the shoulder. With a lot of us internally rotated from sitting down with our devices, this stretch acts as a good reset from the hunched posture. If this stretch causes shoulder pain, it's best to avoid it and do some other stretches on this list.
How to do the One-Arm Behind the Back Shoulder Flexor Stretch:
The shoulder stretch using a towel is a catch-all upper body stretch. This excellent stretch stretches the chest, shoulders, triceps, and lats. Best of all you’ll control the intensity by how hard your pull up and down on the towel to create a tug of war between your left and right side. This creates a great stretch for all the muscles mentioned, and particularly for the front deltoid and side deltoid.
How to do the Behind The Back Shoulder Stretch with Towel:
The rear (aka posterior) deltoid stretch is what’s called a passive stretch where you’re relaxed and make no contribution to the range of motion. Then you use an outside force (your other arm) to create the stretch. This way you’ll get a better stretch and be able to control the intensity. This is one of only a few stretches for the hard-to-reach rear deltoid.
How to do the Crossbody Rear Deltoid Stretch:
The kneeling one arm cross-body stretch is another great posterior deltoid stretch. This is also called the thread the needle stretch, which is a common one in yoga. From a kneeling position, you’ll reach underneath and across your body to stretch the rear deltoid and lats. You can also use your body as leverage to deepen the stretch, but ease into this stretch as it can be intense.
How to do the Kneeling One Arm Cross Body Stretch:
The arm-up rotator stretch is not exactly a deltoid stretch but it stretches the important rotator cuff muscle called the teres minor, which has a responsibility of external shoulder rotation. This is not a stretch that needs to be done often and is best performed before a workout to get your shoulders ready for action.
How to do the Arm Up Rotator Cuff Stretch:
The arm down rotator stretch stretches the supraspinatus and infraspinatus, which are responsible for external and internal rotation of the shoulder. The supraspinatus also assists in lifting your arm above your head. Keeping them flexible and strong will go a long way to keeping all of your shoulder movements up to snuff.
How to do the Arm Down Rotator Cuff Stretch:
Besides the deltoid muscles, there are several other muscles acting on the shoulder joint which affect the mobility and stability of the shoulder joint. They are:
Why are we mentioning all of this now? Well, for good shoulder mobility, you also need good mobility and flexibility of these muscles too!
Strengthening the deltoids is important for performance and vanity. But stretching them periodically will maintain and improve their flexibility, and mobility and help prevent shoulder injuries from slowing you and your gains down. We hope these stretches will keep your shoulders relaxed, flexible, and stable for many years to come. Just don't forget to do them!
The final thing to note is that if you are dealing with shoulder pain, and you have any concerns about the seriousness of the pain or if these stretches are right for you, please consult a doctor or physical therapist.
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