The shoulder is a very complex and important joint. Not only is it important to your training, but it is important in everyday life. Your shoulders play a part in just about every single upper body movement. Your shoulder can move in multiple planes of motion and perform multiple functions so any sort of limitation can be potentially dangerous and may even cause injury. But what makes shoulder mobility so important? How can you tell if your shoulders are adequately mobile and how do you address it if they aren't?
First, let’s talk about the general importance of shoulder mobility. One thing that needs to be understood when addressing shoulder mobility is that shoulder mobility itself also requires adequate stability of the scapula. Without a stable scapula, impingement can occur and your shoulder mobility and health could be compromised. But if your shoulders have too much stability, it can restrict your range of motion, affecting your ability to perform a wide variety of common movements in and outside of the gym. Speaking in terms of a gym setting, any overhead movement is going to be compromised by poor shoulder mobility. If you cannot get into a proper pressing position with your shoulders, you run the risk of putting unwanted stress on your shoulders in that position. This leaves a large amount of the shoulder structure susceptible to injury. Similarly, poor shoulder mobility can also affect your squat even though it’s a lower body movement. Hand placement in the squat will not only affect placement of the bar but also tension on your shoulders. The narrower your hands are on the bar in your squat, the better shelf you will have to place the bar comfortably; however, your shoulders need to be mobile enough for this narrow hand placement. Lacking that shoulder mobility can also potentially cause pain in the shoulders, regardless of hand placement. The list of movements affected by poor shoulder mobility can go on and on, but the idea is that you NEED proper shoulder mobility to safely and effectively perform a large majority of weight bearing exercises.
How do you know if your shoulder mobility is good enough? One of the most common tests performed to check for adequate shoulder mobility is called the reach test. To perform this, you will start with one arm high overhead and the other arm low at your side. Then you will bend each of your elbows in an attempt to have both of your hands meet in the middle of your back. You should repeat this on both sides. The goal is for your hands to be able to touch one another. If this is the case, your shoulder mobility should be considered good or even great if you can overlap your fingers. If your hands cannot touch, measure the distance in between your fingertips. If there is more than 2 inches between your fingers, you have some work to do to increase your shoulder mobility.
If you discovered you have poor shoulder mobility, it should be made priority in your training to increase your shoulder mobility. But how do you improve it? Here are a few ways to improve your shoulder mobility that I've personally found to be helpful and I hope they work for you too!
• Train your back muscles as much, if not more than your chest muscles. This will help prevent over-tightness of the chest which can cause forward rolled shoulders leading t poor positioning and a lack of mobility. I would argue that neglecting this is one of the primary causes of poor shoulder mobility and also one of the easiest ones to address.
• Wall extension. For this, you will want your heels and back flat against the wall, the back of your hands to the wall and your elbows at a 90 degree angle. From there, try to reach up as far as you can while also keeping your arms pinned against the wall. This is an easily repeatable movement that you can do almost everywhere.
• Door stretch. For this, you will walk through a doorway and grab each side of the doorway, walking forward so that your hands are behind you. You'll take a bit of a forward lean until you feel a good stretch in your chest and anterior shoulder.
• “L-Arm Stretch”. For this movement, you will begin lying on your stomach with one arm crossed over your chest (you will be lying on your arm). From there, you will want to flatten your chest toward the floor to get a good stretch in the outside of the shoulder. Make sure to move in and out of this position a few times prior to holding the stretch.
Each of these movements should help improve your shoulder mobility. Continue to assess and monitor your improvements!
There needs to be a balance of stability and strength within your shoulder. Having both will help improve your movement quality and comfort as well as help keep you from getting injured when exercising. You also must be sure to assess your shoulder mobility. Do not make assumptions on your mobility just based on how you perceive you move, as you can potentially not notice poor mobility patterns if you have nothing else to compare it to. Whether you have low or high mobility, you should consistently monitor this. Poor mobility needs to be improved, while great mobility should be maintained!