How to Take the Weight of the World Off Your Shoulders (One Move at a Time)

Closeup of young shirtless man with shoulder pain isolated in white backgroundToday’s awesome guest post is offered up by a good friend to MDA—Ryan Hurst, Co-founder and Head Coach at GMB Fitness. I hope it helps you during your work week. Enjoy, everyone!

Our shoulders carry a lot of our stress. We hunch forward at our desks trying to get work done, tensing up over issues we thought we’d fixed already. And it doesn’t help that we often have to stay in the same position, even if we are lucky enough to have standing desks, typing or doing some other repetitive tasks.

As a result, a lot of us have issues with tight shoulders, and we know we really should move and stretch them, but stiffness and aches can make this even more difficult and uncomfortable. And that dreaded vicious cycle sets in. Your shoulders are tight because you don’t move like you should, but when you start moving it starts to hurt. And that stops you from moving….

The solution isn’t to quit working and do yoga all day. Instead, I’ll show you some simple movements to add to your daily routine. These exercises can be done in very little space and don’t take very long at all.

Below, I’ll share a simple and effective shoulder mobility routine that will help you get your shoulders back in gear. But before you start putting these movements into action, it’s a good idea to understand why you’re having these issues and why it’s so important to get your shoulders moving well.

What’s Tightening You Up?

There are a lot of different things that could be going on in your shoulders. For many people, sitting hunched over a computer or phone all day is the culprit, but for others, it could be something entirely different.

The way you exercise might be a factor. If you spend a lot of time in the gym doing bench presses or working your chest fly, that could encourage the shoulders to rotate forward.

I won’t go into too much detail here about how the shoulders work, but what I will say is this: the shoulder girdle is a complex area made up of at least 16 major muscles.

The innate complexity of this region means there’s a lot that can potentially go wrong, but there’s also a lot of tissue to support the shoulders through some pretty rough episodes.

Of course, our shoulders aren’t sealed off from the rest of our bodies. Shoulder issues very often come with neck and upper back issues, and vice versa.

The good news is the following routine will help you address your shoulder restrictions, which will often do a good job of clearing up some of those related issues as well.

Efficient and Effective Work is the Name of the Game

Before I get into the routine, I want to address the elephant in the room: stretching sucks.

…or, at least it can the way most people do it and teach it.

A lot of trainers or fitness companies will throw a bunch of random stretches at you, and when you don’t arbitrarily get “more flexible,” they tell you to just “stretch more.” That’s not very useful, and if that’s the way you’ve always stretched, then yeah, it’s probably sucked. No one likes to put in effort without any payoff.

What makes this routine different is that it’s not random at all.

While there can be so many different things going on in the shoulders, the exercises in this routine were carefully chosen to target the most common motion restrictions.

When your shoulders are tight, they keep you from moving freely throughout your daily life, as well as in your training. For people with particularly bad levels of tightness, something as simple as reaching to grab something from a high shelf can feel impossible.

Even if your issues aren’t quite that severe, you’re here reading this article, which probably means you are dealing with some level of restriction in your shoulders.

So let’s get into it!

Daily Shoulder Mobility Routine — Six Stretches to Help You Loosen Your Tight Shoulders

The following routine is made up of six shoulder stretches, some of which you may have seen before, but all of which work together to address the most common issues we’ve seen in clients.

Work through these slowly and do not move into any painful positions. Stay within a range that is comfortable for you.

Quadruped Shoulder Circles

jeff-shouldermobility-1You’ve probably done standard shoulder circles before from a standing position. The benefit of doing these on your hands and knees is the floor gives you some feedback so you can adjust the pressure easily.

Start on your hands and knees with your knees just beneath your hips and your hands just beneath your shoulders.

Press into the ground and keep your elbows straight as you shrug your shoulders up toward your ears, back toward your hips, down away from your ears, and then forward toward your head, creating a nice circle.

Do these circles in both directions, and then you can try doing the circles with alternating shoulders.

Do 5 circles in each direction with both shoulders, then do 5 in each direction with one shoulder at a time.

L-Arm Stretch

jeff-shouldermobility-2This is one of my favorite stretches because it’s very effective at stretching the rotator cuff and the back of the shoulder. It can feel a bit awkward at first, but just play around with finding a position that feels relatively comfortable for you.

Start by lying on your stomach with one arm by your side. Stretch your other arm across your chest with your palm facing up and without letting your shoulder shrug up toward your ear too much.

Use your shoulder muscles to pull your chest down toward the floor, creating a nice stretch in the shoulder capsule. Move in and out of the stretched position, and then hold the stretch.

Once you find a comfortable position, move in and out of the stretch 10 times, then hold for 30 seconds. Repeat this sequence a total of three times.

Prone Bent Arm Chest Stretch

jeff-shouldermobility-3Here’s a stretch that targets the chest and front of the shoulder. You’ll work on one side at a time with this one.

Start in a prone position (on your stomach) with one hand on the floor and your elbow bent.
Shift your weight toward your hand to feel a stretch in your chest. Move in and out of the stretched position, and then hold the stretch.

Once you find a comfortable position, move in and out of the stretch 10 times, then hold for 30 seconds. Repeat this sequence a total of three times.

Tall Kneeling Arm Raises

jeff-shouldermobility-4This one engages the hips as well as the shoulders, and will really help with opening up your tight shoulder muscles.

Start in a kneeling position, sitting with your feet under your butt.
Lift your hips as you raise your arms straight up overhead.
At the top, you will be in a “tall kneeling” position with your arms straight up. Make sure to really open up the shoulders in that top position, but don’t arch the back.

Move in and out of the stretch 5 times and then hold for 15-30 seconds.

Tall Kneeling Arm Raise to the Side

jeff-shouldermobility-5This stretch starts in the same position as the last one, but you’ll feel this one more in the lats and the back of the shoulder.

Begin in the same tall kneeling position, where you have your feet under your butt, and then drive your hips forward until you are kneeling on your shins.

Now, instead of reaching straight up overhead, keep one arm down by your side and reach the other arm up and over to the opposite side.
Really focus on reaching through the shoulder, so you feel a nice stretch through your lats and back of the shoulder.

Move in and out of the stretch 5 times and then hold for 15-30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.

Clasped Hands Extension

jeff-shouldermobility-6The last stretch in this sequence will help you work on shoulder extension, combating that rounded posture so many of us find ourselves in.

Start in a seated position. In the video, you’ll see that Jeff is sitting cross-legged, but sit however feels comfortable for you. If sitting on the floor is uncomfortable, you can sit on a chair or bench as long as it does not have a back.

Clasp your hands behind your back and straighten your elbows. Sit up with a tall posture as you pull your arms up and back. Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together as you move into the stretch.

Move in and out of the stretch 5 times and then hold for 15-30 seconds.

Take Some Time to Take Care of Your Shoulders, and Your Physical and Mental Health Will Be Better off…

Don’t let tension and stress build up so much in your shoulders that it stops you from doing what you want to do. Whether you are dealing with shoulder problems now or if you want to know how to prevent that from happening, the movements I’ve shared above are a great investment of your time. A few minutes now can save months of trouble later on if you let things go too far.

Shoulders are definitely not the only areas that can stand more of your attention. If you find yourself moving more stiffly than you’d like, have a look at our head-to-toes body maintenance guide and get moving better today!

Ryan_Headshot 01_2017_03After a training accident ended his competitive gymnastics career, Ryan moved to Japan and competed in various martial arts until another injury made him reevaluate his priorities in life. As Head Coach at GMB Fitness, his mission is to show everyone that you can define your own fitness as a sustainable and enjoyable part of your life. You can follow him and GMB Fitness on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

Thanks to Ryan for sharing this awesome routine today. I highly recommend his head-to-toes body maintenance guide for overall mobility and fitness. Do you have questions or comments regarding shoulder mobility or other related issues? Share them on the comment board below. Thanks for reading, everyone.

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17 thoughts on “How to Take the Weight of the World Off Your Shoulders (One Move at a Time)”

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  1. Perrrrrfect, thank you! I spend so much time hunched over a laptop or balled up in a muay Thai stance, I’ve been trying to do more dynamic and static stretching throughout the day.

    Glad you mentioned mental health, even in passing, as I think our brains do read this tightness as stress induced even when it isn’t.

    1. Absolutely! The way we feel and think about our bodies impacts how we sit, stand, and move (and the other way around). There’s definitely a feedback loop in that stress mechanism.

  2. I love GMB!

    I practice at a park near my house and it got to a point where people are inquiring about my “odd” moves.

    1. They’re just jealous 😉

      Really glad to hear that you’re having fun with the practice!

  3. I strongly recommend doing this sequence or something like it regularly. I’m six months into a frozen shoulder (Mark, maybe you can do a post on this sometime!) and it’s been a painful ride. Once I have my shoulders back, I’m going to move them gently and deliberately every day.

    1. I too am rehabilitating a frozen shoulder. Physical therapy, dry needling, cryotherapy, CBD oil to help me sleep at night. All these things are helping but it is a slow process. Yes, more information on this would be much appreciated.

  4. In the past 12 months, I’ve had 2 surgeries on my left shoulder – the first to remove a bone spur, the second to repair a torn labrum. I’ve got a routine from my physical therapist that I follow. It’s working really well, but I’m excited to add these stretches in as well.

    1. Definitely run the new exercises by your PT if you get a chance. Nothing here should be dangerous for you, but it’s always a good thing to double check. And when you get the all clear to exercise freely again, these can help keep you healthy for the future.

  5. Great! I have an old rotator cuff injury, anything that helps with mobility to stop tightness and pain is very welcome.

  6. This is the blog post I have been looking for my whole life! So far a couple days of doing these routines and some progress. What are your thoughts on foam rolling for shoulder / neck tightness?

    1. Glad it’s helpful 🙂

      Foam rolling can be a big help for a lot of people. We also like using a lacrosse ball for releasing trigger points in harder-to-reach areas. The main thing is to find exercises that you can/will do consistently. If you find foam rolling useful, definitely incorporate that into the routine.

  7. When I finally got my hypothyroid issues resolved, my shoulder tightness/pain/limited ROM gradually faded away.

  8. I should try this, because I don’t have never enough time to sleep. So I need to relaxing my muscle, and my back with such exercises.
    Thank for share

  9. I do monkey bars whenever possible, usually while passing a park with the dog. It’s amazing how good my whole shoulder area feels after.

  10. Thank you for sharing. I have realized that my bad posture has caused me to have shoulder pain recently. I think these moves helps me to relax my shoudler and relief my shoulder pain. These are really great tips. Thank you again!