I often get really tense in the front of my shoulders, probably for a number of reasons, one of which is that I sit hunched forward at my computer most of the day writing and working on health coaching stuff. I try to make a point to do some extra upper body stretches throughout the day, and when I don’t, I lose a lot of flexibility. I hadn’t realized how tight my shoulders had become this week until I did tricep dips in yesterday’s workout. My range of motion was significantly limited and I had to take it slow and easy to avoid injury. If I spend a good 15-20 minutes stretching out my shoulders a few times a week, this is usually enough to keep a good range of motion and mobility.
Here is an overview of what I do release tightness in my shoulders:
Warm up before working out or stretching. When you know you are prone to tightness in particular joints, you want to make sure to spend extra time warming up those areas before you ask them to do any hard work. For my shoulders, I like to warm up by jumping rope for 2-3 minutes, followed by a few sets of arm swings (overhead and side to side), wide arm circles (forward and back), and a few sets of downward dog to cobra.
Spend at least 10 minutes focusing on stretching your shoulders 3+ times per week. Begin with some dynamic (moving) stretches to thoroughly warm up, then do a series of static stretches, holding each one for at least 3 sets of 30 seconds (longer if you need to).
Below are some stretches I have found to be most helpful for relieving shoulder tension.
Wall Chest Stretch – Even though this is a chest stretch, I’ve found it very useful for opening up shoulders that are particularly tight in the front. When doing this stretch, think of pulling your shoulders back and relaxing your muscles. Try to stretch a little bit farther each time.
Seated Anterior Shoulder Stretch – This is probably the single most effective shoulder stretch I’ve ever done. I usually have to hold it for 45-60 seconds at a time for several rounds before the muscles finally release, but when they do I can usually gain inches of flexibility. One thing I have to be sure to remember though is to not put too much strain on my elbows. I need to relax into it instead of forcing it. The idea with this stretch is to position your hands as far back as you can from your hips. Some people can go back almost far enough to lay flat on the ground – not me! Take it slow and celebrate your personal success, don’t worry about going as far as other people.
Camel Pose – This pose is not only a good back and abdominal opener, it will also help release your shoulders if they are tight. As I said in my post on lower back care, make sure to think of pressing your abdomen out and up, creating a C without compressing your spine. For your shoulders, the goal is to have them stacked directly above your ankles.
Downward Dog – This one is a great full body stretch, but it will especially help open up the shoulders. Relax into it, focus on keeping a straight line through your hands, shoulders, and hips, and back down through your hips, knees and ankles.
These 2 traditional shoulder stretches are also great for targeting the rhomboids, traps, and lats. Hold each position for at least 3 sets of 30-60 seconds per arm.
My last piece of advice for taking care of your shoulders is just to make sure you take them through their full range of motion several times a day, whether through exercise or dynamic stretches – whatever you have to do to keep the muscles relaxed and mobile. Pay attention when you notice tightness and make the effort to release it as soon as you can. Otherwise it will go from bad to worse (injury or frozen shoulder) in a hurry.
For those of you who are wondering, I will be posting on Day 17 of Triple Threat program later today, but I’m going to have a busy work day first so that might not be until late this afternoon/evening.