A couple weeks ago I wrote about overhead squat limitations, and the poses I recommended were to open the hips. A second key component to overhead lifting is shoulder mobility. I regularly see athletes with strong upper backs and shoulders struggle with limitations in how high they can raise their arms without pain.


The shoulder should be the most mobile joint in the body, but when movement is limited athletes may end up compensating by using the low back rather than the upper back to increase extension in the lift. Here are three poses to help restore the proper range of motion:


Down Dog at the Wall


Benefit: Stretches the pectoral muscles and chest. Increases overhead range of motion without putting weight on the shoulders.


downward dog at the wall, shoulder stretches, upper body stretches, yogaInstructions:

  1. Facing a wall, step your feet back until you have to lean forward in order to touch the wall. Make sure your feet are hips width distance apart with the second toes turned forward.
  2. Lean forward to place your hands flat on the wall, shoulder height. The hands should be as wide as the width of your outer shoulders. 
  3. Keeping the hands shoulder height with the fingers spread wide, release the chest down between the biceps as much as possible.
  4. Hold for 2-5 minutes or as long as tolerable.


Modifications: Bend the knees as much as you need. Turn the hands out slightly if shoulders are very tight. You may take the hands wider than shoulder width if you have severe limitations.


Around the World at the Wall


Benefit: Stretches the fronts of the shoulders and undersides of the arms, and brings awareness to mobility limitations.



  1. downward dog at the wall, shoulder stretches, upper body stretches, yogaTurn sideways with the right hip at the wall.
  2. Step the left foot back so you are in a lunge on the ball of your left foot, feet hips width distance apart. 
  3. Ensure the right knee is just over the ankle.
  4. Keeping the chest and hips squared forward, begin to reach the right arm forward with the palm facing the wall.
  5. Like you are playing the piano, use the fingertips to slowly walk the right hand all the way up to vertical. Continue to walk the hand back behind you only as far as you can go without twisting the chest toward the wall.
  6. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
  7. Walk the hand slowly back to neutral.
  8. Repeat 3 times, then repeat on left side.


Wide Leg Forward Bend With Shoulder Stretch


Benefit: Light hamstring stretch with a deep opening in the front of the shoulders.


downward dog at the wall, shoulder stretches, upper body stretches, yogaInstructions:

  1. Take a wide stance on your mat or on the ground. When you reach your arms wide, the ankles should be under your wrists with feet facing straight forward or turned lightly in.
  2. Bring your hands behind you to the low back. Interlace the fingers or, if that is too much, use a strap or band to clasp the hands behind the back.
  3. Inhale to lift the ribs up and away from the hips, opening the chest toward the sky.
  4. Exhale to fold forward. Bend the knees as much as you need to. Shift the weight to the fronts of the feet. Allow the hands to rise up off the lower back as much as possible, as if you are lifting them over your head and toward the front of your body.
  5. If it is too easy, try clasping the palms all the way together with straight arms. If it is too hard, allow the elbows to bend.
  6. Hold for one minute, then rise up, change the interlacing of your fingers so the other thumb is on top and repeat.


downward dog at the wall, shoulder stretches, upper body stretches, yoga


When performing these exercises, it is important not to go beyond a position that is bearable, albeit slightly uncomfortable, for your body. If you feel you are straining your breath or experiencing a sudden, strong sensation, then back off. The stretch should slowly build in intensity in order to increase your mobility. For you overhead lifters who have challenges reaching the arms up with the biceps behind the ears, these stretches are great for you!


Photos 3&4 courtesy of Shutterstock.

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