The Best Exercises for Shoulder Mobility

Learn about the shoulder joint, how shoulder mobility works, and the best exercises to keep your shoulders healthy and strong with The Perfect Workout!

Updated 03/24/23
Lat Pullowdown exercise at The Perfect Workout

Did you know that your shoulder is the most mobile joint in your whole body?

It can move up and down and twist around in all different directions.

But because it moves so much, it is also less stable, which makes it more susceptible to injury-induced pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion.

In this article, we will discuss the importance of the shoulder joint, how shoulder mobility works, and the best exercises to keep your shoulders healthy and strong.

Jump to Topic:
Why Are Shoulders Important?
How Shoulder Mobility Works
The Best Exercises for Shoulders
The Weight of the World on Your Shoulders

Why Are Shoulders Important?

If you’ve ever put something into the overhead bin, tossed a frisbee, or had to reach something in the back seat, you’ve taken advantage of one of the most useful abilities your body possesses: shoulder flexibility!

During your formative years you don’t even think about it. But as the years go by, your shoulder joints let you know that it is more and more important to build strength in this critical area.

New Solutions to Build On Foundational Ideas

We’ve talked about joint health before. And while the shoulders have certain unique attributes compared with other body parts, many of the same principles apply.

A Full Range of Motion

As we’ve written previously, one of the main principles of joint health and stability is to move the joint in question through its full range of motion.

The shoulders are no different, and whichever strategy you use to enhance your shoulder movement, it should involve the full range of motion of which your shoulders are currently capable. Otherwise, you could limit your strength gains or even restore your shoulders’ capacity but only in a small part of the full range. Not good!

Not So Different from Other Joints

The same general things that are good for the knees, the hips, or any other joints in the body are also good for the shoulders. We actually wrote up a good rundown of why hip strength and flexibility are so important, for example.

Osteoporosis and osteoarthritis are also contributors to shoulder pain and limited movement, and it’s important to know what to do to solve both problems. Often you can ‘hit two birds with one stone.’

Speaking of which…

How Shoulder Mobility Works

Many well-meaning but misinformed people—when first attempting to address their shoulder pain or lack of shoulder function—engage in a program of stretching that is designed to increase the flexibility of the shoulder joint.

But this represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between a joint, the limbs it connects, and the muscles that control its movement.

“Increasing” Your Flexibility vs. “Enhancing” Your Flexibility

Joints are permissive, not motive. That is, they permit movement. They do not produce it. The muscles produce the movement.

A muscle contracts, and the attached limbs move only as far through the range of motion as the involved joints will permit.

So if you want to restore full flexibility, which side of the cause/effect relationship should you adjust?

Many in the fitness industry focus on the effect and ignore the cause. They will attempt to improve shoulder movement by performing held stretches, foam rolling, or other strategies to loosen up the connective tissue and force the arm into previously-unobtainable positions.

But now they’ve created a situation where the shoulder has the flexibility to move into all parts of the range of motion, but the involved musculature is not strong enough to control the arm through that range.

So all they’ve really created is joint instability: an arm that can move into positions beyond the control of the muscles.

They’ve “increased” their shoulder flexibility. But they have not “enhanced” their shoulder’s ability to move.

Focus on the Cause and the Effect Will Follow

Think back to our fundamentals: the muscles contract, and the involved joints allow movement. The point at which the muscular force is insufficient to move the limbs any further is the end of the range of motion.

So if you have tight shoulders, or just want to increase your shoulder flexibility, all you have to do is increase the strength of the involved muscles! Simple.

In other words, there is nothing that can be done for your shoulder ability and health through stretching or physical manipulation that cannot be matched and surpassed by increasing the strength of your muscles. And with a far smaller time commitment, too.

The Best Exercises for Shoulder Mobility

So now the task is simple: what are the best movements for enhancing the strength of the muscles that surround the shoulder? The good news is that these shoulder exercises work for seniors, twenty-somethings, and working professionals alike.

Lateral Raise

The lateral raise involves flexion of the shoulder out to the side of the body, primarily involving the side deltoid. This muscle is the “cap” of the shoulder, and has primary control of the majority of the range of shoulder flexion. Very important for movement.

Image of a lateral raise exercise

Overhead Press

The overhead press is performed by pressing the arms overhead. This involves coordination of the front deltoid, side deltoid, triceps, and trapezius muscles, all very important for shoulder health.
A member of The Perfect Workout performs the Overhead Press exercise

Compound Row

The compound row is performed by pulling the resistance in towards the body on a horizontal plane. It involves the use of the rear deltoid, side deltoid, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, arm flexors, and grip. This is another example of a movement involving all the muscles that surround the shoulder joint, enhancing its health and integrity in the process.

A member of The Perfect Workout performs the Compound Row exercise

Face Pulls

Face pulls are a very targeted exercise for the rear deltoid, rhomboids, trapezius, and other muscles that connect the shoulder blades and the shoulder joint itself. It is very popular in physical therapy clinics around the globe.

Image of a man doing a face pull exercise

The Weight of The World on Your Shoulders Just Got Lighter

Always remember that shoulder mobility begins and ends with the strength of the surrounding muscles.

Here at The Perfect Workout, we don’t just wrench your joints through extreme parts of the range of motion in a misguided attempt to increase your flexibility.

Instead, the focus of your time is where you can get the biggest return: getting you stronger. There’s nothing that can be accomplished for your shoulder health that cannot be achieved as a result of our targeted, efficient strength methodology.

We know strength training is important, but nutrition is also a huge piece of your wellbeing. If you'd like help learning how to implement these new habits alongside your workouts, schedule a Nutrition Intro session today! Email [email protected] to get started.