5 Most Effective Exercises to Stretch Your Shoulders

by | Oct 8, 2019 | 0 comments

10 min read


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5 Most Effective Exercises to Stretch Your Shoulders

You’ve been sitting at your desk for hours, trying to complete your daily to-dos. You might not immediately take notice of it but as you toil away in front of your computer screen, the muscles on your shoulders and back starts experiencing a chronic imbalance that typically causes unbearable pain. This is usually manifested especially when you try to move your shoulders using a full range of motion, such as reaching for something high up or extending your arms. 


Assuming this position every day for extended periods can put a lot of pressure and tension on the neck and upper back area which also increases the stress on the soft tissue and joints in the area. This can leave you with frozen shoulder or adhesive capsulitis. The Mayo Clinic defines frozen shoulder condition characterized by stiffness and pain in your shoulder joint.

Causes of Frozen Shoulder 

A sedentary office job is not the only cause. This can also be experienced by people who always carry heavy loads on their shoulders like backpacks. 

Intense exercise can also be a reason for tight shoulders. When you challenge your muscles by strength training, this can cause micro-tears in your muscle tissue which is usually a good thing as it is a part of the restructuring process to build bigger muscles, however, it can also cause inflammation which is manifested by feelings of stiffness and soreness. 

People who are experiencing high levels of stress can also be sufferers. When people are extremely stressed, the rib cage can drop slightly causing the upper back and the shoulders to round forward. This slouching position makes your shoulders scrunched and can cause your muscles to hurt.

How to Relieve Shoulder Tension 

Frozen shoulders can be uncomfortable and even if it the stiffness level is not high, it can impact your productivity. The pain brought can hinder you from doing normal activities in your day to day life. 

The key in relieving the tension is to get the shoulders moving. You have to gently and progressively move your shoulders for it to retain its full range. 

The shoulder exercises are designed to stretch your shoulders and its surrounding muscles. This will include your lats, pecs, and traps. The exercises can aid in enhancing mobility, as well as in making your upper body much stronger. 

Stretching will not only help relieve shoulder pain but also has numerous advantages. In his article Relax Into Stretch, physical training instructor Pavel Pavel Tsatsouline highlights that stretching can help you reach your own ultimate flexibility, control your breathing and relax your mind, master your emotions. 

If you are experiencing pain and stiffness in your shoulder area, you don’t need the gym to perform these simple exercises. These can be practiced at the comforts of your own home!



A critical principle for stretching exercises is to relax your muscles so that the stretch can affect the soft tissue without muscle interference. The muscle tissues of a tight shoulder do not respond well to sudden, rough or forceful stretching. Thus, the strategy is to warm up and apply a gentle stretch to achieve minimal soreness. 

Always warm up your shoulders before performing these exercises. You can make your shoulder area warm by using a heating pad or a heated towel for 15 minutes. Another way is to take a warm bath or shower prior to performing the exercises. 

When your shoulder area is warmed up, perform a gentle movement exercise that will activate your soft tissues and help you find your good postural position.  This is a foundation exercise that can help increase circulation and blood flow. 

The warm up exercise is simple. 

  • While standing, slouch your shoulders slightly forward. 
  • Next, overcorrect the slouch to an upright position, putting a slight bend on your upper back. Be careful not to apply any pressure on your neck or lower back. 
  • Repeat 3 to 5 times in each direction

After this warm up, you are ready to proceed to these 5 easy exercises. While doing these stretching exercises, make sure to stretch to the point of tension but not pain. Any soreness should go away within 15 minutes after you stop the exercises

Pendulum Stretch

The Pendulum Stretch is an exercise that will gently improve mobility of your shoulders. This will also help you relax if you are experiencing stiffness and pain.

It is recommended to perform this exercise first before any other shoulder exercise.

  • Relax your shoulders and stand in a slightly bent position. 
  • Support your unaffected side by leaning your good arm on a table or chair. This allows your affected arm to hang down. 
  • Use your body to start swinging your arms in small circles – a foot in diameter. Perform this swing 10 times, clock wise and anti-clockwise.
  • Do this once daily to start. If your symptoms improve, you can increase the diameter of the revolution and add more repetitions. 
  • You can also increase the stretch by holding a dumbbell, 1-2 kg, on the swinging arm.

Cross-Body Reach

The Cross-Body Stretch is another simple exercise which is highly effective in relieving stiff shoulders. The move pushes you to stretch by reaching across your body. 

You can perform this exercise standing up or even sitting down. This will depend on your comfort level.

  • First, use your left arm to lift your right arm, bringing it across your body. 
  • Exert pressure very gently on the arm by extending your reach in order to stretch the shoulder. 
  • Maintain this position for about 15 to 20 seconds. Make sure you are not applying extreme force. 
  • Perform the same exercise on your other arm. 
  • You can do this exercise 10 to 20 times a day.


YTWL is a very simple exercise that anybody can do and you’ll be surprised at how effectively it can stretch your shoulder muscles. This exercise is also good to build your shoulder strength. 

You can perform this exercise lying face down, or most people prefer standing while their upper body is bent down forward at a 90-degree angle. 

  • Stand with your feet comfortably apart. 
  • Bend your upper body forward on a 90-degree angle and clasp your hands together in front of you. 
  • With your arms, make the letter Y raising your arms forward, then lower down your arms in the clasping position again. Do the Y’s 10 times. 
  • After 10 Y’s, move on to the T position by raising your arms to your sides. You should be able to feel your back and shoulder muscles stretch. Do these 10 times. 
  • Repeat this for the W and the L position, 10 times each.

Towel Stretch

This is a dynamic shoulder exercise that has using a simple household tool which is a towel.. This will also help engage the rotator cuff and ease tension in your chest muscles. 

  • You can do this exercise either standing or in a kneeling position resting your hips back on your heels. 
  • Take a towel around 3 feet long and roll it lengthwise.  
  • Hold the towel with your right hand. Reach straight up with the towel then slowly bend your elbow to let your right hand and the towel fall behind your head. 
  • Place your left arm behind your lower back and reach up to grab the other end of the towel. 
  • Gently pull the towel up and down 
  • Do for 10 to 15 repetitions

Push-Up Plank

The Push Up Plank is another incredible exercise that you can do wherever you are. As the name suggests, the exercise is based on two core-strengthening bodyweight exercises: the push-up and the plank. 

A Harvard Health Publishing article calls the push-up a classic exercise that can help you get stronger as it engages your body from top to bottom. The Plank on the other hand is another popular exercise that delivers amazing benefits

The combination of these two gives you an exercise that is also effective in strengthening and stabilizing the shoulder muscles. This also helps you in working out your core and entire body. 

  • Lower your body on the floor.  
  • Assume the traditional push up position by lifting your body off the ground using your arms then lift your knees until your body forms a straight line from your heels to the back of your neck 
  • Slowly lower one arm until your forearm and elbow are resting on the ground. 
  • Lean on that forearm and bring your other arm to rest on the floor the same way. This puts you in a plank position. 
  • Hold the plank for one count and then carefully return back to the push up position, using one art at a time. 
  • Repeat 10 times. You can also increase the number of repetitions as you progress each day.

Freeing the Shoulder 

Another great thing about these shoulder exercises is your ability to personalize them depending on your tolerance and comfort level. Personalization is applicable as you can easily increase the intensity of the stretch by adding repetitions, force or weights to suit your own personal needs. 

Personalization is an important philosophy that the Calisthenics Academy upholds. We believe that it’s important for you to perform a fully customized training program that reflects your optimal performance level. 

This way, your time is not wasted because you’re only doing exercises that helps you reach your goals with a personalized training routine that pushes you further when you exercise. 

To learn more how you can experience a fully personalized training plan, Get Lifetime Access to The Movement Athlete Academy and discover what your body is truly capable of. 

How about you? Have you suffered frozen shoulder before? Try these exercises at home to stretch your shoulders and let us know if they helped!




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