Balance Your Upper Body by Training Shoulder Extension

Chris Lofland


North Richland Hills, Texas, United States



Most people involved in fitness train using pulling and pushing exercises in the forward and overhead positions (e.g. rowing, push ups, bench press; pull ups, military press), but rarely train the pull and push backwards. This lack of shoulder extension strength and mobility often contributes to achy shoulders. Can you relate to this? If you can, don’t worry, I’m here to get you started on making your shoulders more well rounded and pain-free.


Shoulder Extension Stretch

Let’s start introducing some shoulder extension through some light stretching. While seated on the ground, place your hands (palms facing down) behind you, about shoulder width apart with your thumbs pointing away from each other. From this position slowly slide your hips away from your hands as far as possible and hold for about 30 seconds. As your mobility improves, your hands can be placed narrower than shoulder width, so that eventually they are touching. Check out these 3 Exercises To Improve Your Shoulder Mobility.



Table Raises and Reverse Plank Holds

Now that we have started the process with some stretching, let’s load the position. I use two exercises for this. In the table raise, you will start seated on the ground with your hands behind you as in the shoulder extension stretch. From here, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the ground. Lift your hips and chest up towards the ceiling so that you resemble a table.


For the reverse plank, start seated with your legs straight and your arms placed on the floor behind you. From this position, lift your hips and chest towards the ceiling. I like to take two different approaches to these exercises:


  1. Stay in each position for a longer hold to both build strength and mobility (hold for 10-60s depending on the athlete).
  2. Use the 10x10s approach. This is an approach is better for a quick loosening up—you do 10 repetitions of the movement and on the last rep hold for 10 seconds.



Skin the Cat

These are a great way to start building strength in shoulder extension that will later progress towards skills like the back lever. This should be loaded progressively. Ideally, you can use a spotter to assist you through the exercises, with the spotter assisting less and less as time goes on. If you are training on your own, I’d suggest progressions that I use in our Gymnastic Strength Training Program where you start on the ground with light loads and gradually progress to working on the rings.



When not performing any of the above mentioned skills, placing your hands behind you regularly can strengthen the posterior shoulders and stretch the anterior shoulders and chest.


Coach Chris Lofland has developed a very comprehensive Gymnastic Strength workout and training program that includes personal support from him through a members only Facebook group. For more specific gymnastic development, Chris also provides Handstand Strength and Muscle Up Strength training routines.


Piked Shoulder Extension Pulls

Here is another excellent stretch for the shoulders. Use a weight that is appropriate to your strength and skill level.



Balancing Your Shoulders Is Important

Many individuals, either sedentary or active, cause their own shoulder issues by over developing the anterior shoulders and/or under-developing the posterior shoulders. This type of situation leads to pain and chronic tension that limits a person’s ability to grow in more complex movements. It is an issue that I often run into with clients coming to me to develop their muscle up or improve their Olympic weightlifting technique, among other scenarios. A lack of shoulder extension mobility makes the transition phase of the muscle up difficult, sometimes impossible. My article demonstrating progressions for muscle ups is a good resource for some of the things you will need to know.


For my weightlifters, keeping the bar properly positioned overhead to successfully achieve a lift and reduce the risk of injury is made possible with appropriate range of motion and strength in the shoulders. These are only two examples among many that convey the merits of training shoulder extension when it comes fitness goals. Even for those individuals who don’t desire more complex movements in their training, shoulder extension is essential for overall shoulder health and injury prevention and can be very easily trained. Don’t skip your shoulders, they will thank you.

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