Best Shoulder Stretches | Men’s Fitness UK

Keep your shoulders supple and flexible with these best shoulder stretches from a rehabilitation coach and trainerSam Preston

The shoulder is a shallow ball and socket joint, with the potential for a wide range of motion. Kept in prime condition, our shoulders can help us climb, throw and perform tasks important to our survival as hunter gatherers.

However, now that life no longer involves hunting or gathering, most human activity occurs right in front of our faces. It’s no surprise, then, that our shoulders have adapted to the positions it spends most time in. As a result, and subject to gravity, our bodies tend to acquire a rounded and stiff forward position, otherwise known as a ‘desk bound’ posture.

Related: Best Shoulder Press Variations

“I have worked with countless clients suffering with some kind of shoulder pain when training in the gym or day to day,” says rehabilitation coach and trainer Sam Preston, co-founder ofPalm Rock Retreats.

“While the pain may be due to several factors, most of the reasons arise from poor shoulder mobility while lifting weights and stressing structures that are unaccustomed to the ranges and loads applied to them.”

Related: 3 Best rotator cuff exercises

An x-ray of the human shoulder

A closer look at the shoulder girdle Shutterstock

Best Shoulder Stretches

“These are my go-to shoulder stretches,” adds Preston, “not only to prime the shoulders before a workout, but to reduce the postural effects of long-term desk life.”

Before starting, it’s important to understand the main components that make up the shoulder girdle – the upper back (thoracic spine), shoulder blade and the shoulder joint itself. All three work together to achieve optimal movement during all of your upper body lifts.


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A man sitting performing the desk fly - best shoulder stretches
1. Desk Fly

This can and should be done as often as possible during your working day. Perform the exercise at your desk (or any seated position) and during your warm-up. It is seated to restrict the lower back during the movement.

How to do a desk fly:

  • Start with fingers interlocked behind your head, slumped with elbows touching each other in front of your face.
  • Look upwards, driving the chest high and the elbows back to the wall behind you as far as you can.
  • Perform 10 reps for 2-3 sets.

Man performing prone shoulder CAR - best shoulder stretches
2. Prone Shoulder CAR

CAR stands for Controlled Articulated Extensions. Perform this exercise on a mat, with plenty of space around you.

How to do a prone shoulder CAR:

  • Start by lying face down on the floor with arms stretched out in front of you.
  • Squeezing your glutes, create as much space between your palms and the ground as possible.
  • Bend your arms and bring your thumbs to your armpits, then down past your hips, pushing your palms up towards the ceiling.
  • Go back the way you came, which is 1 rep.
  • Perform 6 reps for 3 sets.

Man performing a front rack barbell stretch
3. Front Rack Barbell Stretch

This is a useful stretch to perform before overhead pressing, for both shoulders and wrists.

How to do a front rack barbell stretch:

  • Approaching a bar, racked in line with your collar bone, grip the bar with hands just wider than shoulder width apart.
  • Step into the bar and slide one elbow underneath, finishing with the bar in contact with the top of the shoulder, tight to the neck and elbow driving forward and up, past the bar.
  • Repeat on the same side 8 times before changing.
  • Repeat 3-4 times per side.

Man performing dowel bench stretch - best shoulder stretches
4. Dowel Bench Extension

For this exercise you’ll need a bench, mat and dowel rod, broomstick-type object or even an unweighted bar.

How to do a dowel bench extension:

  • Start by gripping the dowel with an underhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart.
  • Kneel over a bench with elbows resting on the nearest edge.
  • While shuffling your knees backwards, keeping elbows bent at 90 degrees, allow your head to drive between your elbows, aiming to get your head in line with if not below the bench.
  • Hold a deep stretch for 1-2 minutes and repeat for 2-4 sets.

These best shoulder stretches can be used before a workout or as part of a daily mobility routine if you suffer from mild shoulder stiffness and pain. However, if you have continuous pain and restriction from day to day, or if something doesn’t feel right, please seek professional advice.

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