Tight shoulders and poor posture are increasingly common ailments nowadays.
Sitting hunched over in front of your computer for countless hours every day creates a limited range of motion in the muscles surrounding the shoulders, and over time, this can cause all sorts of nasty issues such as pain, “frozen shoulder,” and kyphotic posture (the dreaded hunchback posture).
That hunched over posture, which comes from too much scapular protraction and thoracic flexion, is worsened still by some of the most common exercises practiced in the gym, including:
- Bench press
- Chest fly
- Parallel bar dips
These exercises are just a few examples of motions that exaggerate the postural issues most of us already have from our daily lives.
I’m not suggesting that you necessarily remove these types of exercises; however, to fix or prevent these common postural issues, you’ll need to incorporate some restorative motions into your routine.
Below, I’ll share a great stretch to help address the biggest culprit in these postural issues: scapular mobility.
Understanding the Causes and Results of Tight Shoulders
The shoulder girdle is a complex area of the body, made up of at least 16 major muscles.
I won’t go into too much detail here about the anatomical structure of the shoulder girdle (click here for a complete article on the causes and solutions for shoulder issues), but needless to say, a lot can go wrong with so many moving parts at stake.
The muscles of the shoulder girdle are responsible for controlling movement in the upper extremities, and even play a role in lower extremity stabilization and movement (from the connections from the shoulder to the spine).
So, when your shoulder girdle isn’t functioning optimally, you can experience movement limitations and/or pain throughout a large area of the body.
When the shoulder blades and their surrounding muscles are limited or tight, it will negatively affect your posture and your ability to perform many exercises properly.
- When trying to do a pull up, you may not be able to achieve full flexion of the shoulder.
- Your limited mobility will make it difficult to perform a proper handstand.
- You may not be able to do many movements on the parallettes, as you won’t be able to fully depress your shoulders.
And outside of exercise-related limitations, you may experience the following:
- Difficulty reaching to get something off a high shelf.
- Pain when lifting heavy objects.
- Rounded shoulder posture.
If you let these issues run their own course, things will inevitably get worse, so be sure to address them head-on before that happens.
Scapular Mobility Stretch
In an ideal world, we’d all lead active lives that didn’t involve so much time hunched over a desk or steering wheel.
But that’s not the world we live in.
So, the best way to combat the postural issues most of us battle – whether we already have or are trying to avoid them – is to incorporate some restorative mobility drills.
In this video, Ryan demonstrates three progressions of a stretch that targets those vital muscles surrounding the scapulae (shoulder blades), allowing for proper movement of the upper extremities.
Scapular Mobility Progression #1
If you’re particularly bound up between the shoulder blades, you’ll definitely want to start with this first progression.
- Start by lying down on your belly.
- Keeping your belly on the mat, come up on your elbows.
- Make sure your shoulders are directly above your elbows, keeping your elbows bent at 90 degrees.
- Push away from the ground with your elbows, rounding your back while keeping your head neutral.(Remember, keep your elbows at the same angle, and keep your belly on the mat.)
- Hold for 3-5 seconds, then relax down.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together, hold for 3-5 seconds, then relax.
- Repeat 5 times.
Scapular Mobility Progression #2
Once you’re comfortable with the first progression, you can make this exercise a little more difficult with this next progression.
- Get down on your hands and knees, keeping your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and your shoulders directly above your wrists.
- Without moving the rest of your body, including your hips, push into the ground with your hands and round your back towards the ceiling.
- Focus on relaxing the lower back, and only rounding your upper back.
- Hold this rounded position for 5 seconds, focusing on opening up the back as much as possible.
- Relax, then drop your chest down to the floor, drawing your shoulder blades toward each other.
- Make sure to keep your stomach tight and neutral, keeping the movement at the chest and upper back.
- Keep your arms straight throughout the movement.
- Hold the arched position for about 5 seconds, and then relax.
- Repeat 5 times.
Scapular Mobility Progression #3
After working with the second progression for a while and getting comfortable with that, you can work on this next progression. This will be quite a bit more difficult but will really enhance the stretch in that area.
- Come into a plank position with your feet together.
- Lock out your knees, squeeze your butt, and pull your heels back.
- With your hips locked into place, push away from the floor with your hands, rounding your back. Keep your head neutral.
- Hold for 5 seconds, then relax your shoulders.
- Again, keeping your hips in place and your arms locked out, drop your chest towards the floor.
- Bring your shoulder blades towards each other, squeezing those muscles.
- Hold for 5 seconds, then relax.
- Repeat 5 times.
Combat Your Shoulder Issues Head On
Don’t let your shoulder issues get out of hand. If you spend a good part of your time hunched over your computer, and very little time on scapular mobility drills, you’re headed on a path to some problems, if you aren’t experiencing them already.
The progressions above won’t take a lot of time out of your day, but with just a couple minutes every day, they’ll likely make a world of a difference in your scapular mobility.
It’s up to you to figure out what level you’re starting from, and which progression you are ready for. Of course, we’re always here to help out, but your success with this stretch, like everything else in fitness, comes down to feeling your own limitations, and figuring out what you need to work on.
With that said, as you move through these progressions, you will find that, over time, your mobility and posture will improve.
Your pain should decrease, and your ability to do all the exercises you want to do will drastically increase. So stick with this stretch, do it daily and as often as you feel you need to, and you’ll feel the positive effects in no time.
Move Freely, Without Pain
The shoulders are just one of many areas of the body that commonly cause issues. Get your body in order with our free Body Maintenance Guide.