Upper-Back and Shoulder Openers That Will Feel Amazing for Literally Every Body
These upper-back stretches and shoulder mobility drills will keep you moving pain-free.
Ever been in yoga class and wondered how the girl in front of you manages to wrap her limbs effortlessly into Eagle Arms while you can barely force your elbows to stay together? That's called limited upper back and shoulder mobility, and it's suuuper common. (Ditto for tight hip flexors and so-called "tech neck.")
From cyclists and lifters to just everyday office workers, a tight back and rounded shoulders is a common imbalance that we could all serve to improve, so we enlisted the help of Charlee Atkins, C.S.C.S., creator of Le Sweat and a movement and mobility specialist with a degree in sports medicine.
Thankfully, Atkins is sharing her expertise on how to open up a tight upper body with some simple drills. These upper-back and shoulder stretches will help you improve mobility—your body's ability to access a joint's entire range of motion (or ROM) without pain—which can improve your workout performance, prevent injury, and keep you moving well overall. (See more here: What Is Mobility Anyway?)
Make these a regular part of your routine, and get ready to feel the difference.
5 Upper-Back and Shoulder Stretches
Shoulder Controlled Articular Rotations
*Controlled articular rotations (CARS) are slow and methodic rotations of a joint.
A. Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart with arms by sides, palms facing in, and engage core to brace body to isolate the shoulder joint.
B. Keeping torso steady, slowly lift arm straight forward and overhead. Once the arm is completely vertical, rotate palm to face out.
C. Slowly circle arm back and down, rotating thumb down and then in to create the biggest arc and internally rotating the shoulder.
D. Stop at full extension of the shoulder (can't lower anymore) and slowly reverse the motion to return to start.
Do 5 rotations. Switch sides; repeat.
Bridge + Lacrosse Ball Release
A. Lie face-up on the floor with feet planted and knees pointing to the ceiling. Press hips up into a bridge pose and place a lacrosse ball in the left trapezius muscle (between the spine and shoulder blade, never on the bone), on top of levator scapulae.* Raise the left arm straight towards the ceiling to start.
B. Do three arm movements: 1) Bend the arm to a 90-degree angle, as if doing a bench press. 2) Extend the arm toward the ceiling again, then lower straight arm toward the floor, reaching toward heels. Rotate palm up, then circle arm out to the side and overhead (bicep by ear). 3) Reach straight arm across the body towards the right heel.
C. Lift arm straight toward the ceiling to return to start.
Repeat for 30 to 90 seconds. Switch sides; repeat.
*Tip for placing the ball: With the right hand, reach over the left shoulder, placing the pointer finger on the spine and middle finger on the shoulder blade. Place the ball right between this two-point target.
A. Start sitting in a cross-legged position.
B. Clasp both hands together behind back and bring both hands to the right hip.
C. Think about opening the left shoulder (externally rotating it) and pulling the shoulder blade “down into the back pocket.”
D. Keep head neutral and turn head as far to the right as possible.
Hold for at least 30 seconds
A. Start in a tabletop position on hands and knees.
B. Walk hands forward, mat-width apart, until arms are straight.
C. Slowly lower chest toward the mat, keeping hips directly over the knees and feeling spine lengthen.
Hold for 30 seconds.
Arm Wrap (aka Eagle Arms)
A. Start sitting in a kneeling position. (This can also be done standing; focus on keeping the spine long.)
B. Hug both arms over the chest, stacking the elbows, right over left, palms facing down.
C. Lift forearms so fingers are pointing towards the ceiling, with the top elbow in the crease of the bottom elbow. Press the backs of the hands together or circle the top hand around to clasp or press palms together.
Hold for 30 seconds. Switch sides; repeat.