Experts Explain Why You Need To Include Shoulder Mobility Exercises Into Your Warm-up Routine

Sport & Activity

It matters more than most realise.

Last updated: 13 April 2023
6 min read
Experts Explain Why to Include Shoulder Mobility Exercises in Warm-Ups

It's easy to take shoulder mobility for granted. After all, when the shoulder is functioning properly, it can help to do everything from running comfortably to lifting weights. But, when shoulder mobility is inhibited, you might encounter challenges performing activities you once did with ease.

"The shoulder is the most mobile major joint in the body and, therefore, the body really relies on it to function optimally", said Brian Lee, MD, elbow and shoulder specialist at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, California, and orthopaedic consultant for the PGA Tour.

Shoulder mobility is so important that experts say you should consider adding shoulder mobility exercises to your normal warm-up routine. But why are these shoulder mobility exercises so important? Here's what you need to know.

Shoulder Basics

To understand shoulder mobility exercises, it's important to first review the components of the all-important joint. Your shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint that has more range of motion than any other joint in your body, according to the Cleveland Clinic. There are eight muscles in the shoulder that support your shoulder joint, also known as the glenohumeral joint.

The muscles in your shoulder are attached to the bones of your shoulder through tendons, Lee said.

The most important muscles in your shoulder are your rotator cuff muscles, according to the Cleveland Clinic. They help to raise and rotate your arms and provide structural support to your shoulder joint. Other muscles that support your shoulder include the following:


Stretching from the top of your spine to your scapula, rhomboids help you lift the shoulder blade.


Also known as traps, the trapezius is a large muscle at the back of your shoulder that helps to lift and lower your shoulder.


Located on the outside of your shoulder, the deltoid helps to move your arm forwards, backwards and to the side.

Why Shoulder Mobility Matters

Shoulder mobility is "really critical", said Allison Brown, PhD, DPT, and an assistant professor of physiotherapy at the Rutgers School of Health Professions. "Your shoulder joint is designed to be mobile", she said.

If you play a sport that requires you to rely on your shoulders regularly, like swimming, volleyball, tennis or baseball, you need "lots of mobility to position your arm where you need it", Brown said.

(Related: All the Positions on the Volleyball Court, Explained)

Without good shoulder mobility, you could end up with subpar performance, she said.

But, shoulder mobility is more important than enabling higher performance—a lack of shoulder mobility also increases your risk of injury, Lee said.

"With any joint in the body and particularly with the shoulder, it's important to keep the range of motion functioning because you can not only cause or predispose yourself to injury in that joint, if you don't have full mobility, it can impact neighbouring joints like the neck and elbow", he said.

Not having good shoulder mobility "is setting yourself up for rotator cuff tears as well", Brown said. She noted that impingement, which is inflammation that happens when a tendon rubs on the shoulder blade, can also be an issue.

Shoulder Mobility Exercises To Try

Shoulder mobility exercises generally focus on two major movements: your shoulder's rotation, and opening and closing of the joint, Brown said. She and Lee recommend adding the following to your normal warm-ups:

  1. 1.Sleeper Stretch

    The sleeper stretch focuses on the internal rotation of your shoulders and improves overall range of motion, Brown said. To do this stretch:

    • Lie on your side with your bottom arm extended out in front of you.
    • Bend your bottom elbow and move up your forearm so it's perpendicular to the ground. Your upper arm should be level with the height of your shoulder.
    • Then, press the hand of your lower arm towards the ground with your opposite arm, hold for a moment, then release.
    • Do 10 to 15 reps on each side.

    "This is a really good one for your shoulder", Brown said.

  2. 2.Doorway Pec Stretch

    To do this stretch:

    • Stand in an open doorway and spread out your arms wide, with your elbows bent to form the shape of a goal post.
    • Put one foot in front of the other and lean into either side of the doorway until you feel a stretch in both shoulders.
    • Hold the position for 15 or so seconds.

    This move "opens the front of your shoulders while maintaining mobility", Brown said.

  3. 3.Shoulder Controlled Articular Rotation

    To do this stretch:

    • Raise one arm as high as you can, and rotate your hand so that it faces outwards.
    • Then, create the biggest arc that you can and bring your arm back to its neutral hanging position.
    • Lee suggested doing 20 reps and two to three sets on each side per day.
  4. 4.Scapula Controlled Articular Rotation

    Frequently referred to as the shoulder blade, the scapula is a key component of the shoulder joint. A scapula CAR focuses on stretching the muscles around this area, Lee said. To do this stretch:

    • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and shrug your shoulders up towards your ears.
    • Then, rotate them back and down, before sliding them forwards and up again, creating a big circle.

    "We get a tendency to hunch forwards and you can lose mobility in your scapula very quickly", Lee explained. This movement helps make the supporting muscles more mobile and also helps with posture.

  5. 5.Threading the Needle

    To do this stretch:

    • Rest on a comfortable surface in a table top position, or on your hands and knees.
    • Take your left hand and arm and put it under your right armpit, reaching out wide so that you feel a stretch in your left shoulder.
    • Gently pull your left arm back until you're on all fours again and repeat on the right side.
    • Do 20 reps on each side, Lee recommended.

What To Do if You Develop Shoulder Mobility Issues

If you develop shoulder mobility issues or have pain when you're using your shoulder, Lee said she recommends having it evaluated. And, if you have a loss of motion that comes on quickly, it's important to get it checked out sooner rather than later, as it could be a sign of a rotator cuff tear or other injury, he said.

Words by Korin Miller

Experts Explain Why to Include Shoulder Mobility Exercises in Warm-Ups

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Originally published: 5 April 2023

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