5 Essential Exercises For Tight Shoulders

by Oct 8, 2018

Tight shoulders can be caused from a number of reasons and if left unaddressed, can create some pretty inconvenient long-term problems.  These problems can include shoulder pain (obviously), neck pain, numbness/tingling down the arms/hands, postural issues, headaches and unable to use your arms the way they were designed.

Some of the most common reasons you may experience tight shoulders are:

  • Poor Breathing Mechanics
  • Poor Posture
  • Eye Strain
  • Inactivity

Today’s training is designed to offer you 5 essential exercises you can do regularly to combat tight shoulders and avoid long-term problems.  After all, the shoulder joint is the most mobile joint in the body.  If it isn’t working properly, then you’ll be limiting what you are capable of – in life.

It’s important to have a basic understanding of how your shoulders move and ways we can make them work better.  Below you’ll find some basic movements, shoulders should be able to accomplish.

Elevation/ Depression/ Protraction/ Retraction

Your scapula (the chicken cutlet shaped bone) on your back works a number of different ways.  You may know these are you shoulder blades.   In the figure below you’ll notice it elevates, depresses, protracts (moves away from each other), retracts (moves toward each other), upwardly rotates and downwardly rotates.


With flexion and extension, this is your ability to lift your arm up in front and extend your arm in back.  This is evident when you walk.  The swinging of your arms is in flexion and extension.  You can see what your ranges should be capable of in the figure below.


This is when you lift your arms out to the side (making a “T”) and then bring them back down next to your body.  See the figure below:

Internal/ External Rotation

Internal and external rotation should be able to be done at all shoulder ranges.  Below is an example of internal/ external being performed with the arm in abduction.

As you can see, you have access to A LOT of ranges and combination of ranges in the shoulder.  It’s important to practice all these ranges in order for your joint to work properly to avoid injuries as well as tightness due to inactivity.

Shoulders generally aren’t being isolated in these ranges either.  You will often use combinations of all these motions to accomplish whatever ranges of motion are needed to accomplish the task at hand.  You’ll note that the mobility exercises below reflect that and use multiple ranges within each exercise.

#1 – Forward/Backward Thoracic Glides

This exercise isn’t apart of the actual shoulder, but it does however impact your ability to move it.  Because of the nature of sitting and poor posture, developing a rounded upper spine (Thoracic Spine) will negatively effect the way your scapula and shoulder joint move.  Improving this area first will give you greater access to shoulder range of motion and posture.

Here’s what it looks like:

#2 – Camshafts

Camshafts are great for getting your scapula to move the way it’s designed.  If you remember from above, the scapula is the chicken cutlet shaped bone that sits on your back (shoulder blades).  It allows you to elevated, depress, protract and retract your shoulders.

We get plenty of oohs and aahs after performing this exercise.  The camshaft will take your shoulder blades through their full range of motion:

#3 – Shoulder Unleashes

Enter the shoulder unleash, an efficient exercise that works multiple ranges of motion including:

  • Flexion/Extension
  • All Scapula Ranges

It an be done seated or standing (we always prefer standing) and a great way to start a meeting.

#4 – Wall Shoulder Circles

Are you ready to really open those shoulders?  This is a great exercise to explore the entire range in flexion, extension and overhead.  It’s important not to push into pain.  With that said, challenge your self to work through your entire range without compensating.  Enjoy!

#5 – Shoulder Swimmers

Finally, we have our shoulder swimmers.  You can perform these in a number of positions including standing, seated and lying on your stomach.  The most challenging variation is lying on your stomach.  What I love about this exercise is that it uses two movements we don’t typically work enough:

  • Abduction/ Adduction
  • Internal/ External Rotation

Like the wall shoulder drill above, this will really explore some of the end ranges you currently have.  Keep practicing whenever you can or as needed.

The major point with all of these exercises is consistency.  Adding just a few of these in daily can be game-changing for you.  We always recommend a simple solution for consistency:

3-5 reps, 3-5 times per day

You’ll find that you like certain exercises over others and that’s ok, spend time on the ones that make you feel good or are easier to do, then as you get better you can add-in other, possibly more challenging exercises to your arsenal.

Keep moving,


*NOTE – If you are looking for a more extensive list of exercises, checkout our Death of the Desk Membership.  It’s completely free the first 10-days.  Cancel anytime.


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