Shoulder Flexibility Exercises

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On this page, you can find stretches, yoga poses, and foam rolling for various muscle groups of the shoulder.

To learn more about these muscle groups and how they work together during movement, read Keys to Maintain Healthy Shoulders.

For additional tips of stretching and injury prevention, check out What’s Really Going On When You Stretch?

Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes and is not medical advice. Read the full disclaimer.

Pec Stretching – Foam roller

Pec muscle stretching using a foam roller is an easy way to allow gravity to help you gently stretch the pec muscles.

Pec Stretch on a foam roller
Copyright Maura Blackstone

How to perform

  • Lie on the foam roller so that it’s along your spine, with both your head and sacrum supported.
  • Slowly extend your arms out to a T position and stay for 30 seconds. 
  • Variations include putting the arm at a goal post position or a Y. Some positions may be more intense than others.
  • This option may be too intense for some because the foam roller lifts you and gives extra space. If there is pain or tingling, you can always try without the roller and work up to it as your flexibility and mobility improve.

Shoulder Mobility on Foam Roller

This exercise helps mobilize the shoulder joint (glenohumeral joint) as well as the scapula. It can be done without the foam roller for less challenge.

Demonstration of shoulder mobility on a foam roller
Copyright Maura Blackstone
demonstration of shoulder mobility for shoulder flexibility on a foam roller
Copyright Maura Blackstone

How to perform

  • Lie on the foam roller so that it’s along your spine, with both your head and sacrum supported.
  • Clasp your hands behind your head, rest the head in the hands, do not strain to keep your head up.
  • Bring the elbows toward each other as far as is comfortable for you.
  • Slowly allow the elbows to fall toward the ground and allow gravity to sink the shoulders down. 
  • Repeat 20-30 repetitions. 

Puppy Pose

Puppy pose is an intense stretch for the shoulders, especially the lats. There are a few variations of this stretch, this is just one example. 

Copyright Maura Blackstone

How to perform: 

  • Get into a tabletop position with shoulders stacked over wrists and hips over knees. 
  • Keeping your hips stacked over your knees, slowly walk your hands away until your forehead rests on the floor. 
  • Stay here for 30 seconds to 1 minute, taking slow deep breaths. 

Shoulder Internal Rotation Stretch

Functionally, internal rotation allows you to reach behind your back. This is one of the most stressful motions for the shoulder and often the last motion to fully recover after an injury. 

A gentle way to stretch into internal rotation is using a strap. 

Copyright Maura Blackstone

How to perform:

  • Hold the strap in both hands and place the arm you wish to stretch at the lower back.
  • Set your posture. 
  • Gently pull on the strap with the opposite hand, trying to keep the working arm relaxed. 
  • Only pull until you feel a stretching sensation, not pain. Be cautious with this motion, more is not better.
  • Hold for 10 seconds and release. 
  • Repeat 10-20 times.

Shoulder Extension Stretch

woman seated on a yoga mat demonstrating a shoulder extension stretch
Copyright Maura Blackstone

How to perform:

  • Clasp your hands behind your back at the sacrum.
  • Upright your posture and gently press your hands down and away from your back.
  • Keep breathing deeply and hold for 20-30 seconds.
  • Repeat 2-3 times.

Foam rolling for the lats

The lats (latissimus dorsi) originate in the lower back and have a small attachment on the bottom angle of the shoulder blade on their way to the humerus.

The lats have a few functions, one of the major ones being pulling up your body weight.

Having strong lats is vital to be able to do things like pull-ups or swimming. The lats are a direct connection between the core and the shoulder and tightness may make it difficult to raise your arm over your head.

Copyright Maura Blackstone
  • Lie on your side with your arm extended overhead and the palm facing up.
  • Place the foam roller under your arm, toward the back of your armpit.
  • Gently roll along the outside border of the shoulder blade – don’t roll further onto the ribs.
  • Perform for 2-3 minutes.

Thoracic open book

Thoracic spine mobility contributes greatly to healthy, pain-free shoulder motion. These exercises can also be found on the spine flexibility page. 

Another way to work into thoracic rotation is with the “open book” stretch. 

Copyright Maura. Blackstone
Copyright Maura Blackstone

How to perform:

  • Lie on one side with your knees bent up to 90 degrees (Or however far is comfortable for you)
  • Extend your arms at shoulder level and let them rest on the floor.
  • Keeping your lower body still, raise the top arm and rotate to “open the book” as far as is comfortable. This can be intense for the shoulder, so you’re welcome to bend the arm at the elbow, or keep the palm against your chest to take out this piece. 
  • Take 2 deep breaths
  • Slowly “close the book” and return to side-lying. 
  • Perform 10-20 reps on each side. 

Thoracic extension on foam roller

Thoracic spine mobility contributes greatly to healthy, pain-free shoulder motion. These exercises can also be found on the spine flexibility page. 

Copyright Maura Blackstone
Copyright Maura Blackstone

How to perform 

  • Sit on the floor and place the foam roller perpendicular to your spine at the shoulder blades level. 
  • Cradle your head and neck with your hands. You’ll want to keep your neck in neutral while performing this stretch.
  • Gently roll back, extending over the foam roller only as far as you feel comfortable.
  • Slowly lift back up and repeat ten times.
  • Keep your bottom on the floor the whole time, and keep your gaze on the top of your knees to protect your neck alignment.

More Flexibility Resources

Spine Flexibility Exercises

Hip Flexibility Exercises

Ankle & Foot Flexibility Exercises


Equipment & Accessories

Striped leggings by K-DEER

Yoga mats by lululemon & Jade Yoga

Best yoga mats:

Jade Harmony Mat

Manduka Pro Mat

Alo Warrior Mat

lululemon Arise Mat

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