Ultimate Guide for Healthy Shoulders
Exercising regularly is an essential way to maintain limberness, optimal health, and vitality. Most people focus on exercises that boost stamina as well as the strength of the core, back, leg, and arm muscles, but often overlook the importance of maintaining flexibility in the shoulder muscles. In some cases, shoulder pain that develops abruptly may be linked to short or tight shoulder muscles due to a lack of stretching or other exercise techniques that focus on the shoulders.
Although minor injuries cannot always be avoided, you can lower your risk of shoulder problems by stretching and warming up your muscles before exercising or engaging in strenuous activities. A regular stretching routine helps increase blood flow in all of your body’s muscles, helps make collagen fibres more flexible, and enhances range of motion. Stretching also increases the heart rate gradually, which better prepares the heart and lungs for more vigorous activity. Furthermore, people who stretch properly usually have more endurance while exercising.
Stretching that enhances the strength and flexibility of the muscles in your shoulders can be divided into two categories: dynamic stretching and static stretching. The main goal of dynamic stretching is to gradually increase the range of motion in one or more of your joints such as the shoulders.
Static stretching is effective at increasing flexibility – particularly when it is performed during a cool down – but it is counterproductive to perform static stretches during a warm-up routine. Let’s take a brief look at how these two types of stretching techniques can impact your shoulder muscles.
The Advantages of Dynamic Stretching
Dynamic stretches are slow, controlled movements that gently engage the muscles in your shoulders. This form of stretching typically mimics natural movements that you make during a workout or specific activity. For example, shoulder circles are beneficial for swimming. Similarly, shoulder rolls may be beneficial stretches to perform before playing basketball or tennis.
There is now a consensus within the medical community that dynamic stretching should be performed more often than static stretches, where the body is held in a stationary position for several seconds to stretch specific muscle groups. This type of stretching requires you to extend a muscle as far as it can go without causing pain and then hold that position for about 20-30 seconds.
Although this is an efficient way to increase flexibility, it should only be performed during your cool-down period to avoid injuries. This is because performing static stretching while warming up can limit your shoulder muscles’ ability to react quickly because a static stretch of the muscles will also constrict the blood vessels that supply those muscles and, the muscles will need time to recover after the stretch is released. Conversely, dynamic stretches improve blood flow, which delivers oxygen to the tissues which will relax and improve the flexibility of muscles.
Therefore, active individuals who enjoy activities that involve repetitive shoulder movements such as weightlifting, swimming, baseball, softball, basketball, volleyball, etc., can benefit from dynamic stretching. Additionally, people generally experience enhanced performance and power when they do dynamic stretches instead of static stretches.
Read on to learn more about stretches that are recommended for the shoulders.
How to Stretch Your Shoulders
Shoulder circles are a form of dynamic stretching. This technique improves the range of motion in your shoulders as well as your upper back muscles. Shoulder circles also help the joints and muscles of your ribs remain flexible. Furthermore, they help the shoulder become limber in preparation for more vigorous movements, such as reaching across a table or stretching upwards to get an item off of a high shelf.
Shoulder circles are performed by doing the following steps:
Step 1 – Sit upright in a chair or stand up straight.
Step 2 – Place your fingertips on your shoulders. Make sure to keep your elbows up high.
Step 3 – While leaving your hands in this position, begin to make forward circles with your shoulders about 10 times.
Step 4 – Next, make 10 shoulder circles backward.
Shoulder rolls also help stretch the shoulder muscles as well as muscles in the chest and upper back. Perform the following movements to properly engage your muscles:
Step 1 – Sit comfortably in a chair or stand up straight and let your arms rest on the side of your legs. Your palms should face inward and your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
Step 2 – Slowly begin to rotate your shoulders forward by making big circles. Perform about 10 forward shoulder rolls.
Step 3 – Repeat this movement backward 10 times.
Make sure to stay relaxed, as tense muscles will counteract the stretching process. You can also start with small shoulder rolls and slowly begin to make bigger shoulder rolls.
Furthermore, it is important to breathe deeply while making smooth, continuous movements. Every time you take a breath, increase the diameter of the shoulder roll until you can move fluidly through your full range of motion.
This technique stretches the thick, large shoulder muscles called the deltoids. To start:
Step 1 – Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Step 2 – Lift your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder height.
Step 3 – Cross your arms in front of you to make the letter X.
Step 4 – Switch arms each time you cross. Repeat this stretch 10-15 times and make sure to keep your arms at shoulder height.
Pendulum swings work various muscles in the shoulders. This stretch involves the following steps:
Step 1 – Place one hand on a tabletop or counter for support and lean forward.
Step 2 – Let your free arm hang down at your side.
Step 3 – Gently begin to swing your arm forward and backward.
Step 4 – Repeat this stretch by moving your arm side to side and then repeat the movement in a circular motion.
Step 5 – Repeat each of these steps with your other arm.
Crossover Arm Stretch
This technique is also called a shoulder stretch. It focuses on muscles located in the back of the shoulder. Perform the following steps to do this stretch:
Step 1 – Relax both of your shoulders and gently pull your right arm across your chest as far as possible.
Step 2 – Use your left hand to hold your right arm in this position for about 10 seconds and then relax both arms again.
Step 3 – Repeat this stretch with your left arm. Perform this technique about 10 times.
You should feel a gentle stretch in the back of your shoulder, but it should not be painful. Make sure you do not pull your elbow or put pressure on the elbow joint.
Passive Internal Rotation
This stretch focuses on the muscles in the front of your shoulders. You will need a small stick to hold while performing this stretch. It involves the following steps:
Step 1 – Hold the stick behind your back with your left hand and then grasp the other end of the stick with your right hand.
Step 2 – Slide the stick sideways to passively stretch your shoulder muscles as far as possible without causing pain.
Step 3 – Hold this position for about 10 seconds and then relax.
Step 4 – Repeat this stretch in the opposite direction. Perform this stretch 10 times.
Do not twist the body or lean over to the side while sliding the stick. You should feel a slight pull in the front of your shoulder while performing this stretch, but it should not cause pain.
Passive External Rotation
This stretch works the muscles in the back of your shoulders. You will also need a small stick for this technique. Begin by performing the following steps:
Step 1 – Grasp the stick with your right hand and cup the other end of the stick with your left hand.
Step 2 – Keep the elbow of your right arm gently pressed against the side of your body.
Step 3 – Slowly begin to push the stick sideways with your left hand until you feel a slight pull in your right shoulder.
Step 5 – Hold this position for 10 seconds and then relax both arms.
Step 5 – Repeat this stretch with your left arm. Perform this technique about 10 times.
Remember to keep your hips facing forward. Do not twist your body as you push the stick sideways. You should feel a gentle stretch in the front of your shoulders, but it should not be painful.
Windmills help improve the stability and strength of the shoulders, glutes, and the sides of your torso. It also strengthens your core muscles. Follow these steps to perform a windmill:
Step 1 – Stand with the feet hip-distance apart or a little wider. Rotate the toes outward to provide a better range of motion.
Step 2 – Raise your right arm over your head with your palm facing forward.
Step 3 – Place the left arm down in front of your thigh with your palm facing forward. This position mimics the two blades of a windmill.
Step 4 – Bend at the hips to lower the upper part of your body down toward the left side. Keep your left hand facing forward, while sliding it down the front of your left leg toward your foot. Your right arm remains fully extended toward the ceiling. This movement should cause your body to slightly rotate to the right.
Step 5 – Reverse the movement by shifting the body to an upright position, while keeping your right arm elevated over your right shoulder.
Step 6 – Repeat this movement about five times and then switch to the other side of the body.
You can perform this technique with or without a weight, such as a small dumbbell.
Windmills help prepare the body for functional movements, such as reaching to the side to retrieve an item under the table or maintaining balance while lifting a heavy object over your head. Learning how to perform functional movements properly helps you execute various actions throughout the day safely and effectively.
Many additional techniques can help you stretch and strengthen your shoulders. These include:
- Upright row
- Rear delt fly
- Lateral raise
- Walking plank
- Sleeper stretch
- Scapular setting
- Trapezius strengthening
- Plank with shoulder taps
- Single-arm dumbbell press
- Scapular retraction/protraction
- Internal rotation with arm abducted 90o
If you are not sure how to perform these types of stretches, you should contact a physical therapist. Working with a physical therapist helps ensure that you are executing shoulder stretches correctly, engaging your full range of motion, and reaping the most benefit from the stretching techniques.
You use your shoulders almost every time you move, yet stretching techniques that help boost or sustain movement and flexibility in the shoulders are often overlooked. Several useful stretches focus specifically on the shoulders and enhanced benefits are experienced when you perform dynamic stretches.
More specifically, dynamic stretching gently relaxes muscle tissue, warms up the muscles in your shoulder joints, heightens oxygen and blood flow to your muscles, ligaments and joints, and prepares the heart and lungs for exercise. This form of stretching makes it easier to carry out regular activities that engage the muscles, particularly tasks that involve repetitive shoulder movements.
Additionally, commonly used shoulder stretches involve functional movements that help prepare the body for regular activity during the day. Moving the body efficiently not only helps lower the physical burden of performing strenuous activities of daily living, sports-related skills, and tedious job tasks, but also reduces the risk of certain musculoskeletal injuries.
If you’re experiencing shoulder discomfort due to a recent or old injury, working with a physical therapist may also be beneficial. The highly trained physical therapists at FYZICAL can demonstrate the proper way to execute each of these shoulder stretches. Our team of experts at FYZICAL can also assess your current physical status to ensure that stretching and and/or strengthening are appropriate for your current condition
The key to enhanced shoulder health is establishing a regular shoulder exercise routine, as this reduces the risk of experiencing unexpected injuries or even sudden shoulder pain due to improper execution of normal movements such as lifting or playing sports (e.g., basketball, tennis). Be kind to your shoulders and reap the benefits of exceptional shoulder strength range of motion and strength.
FYZICAL offers a wide variety of physical therapy services by qualified providers across the U.S. To find a FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Center near you, visit our website at FYZICAL.com. Our highly skilled therapy providers are 100% focused on your optimal health so you can Love Your Life®!
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