10 Shoulder Stretches You Should Do after Every Workout

Woman stretching her shoulder after a workout.

 

The shoulder is an incredibly complicated joint, but it does a lot for us. Because it’s so complicated, though, there are plenty of ways it can go wrong. We exercise to keep it healthy, but overuse injuries are common. The shoulder is also a place where we hold a lot of tension due to stress — both physical and mental — that causes us to tighten up, leading to pain and stiffness.

A good remedy and preventative measure for many of these problems is a proper stretch. But again, because the shoulder is such a complicated joint, there are many ways to go about this.

 

A Shoulder Is Not Just a Shoulder

The shoulder is so centrally integrated into the rest of the body that we can think of the entire area as the “shoulder complex.” This complex includes the humerus, the clavicle, the rib cage, the thoracic region of the spine, and the scapula. Problems in the shoulder can affect the neck, the arm, and the back — and vice versa. Any individual muscle tightening up in this area, or inflammation of any ligament, can have a cascading effect, leading to stiffness and decreased mobility.

 

How Stretching Helps

When you exercise, you break down muscle and build it up bigger and stronger. Unfortunately, this also results in individual muscle fibers that are shorter and tenser. Stretching is a great way to lengthen your muscles’ fabric, giving you more flexibility and a greater range of motion. Stretching can also help with pain relief, reduced injury risk, and better posture.

After a workout is a great time to stretch, your muscles are already warmed up and limber, so you’ll be able to stretch a little deeper and hold it a little longer. But don’t overdo it! A stretch should never hurt. It should feel good. If any of the stretches below feel painful to you, ease off or find a different stretch that feels better.

 

10 Shoulder Stretches To Use After Exercise

 

Neck Stretch 

This eases tension at the top of the shoulders. Relax the arms and let them hang by your sides. While looking forward, tip the head to one side so that the ear moves toward the shoulder. You should feel the stretch on the opposite side of the neck and shoulder. Hold the position for ten seconds. Repeat this stretch three times on each side.

 

Chin Retraction

Sit or stand with good posture. Extend your chin forward without straining, then move your chin back toward your neck and throat. This second half of the move might make you look like you have an extreme double chin. Don’t worry; it’s not permanent. Repeat this stretch ten times.

 

Shoulder Rolls 

This easy stretch is also a good warmup. Stand with your arms hanging loosely at your sides. As you breathe in, lift the shoulders toward your ears. Then move your shoulders back and squeeze your shoulder blades toward one another. You can move your elbows back and toward one another at the same time. Exhale, lower the shoulders, and move the elbows forward to release the shoulder blades. Repeat ten times.

 

Cross-Body Shoulder Stretch 

Bring one arm across the front of your body at chest height. Support and enhance the stretch by using your opposite arm to hold the stretching arm just above the elbow. Hold for thirty seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.

 

Shoulder Rotation 

Stand with your back against a wall and your shoulder blades in a neutral position. Bend your arms so that your elbows are at 90 degrees, and raise them so that your arms are parallel to the floor, palms facing down and the backs of your upper arms against the wall. Keeping your upper arms against the wall and your elbows bent at 90 degrees, slowly rotate your arms so that the back of one hand rises to touch the wall while the palm of the other hand lowers to touch the wall. Hold for thirty seconds, then switch to raise and lower the opposite arms, holding for another thirty seconds.

 

Woman stretching her shoulders in cow face pose.

 

Cow Face Pose 

Seated or standing, bring one elbow up to the side of your head. Bend the forearm to point down behind your head, with the palms of your hand facing forward against your back. With your other hand, reach behind your back so that the other elbow is facing downward while the forearm stretches up to your back. If you’re flexible enough, the fingers of one hand will overlap the fingers of the other. Hold the pose for up to a minute. Repeat with the opposite side.

 

Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend 

Standing with your feet wider than hip-distance, interlace your hands behind your back. Keeping a slight bend in your knees, fold forward by hingeing at the hips as you bring your clasped hands overhead and forward. Hang your head down and tuck your chin slightly into your chest. Hold the pose for one minute.

 

Child’s Pose 

Kneel with your knees wider than hip-width and your feet together. Sit back on your heels and fold forward with your arms reaching forward and your forehead resting on the floor. This relaxing pose will stretch your shoulders, back, hips, and glutes. Hold for thirty seconds or more.

 

Woman in child's pose which is stretching her lower back and shoulders.

 

Cat-Cow Pose 

Move to your hands and knees with your hands beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips. As you inhale, raise your head to look up while you let your belly sink. This is the swaybacked cow. As you exhale, tuck your chin to your chest while tightening your abdominal muscles and rounding your back upward. This is the hissing cat. Continue these movements for a minute or more.

 

Thread the Needle 

While still on all fours with hands under shoulders and knees under hips, reach one arm underneath and across your body (through that gap between your supporting arm and legs) with the palm facing up. Bend your supporting elbow to lower yourself as you gently lean into the shoulder stretch. Repeat this movement several times, then do the other side.

 

Side-Lying Thoracic Rotation 

Lie on your side with your knees stacked and hips and knees bent at 90 degrees (almost as if you were sitting on an imaginary chair that’s lying on the floor). Hold both arms straight out to the side with the palms stacked. Slowly bring the top arm up and over to the opposite side, rotating your spine so that both shoulder blades are planted on the floor. Slowly bring your arm back to the starting point, then repeat several times. Then move to your other side, and repeat several times in the opposite direction. This stretch is good for the thoracic spine, lumbar spine, and shoulders.

 

 

What Else Can You Do To Heal Your Shoulders?

Beyond just stretching, range of motion exercises are important for people with arthritis or those preparing for or recovering from shoulder surgery. Passive range of motion exercises (where the shoulder moves through its range of motion with little or no engagement from the muscles) are made easy with equipment like the Home Ranger Shoulder Pulley. These low-cost pulley devices are easy to use. When anchored to a wall or door, all you have to do is hold the handled end of a rope in each hand and pull with one arm. The other arm rises, taking the shoulder through its range of motion without any effort.