A Quick Tip for Improving Shoulder Mobility (part 1)

In circus, shoulder mobility is important. But shoulder mobility is also important for many fitness endeavors and even just to feel fewer aches and pains in your shoulders/neck/back in your every day life.For many people shoulder mobility is limited. It may be limited a little or a lot and for many reasons. I do not intent to dive down the rabbit hole of reason’s in this post, but to offer just one of the many ways that can be utilized for improving shoulder mobility.

Common Compensations

First let’s talk about two of the major compensations that people tend to do when raising their arms overhead when there is a restriction in shoulder mobility.

  1. Flaring Ribs
  2. Arching their back

In reality these tend to both be happening. This generally puts a lot of stress on the back-wherever the hinge is happening, because very rarely is it an arch. I discussed hinging last month, as I have also discussed in serval posts about how the shear forces on the individual vertebra can lead to injury when we have limitations in overhead ranges of motion.

A Tip for Improving Shoulder Mobility

There are many options for improving you shoulder mobility, but I would start with the exercise below. In subsequent posts I’ll offer additional tips you can add to your repertoire for improving your shoulder mobility.

But first we begin with a breathing exercise. The more I study and take courses in breathing and breathing dysfunction the more I realize how important it is to have breathing at the start of all training: fitness and strength or circus.

For most of us, myself included, we live busy full lives that probably have us sitting down more than we should be and creating changes in our body, mostly in the form of stress: physical or emotional. Stress does all sorts of not wonderful things to our bodies and changing in our posture can be one of them.

Not all stress is bad. Exercise and training is stress-the good kind. What matters is are we recovering from that stress.

When we’re experiencing stress we are channeling our sympathetic nervous system. This is sometimes called our ‘fight or flight’ response system. Constantly being tapped into our sympathetic nervous system can be quite detrimental. How do you know if you are more tapped into your sympathetic nervous system, by your resting heart rate. A resting heart rate above 60 beats per minute (bpm) is generally a key hole look into not processing stress well, being too sympathetic, too stressed/not recovering well.

Side note: Test your resting heart rate first thing after you wake up-before you even get out of bed. This can be done the old school way via placing your fingers on your wrist to feel your pulse and count the number of beats per minute-you’ll need a second hand (see your timer feature on your phone). You can also use a heart rate monitor. Put it on and open the app and get your resting heart rate. Another option is there are apps that can test heart rate via your finger on the screen. It is best to test it 3 days in a row and take the average.

I highly recommend discovering what your resting heart rate is. Once you know it, you know if you are living in your sympathetic (above 60bpm) or parasympathetic (below 60 bpm) nervous system. Your parasympathetic nervous system is sometimes referred to your ‘rest and digest’ response system. If you’re above 60bmp, then implementing the breathing tip offered below as well as adding focused breathing/meditation time and some other forms of recovery to your daily or weekly life are important to get you out of stressed mode.

Without further ado: The Tip

Add this breathing exercise before you do any physical training. Before you do the breathing exercise, check your overhead shoulder range of motion. Do this by shoulder flexion to the wall. Note: do not sacrifice the back against the wall just to get your thumbs to touch the wall overhead. 

After you have discovered where you can raise your arms overhead, pre any warm up, make a note of that range, this may be via where your arms are in your peripheral vision and/or observing any muscle tension. Next do the breathing exercises below. Please note that even if your thumbs make it to the wall in the pre-screen, make note of the effort or any other changes after the breathing drill below.

Note: Make sure as you do this 90 90 Belly Breathing that you are sending the air into your belly. It’s ok if the chest rises a little, but it should rise after the belly, if it rises at all.

Ok, re-check your overhead range of motion with the shoulder flexion to the wall. Generally people see some improvements-more range of motion, less muscles tension or less effort. Of course other warm-ups are a great way to continue to open up your overhead range of motion, but it’s amazing to experience how focused breathing can change ones overhead range of motion.

In a most recent experience of mine with a PRI (Postural Restoration Institute) practitioner, where I hung out for a few hours observing him work with clients,  offered me the experience to see first hand how breathing techniques improved how people moved and decreased the tension in muscles. I was also assessed while visiting. How I felt after the assessment and treatment was quite an amazing experience. I will probably write about it soon.

Why I mention this experience is to illustrate that breathing can really change how you move just by adjusting how your rib cage sits and getting you a bit out of an extended spine and by reducing some tension in your soft tissue.


If you understand and you are executing the 90 90 Belly Breathing, you can try the 90 90 Breathing with hip shift & protraction. But first you want to feel comfortable and confident with your 90 90 Belly Breathing. Practice your 90 90 Belly Breathing until you easily can perform it without your chest rising a lot or at all.

Once you got that, try this PRI breathing drill. Here you’ll want your inhale to fill up a little bit of every where in the torso (think 360º), but with a strong focus of inhaling into the back of your rib cage.

Next post I’ll focus on some more ways to improve mobility in your shoulders.

As always please feel free to leave a question in the comments, share with a friend and or email us with any questions. Be Well~~Theresa.