Loosen up your shoulders and Improve your Range of Motion with These Three Exercises

Improving your shoulder range of motion can have many positive results beyond just improved overhead range of motion-which I know for our circus friends is something you’re looking to improve or maintain. 😉

Some of the other positive effects are less tension in your upper back, shoulders and neck. Another possible place you may feel less tension of discomfort is your low back.

Why is that you may be thinking?

Well, when we have limited ranges of motion in our shoulders, especially overhead, the body generally makes reaching overhead happen by arching through the back and most specifically the low back. This, over time, can put a lot of strain on the low back and can lead to discomfort-especially if we tend to do a lot of exercises, skills or other things with our arms raised overhead.

Warm-up Exercise

Like anytime your workout or train, you want to start with a warm-up. The exercise below is a great addition to your warm-up sequence. (If you are not quite sure what to put in your warm-up check out here and here for some ideas.)

Spiderman stretch has a couple of places it focuses on stretching and mobilizing: the front of your hip and your upper back. Since this post is about shoulders, we’ll stick with how this exercise helps with shoulder mobility.

When we work on increasing thoracic rotation, rotation of your upper back, this also helps create more thoracic extension. When we raise our arms overhead our upper back naturally comes into some extension. If we have limited extension, it makes it more difficult for the shoulder blades to naturally move along the ribs into the overhead position-this is called upward rotation of the shoulder blades.

Thus the focus of this warm-up exercise is to work on getting more rotation in the upper back-think sternum more towards the ceiling on each long exhale.

*Quick note: if you can already rotate your sternum all the way towards the ceiling or even further, this is not an exercise for you my bendy friends.


Below are two exercises that you can add to your workout at home or in a gym/studio. The only equipment your will need is a band and something sturdy to attach it to.

The first is Plank to Down Dog. Sure, you may be familiar with this transition if you’ve done yoga or any fitness class, but I’m going to talk about the transition between the two positions differently than you might have been cued in a previous class.

This exercise can be performed on the floor or from an elevated surface. Regardless of your surface, the movement pathway is the same.

The video below discusses the main driver of the movement during the transition from plank to down dog is your hands and shoulders, as opposed to just putting your butt up in the air.

You will notice that your finished down dog position is not what most would categorize as IG photo worthy and that is fine. The arm placement and knee bend is to ensure that the ribs are stacked over the hips-well in this position it’s hips stacked over ribs, but you got what I was saying right?

The knee bend also makes sure the pelvis is in neutral and not tucked under-which tends to happen for many folx when they try to keep their legs straight in down dog.

The arm placement, biceps by the side of your face and not behind your head helps to maintain a neutral spine and thus focus on the movement in the shoulders.

Biceps by your face makes sure that you are not flaring your ribs-which is usually what is happening when the arms are behind the head.

When our ribs are flared we’re no longer lined up with ribs over hips, which means we can’t really access our core muscles. Also as we push with the arms we are focusing on our overhead range of motion while still in a neutral spine-testing the edge of it. Challenging it. Strengthening it.

The second exercise you’ll need an exercise band. As in the first exercise, staking the ribs over the hips is important and the video talks about how to get in this stacked and [core] braced position.

It is important to keep the ribs depressed, that stacked position, or a Sad Mime position as I like to call it, so that the back doesn’t arch and lead to discomfort in the low back.

You also only want to reach your arm as high up towards the ceiling as your range of motion allows with that good core positioning.

A strong exhale as you raise your arm helps keep your ribs positioned and core braced. So don’t be afraid, let out a nice audible exhale like your blowing out all your bday candles!!

Bonus Exercise!

The bonus exercise is an extra challenge for your shoulders and your core, as well as for your brain.

The core challenge is that you are aiming to do this exercise without shifting side to side or a wiggle in your hips. This can take some practice to figure out because it requires that you figure out how much your need to push through your arms and especially your shoulders and to coordinate the baby steps backwards.

And I do mean baby steps.

Backwards crawling is challenging and that’s where your brain will be challenged. Here are a few suggestions to try if your brain is puzzling this one at the moment.

  • Try crawling forward a few steps first and then switch to backwards.
  • Try with your knees on the floor first and going forwards first to get the movement and coordinations and then try backwards.

As always let us know if you have any questions. Hit us up in an email or leave a comment below. If you know someone who would like this post show them some love and us and share it with them. 🙂