how to improve shoulder mobility

How To Improve Shoulder Mobility (Top 3 Mobility Tools & Exercises)

January 30, 2019

In this article, we will teach you how to improve shoulder mobility, loosen up tight shoulders, and we are going to tell you about our three favorite shoulder mobility tools - exercises included.

Do you have shoulder pain? Did you just recover from a shoulder injury and your shoulders are super tight, lacking the necessary mobility to perform many exercises correctly…or worse, it’s affecting activities in your daily life?

You are probably searching for answers on how to regain or gain shoulder mobility and how to correct shoulder mobility. You might also be wondering what tools and exercises are the best for improving shoulder mobility and tight shoulders.

If so, great. We have some answers for you.

No matter if you are an athlete in a sport like baseball or golf, or more high impact sports like MMA or football (quarterbacks stand up!) and you are having trouble in your respective sport due to shoulder mobility issues OR you are one of the many weightlifters experiencing tight and painful shoulders, which is ultimately affecting your lifts, this article will be perfectly suited to your needs.

The interesting thing about shoulders is that they are one of the most mobile joints in our body yet they are also one of the easiest to injure because of that. If you can learn to take advantage of the shoulder's natural capability for immense mobilization, you can benefit in many ways, in and out of the gym...and for athletes, in your sports arena. 

If you are coming off a shoulder injury, shoulder rehab is an extremely crucial component to getting back into things full force. If you are lucky enough to have pain-free shoulders, shoulder prehab is something you should be working on weekly to prevent injuries, cranking shoulders, tight shoulders or anything of the sort.   

Firstly, it’s important that we understand the anatomy of the shoulder:

shoulder anatomy for mobility understanding

Note: The shoulder girdle is a complex area made up of at least 16 major muscles.

Why do so many people have tight shoulders?

Shoulder tightness usually occurs due to a number of reasons, the main one being a sedentary lifestyle. If you are one of those people hunched over your computer 9 to 5 and you haven’t been putting your shoulders through the necessary mobility exercises on a consistent basis, you will likely experience seriously tight shoulders when it comes time to exercise. 

Tight shoulders are also a negative effect of coming off of a shoulder injury or a resistance exercise gone wrong.

Although warming up should get you through a workout, it’s not enough for the sustainability of healthy shoulders. What you want to do is work on shoulder mobility and mobilization on a consistent basis, so you are correcting the issue not just giving it a temporary solution. if you don’t work on shoulder mobility and flexibility consistently, you are likely to end up with cranking shoulders sooner than later.

Why do so many people injure their shoulders?

Firstly, let’s breakdown the movement of the joint. The shoulder joint is essentially a ball in a socket - it kind of looks like a golf ball sitting on a golf tee.

The shoulder joint is very sensitive to tension. Most shoulder injuries happen because people put their shoulders through ranges of motion which they are not capable of due to tight shoulders and a lack of shoulder mobility. This leads to injury.

For athletes, it might be constant rotations and extended ranges of motion that throws their shoulder out. If they had enough shoulder mobility and flexibility training, they would also have the necessary shoulder stability, so a shoulder injury would be much less likely.

For weightlifters, the same is true, they either have tight shoulder and they push themselves through a range of motion that they aren’t ready for or they simply didn’t warm up properly.

More often than not, tight shoulders, shoulder injuries and shoulder pain is a result of our bad training.

Poor mobility is due simply to a lack of proper mobility training. It’s that simple.

Now, before we get into the shoulder tools and exercises, we need to discuss a few important components of this lesson. First, let’s talk about the difference between mobility and mobilization.

how to improve shoulder mobility

Mobility vs Mobilization

We need to understand that there is a big difference between mobility and mobilization. Working on mobilization means you are trying to mobilize a joint to restore normal joint mechanics. Mobility is more of a catch-all phrase that includes stretching muscles, decreasing pain, and of course, working on the joints as well. When it comes to mobilization, it is more specific. So, improving mobility by mobilization means we are specifically attacking the joints.

Mobility is very important as a whole, and the main focus of this article, but please understand the importance of mobilization on its own, because the joints are one of the biggest causes of the pain and grinding people experience during exercises.

Mobilization exercises help to relieve a lot of the pain by opening up necessary space in your joints while they are in a vulnerable position, something many people with tight shoulders simply aren’t aware of. With that being said, if you plan on working on mobility, don't forget about the joints themselves. It's not all about the muscles. 

Importance of the scapula

Secondly, it’s important to understand that a healthy, mobile shoulder joint greatly relies on a properly functioning scapula. Many trainers will tell you that the key to shoulder mobility is scapular stability. We believe this to be true. Stability is the foundation of it all.

Think about when doing bench press, what are you supposed to do? You need to tighten the scapula, pulling them together to create that pressure against the bench. By retracting your scapula during a bench press, you greatly protect your rotator cuffs from injury (as we all know, the bench press is one of the biggest rotator cuff destroyers).

Therefore, you need to really consider the scapula when thinking of shoulder mobility, stability and reducing the chance of injury.

Why is shoulder mobility important?

Your shoulders are employed in every upper body exercise you perform in the gym. In sports like baseball and golf, they are one of the biggest assets to a powerful swing.

Put it this way, if your arms are moving, the movement is happening together with the joints that make up the shoulders.

In weightlifting, the shoulders are a crucial component for a good bench press, overhead press, and dips. These kinds of lifts rely on healthy shoulders and good scapular function.

Many times, poor shoulder mobility is the cause of improper form, which leads to muscle imbalances. So it’s important that we correct these imbalances.

Furthermore, good shoulder flexibility and mobility allows you to have bigger workloads in the gym, which means better efficiency and effectiveness. It also makes sure you don’t compensate on lifts by using other ligaments, bones and muscles that shouldn’t have to bear as much of the load, therefore decreasing the risk of injury.

Shoulder mobility is as important for a beginner as it is for a seasoned pro.

You can see how important shoulder health is by simply looking into professional athletes training regiments. They place a huge emphasis on joint mobility and mobilization. Although training is essentially their entire life, day in and day out during their respective season, it should be just as important for non-professional athletes, as every single person in this world needs to use their shoulders.

And who wouldn’t want to use their shoulders to maximum capacity? Longevity is key.

The shoulders are involved in everyday tasks like carrying and reaching, and it may seem like you don’t need flexible shoulders for this, but you’d be wrong. Just ask anyone with shoulder problems how it affects their life…Good shoulder flexibility for everyday life should never be undervalued.

TLDR - Benefits of improving shoulder mobility:

  • Increased workload.
  • Fix muscle imbalances and corrects form.
  • Reduces the chance of injury.
  • Improves daily life.


How to Improve Shoulder Mobility

Improving mobility should start with a simple mobility test. Once you assess your level of mobility, then you should work on bodyweight stretches. These are the prerequisites before jumping into a specialty mobility tool.

Bodyweight shoulder stretches can be coupled with myofascial release treatment, but please be sure you are doing the treatment correctly.

We will link you to some exercises on this then we will discuss more advanced methods to take your shoulder mobility to the next level.

Note: If you have pain in your shoulders, we recommend seeing a physical therapist first and foremost before starting any of the training below.

Top 3 Shoulder Mobility Tools & The Best Shoulder Mobility Exercises Using These Tools

Again, before jumping into these tools, especially the last two, make sure you have been working on your shoulder mobility and flexibility through the prerequisites above, as you will want to have a decent level of mobility to begin with or you could risk injuring yourself - The last two tools are specialist tools so they require a level of understanding and basic foundation, especially at heavier weights.

1. Resistance Bands

resistance band set

Resistance bands are fantastic tools for rehab, prehab and resistance training. They can be used in many ways for mobility, flexibility and strengthening. If you can get your hands on some bands, we highly recommend you do so, and then start performing exercises with them to improve mobility and flexibility at least 3 times per week for around 10 minutes or so. 

Bands come in various sizes of weight resistance. We sell bands on our site and we have 5 different sizes ranging from 5-200lbs of resistance

Here is a video from our good friend Chri Cali, a calisthenics aficionado, who you may have seen on our site in previous posts or product pages.  

These are a few good exercises for warming up the shoulder before a weight training or calisthenics session. 

This is another great move with the bands for shoulder mobility

Now, the above video was great for anyone at any level. The following video is quite advanced, so only attempt these exercises if you already have a good level of flexibility.


The video below is good for all levels. You've likely seen Jeff on Youtube, he is an amazing PT.

The next video is made by us and it's great for rehabing and prehabing the rotator cuff, so use a light band.

2. Steel Mace

10lb steel mace

The steel mace is a fantastic tool that can be used in so many ways for a plethora of benefits, but today we will only focus on shoulder mobility, flexibility, and stability. 

If you are using a steel mace (or macebell as it is also known) for shoulder mobility, it is best to use a lighter weight, such as a 7lb or 10lb macebell.

The following video will take you through steel mace swing movements that are great for shoulder mobility as well as core stability, grip strength, shoulder power and rotational force.

The first couple exercises are practice moves that you should perform first, before jumping right into the full-on swing movements. If you are aiming for shoulder mobility, these exercises should be performed with a 10LB mace at the heaviest. If you are very well-conditioned, a 15LB mace could work. Any heavier and you will be adding more emphasis on the other benefits rather than shoulder mobility (such as core stability, shoulder strength, grip strength, etc) and if your shoulders lack mobility, you will risk injuring them and/or elbows too.

Furthermore, make sure you are in full control of the mace. However, allow gravity to take effect and use the momentum of the swing rather than just muscle, and really pull your hands and shoulders down and back on the backside of the swing, to maximize stretching and pulling of the joints during this mobilization. 

The next video contains exercises that were designed for the rotator cuff. For these exercises, you want to go as light as possible. There is no reason to use a mace heavier than 10LB on this. In fact, 7lbs is ideal. You'll want to go light here as you are working on the rotator cuff.

The following exercise is a nice way to loosen up the shoulders. The movement may seem simple to perform but it definitely takes some time to get the flow of it worked out. 

3. Steel Clubs 

steel clubs

Similar to the steel mace, if you are looking for shoulder mobility then you should go for lighter weight steel clubs. This is a fantastic shoulder mobility, rehab, and prehab tool.

What's even more cool about steel clubs and steel maces is that they are very old tools (of course modernized by the use of steel), that have been around for centuries. They were used in Ancient Persia, and are still used to this day by wrestlers in India...So, the training practice has passed the test of time. They are now gaining popularity quite rapidly in the Western fitness world. 

Here are a few exercises that will strengthen your shoulders and tremendously improve your shoulder mobility and fluidity.

Below is a video by a doctor who prescribes steel clubs to patients with shoulder and elbow conditions. These exercises are also great for warming up before an upper body workout. 

The best part about these tools is that they are amazing for our shoulders AND they also have many other purposes. So, if you buy any of these, you can explore all the other benefits they can provide, implementing them into your training regime in various ways. There's no better tool than a multi-purpose one ;)

Get yourself a steel mace and/or resistance bands today.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them in the comment section below.

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