Sometimes your shoulders feel like a tight clump of flesh that just won't budge, especially after spending several hours hunched in front of your computer. Abducting your shoulders, which is moving your arms laterally to your sides from the center of your body, opens the front of your shoulder girdle, stretching your biceps and your chest. Take a five-minute break from your desk to free your shoulders from pain.
Static stretching is holding a stretch for a period of time, usually between 15 to 30 seconds. This reduces neural stimulation to your muscles, which promotes relaxation. Contrary to what most people think, doing static stretching before training reduces your performance level and doesn't reduce your risk of injury, exercise physiologist Len Kravtiz says. Instead, do static stretching after training to relax your muscles and bring your body back to its resting state. One easy shoulder abduction stretch you can do is to stand between a doorway and put both forearms and hands against the doorjamb so that your elbows are bent at 90 degrees. With one foot in front of you, exhale as you shift your weight forward and stretch your chest.
Dynamic stretching is moving multiple muscles and joints repetitively in one path of motion in a controlled manner, says Ann Frederick, flexibility specialist and coauthor of "Stretch to Win." This prepares you mentally and physically for the upcoming activity that you're going to do. For example, you can rotate your torso to your left and right while swinging your arms toward the direction of the turn. You can also swing your arms out to your sides and swing them across your body like a pendulum.
Move Your Spine
Stretching your shoulders themselves isn't always enough to get more mobility. Physical therapist Gray Cook suggests that you increase mobility in your spine first -- especially your upper spine -- before stretching your shoulders. Since the upper spine shares many connective tissues and nerves with the shoulder girdle, any stiffness in the spine can cause stiffness in your shoulders. Sample spine exercises include the cat-and-cow stretch, supine upper-spine rotations and standing torso twists. Use a foam roller to improve tissue mobility around your upper spine by rolling your upper back and shoulders up and down carefully.
Be mindful when you stretch and pay attention to your own flexibility limits. Since the shoulders are one of the most mobile joints in your body, you can easily overstretch them. Overstretching causes a stretch reflex in your shoulder joint, where your muscles involuntarily contract to protect themselves from tearing, says Frederick. This causes your shoulders to feel tighter and more sensitive to pressure and stretch.
- ExRx: Shoulder Articulations
- Gray Cook: Expanding on the Joint-by-Joint Approach
- Stretch to Win; Ann Frederick, MS; Chris Frederick, PT
- IDEA Fitness Journal: Corrective Exercise for Prolonged Static-Posture Damage
- University of New Mexico: Stretching: A Research Retrospective
Nick Ng has been writing fitness articles since 2003, focusing on injury prevention and exercise strategies. He has covered health for "MiaBella" magazine. Ng received his Bachelor of Arts in communications from San Diego State University in 2001 and has been a certified fitness coach with the National Academy of Sports Medicine since 2002.