3 Great Ways to Improve Your Shoulder Mobility (Not Stability)

Plus a simple way to check your mobility restrictions.

Fitness pros have often debated which quality is more important to train in the weight room: stability or mobility.

  • Stability is the ability to maintain or control joint movement or position. It’s achieved by coordinating the actions of surrounding tissues and the neuromuscular system. Holding a front plank is a basic example.
  • Mobility is the degree to which an articulation (where two bones meet) can move before being restricted by surrounding tissues. Examples of important mobile joints for strength athletes are the ankles, hips and shoulders.

So which is more important? Of course, the answer is that both are important to train in your quest for gym domination. But when push comes to shove, I’m all in on mobility, because the human body is made to move.

Having good mobility allows you to squat, hinge, and press, so you can build a strong and resilient body.

However, there are a few other reasons why mobility is an important quality to train.  

  •       Mobility is one of the original foundations of youth, along with hypertrophy.
  •       Injury prevention: an unrestricted joint that can go through its full range of motion can prevent other joints from picking up a mobility shortfall. For example, lack of shoulder mobility may cause over arching of the lower back while going overhead.  
  •       Becoming stronger: if your hip mobility is limiting your squat or deadlift then you’re not strengthening all parts of the movement.

 And the most mobile joint in the human body? The shoulder.

Shoulder Anatomy
Image via Anatomy Insider/Shutterstock

Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns.

[Related: 3 shoulder prehab routines that will improve all your lifts]

The Movements of the Shoulder

The shoulder is a shallow ball and socket joint that has the rare ability to move in multiple directions, which include

  •       Shoulder abduction (like lateral raises)
  •       Shoulder adduction (pull-ups and chin-ups)
  •       Shoulder horizontal abduction (chest and reverse flyes)
  •       Shoulder horizontal adduction (bench press)
  •       Scapular upward and downward rotation (overhead presses)
  •       Scapular elevation and depression (trap raise variations)
  •       Internal and external rotation (rotator cuff variations
  •       Circumduction (Shoulder circles, or Controlled Articular Rotations (CARs))

That’s a lot of movements the shoulder does and a lot that can go wrong if shoulder mobility isn’t taken seriously.

Shoulder Flexibility
Image via ninikas/Shutterstock

Why Shoulder Mobility Is Important

When muscle imbalances occur or a lack of mobility (or stability) is present, the body will find another way to compensate for the movement. For example, a lack of hip mobility under a heavy load may lead to lower back rounding. Hello, back pain.

It’s a similar story for the shoulder joint.  

A lack of shoulder mobility doesn’t turn into an injury overnight, but unnecessary stress over time may lead to chronic pain in the joints that pick up the slack for the lack of shoulder mobility, like the thoracic and lumbar spine.

Sitting or standing for long periods of time with the shoulders internally rotated leads the chest muscles to become short and tight.

In turn, this causes neck flexor muscles and the lower shoulder’s rhomboid and lower trapezius muscles to become stretched and weakened. And all this spells trouble for shoulder mobility.   

Furthermore, an unbalanced training routine that includes too much work on the mirror muscles (you know, focusing just on chest and biceps) and not enough upper back training causes a lack of shoulder mobility also.

A Simple Test for Shoulder Mobility

 If you’re concerned about your shoulder mobility, perform this simple test.


  1. Lie on your back with both feet on the ground and arms by your side.
  2. Place your right hand between the curve of your lower back and the floor.
  3. Take your left hand and raise it directly over your head, trying to touch your hand to the floor behind you while breathing all the air out of your lungs.
  4. Repeat on the other side.
  5. If contact is lost between your hand and back on either side, or if either hand cannot reach the floor, you have limited shoulder mobility.

Whether you passed or failed this test, including the following shoulder mobility exercises will keep you lifting injury free longer and contribute to building a more injury resistant upper body.

My 3 Favorite Shoulder Mobility Exercises 

There are many shoulder mobility exercises you can do, but these three hit a lot of the shoulder movements listed previously. They’re not fancy and can be done by anybody.    

1. Shoulder CARS

This exercise involves actively moving the shoulder joint through its greatest rotational range of motion and it’s far harder than it looks.

Moving through this range of motion has many benefits. It helps lubricate the joint before lifting, promotes healthy tissue re-modelling, and it trains the shoulder stabilizing muscles at the outer limits of its ROM.  

Being in the tall kneeling position will help you realize when you’re using other parts of the body.  

This is best done as a warmup exercise for 2 sets of 3-5 reps each side.

[Related: A 4-Move Circuit for a Bulletproof Rotator Cuff]

2. Back to the wall shoulder flexion

The back to wall shoulder flexion works on the mobility of the upper back and shoulders and the ability to get overhead with any compensations from the upper and lower back.

Being against the wall, you’ll be able to tell if you’re using any other part of your body to achieve overhead motion.

This is either used as a warm up exercise or as a mobility exercise between sets of any exercise going overhead.  Reps of between 8-10 works well.  

3. Supine floor slides

 Supine floor slide trains the muscles of the mid and upper back, helping combat poor posture and helps improve going overhead. Being on the floor will help you recognize if you’re making any compensations.

Use a warm up exercises before upper body training or use a rest/recovery drill between sets of overhead or bench pressing. Reps of 8-10 usually does the trick.

Wrapping Up

Mobility exercises don’t have to be fancy or complicated. They just need to be effective, and these three exercises fit the bill. So, you can spend more time admiring your upper body and less time on the physical therapist’s table. 

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Feature image via restyler/Shutterstock