If You Can Only Do One:
The Single Best Exercise for Shoulder Health
Mitchell Starkman, Physiotherapist, The Movement Centre
18 March 2018
Alright ladies and gents, it’s time for the ultimate shoulder health exercise. You asked and we answered. I get it. We don’t all have 10-30 minutes a day to get to work on prepping our bodies for success. So when it comes to the shoulder, if you can only do one exercise, which should it be?
Upper Back Foam Roll (video demo below)
This has to be one of the best and most often overlooked exercises to improve your shoulder mobility. Now I know what you’re thinking. “Mitch, this is an exercise for my back, not my shoulder”, and, you’re partly right. This exercise is being applied to your upper back. However, it’s crucial to understand that your shoulder doesn’t work in isolation.
We could coin this one “the ultimate time saver” or even “the magical shoulder saver”. We all know that it’s crucial to have a well-balanced shoulder. Whether it’s strengthening or mobility work the entire goal of tackling the shoulder is to be able to contain the shoulder centralized in the socket as we move around.
Now, this exercise may surprise you because it is not directly a shoulder exercise. This exercise actually tackles the movement and mobility of the upper back. But why is this relevant to the shoulder? Well, I’m glad you asked!
Remember, the shoulder joint plugs directly into the shoulder blade (the scapula). The scapula rests (more like hovers) over top of the rib cage and the rib cage plugs directly into the upper back. So, if we can connect the dots, a stiff upper back means stiff ribs and makes it harder for the shoulder blades to glide up and down. In effect, this will increase the compression and shear forces occurring at the shoulder itself.
The other reason why this exercise is so crucial, and simply the best shoulder exercise, is because of our modern day lifestyle. The vast majority of us spend over 10 hours sitting every day (check out our post on The Ultimate Guide To your Office Chair on ways to improve your seated lifestyle). Sitting for such long periods of time, with our backs rounded, forces stiffness into this area. It’s almost a right of passage nowadays – if you sit at a desk for a living, there is a pretty big chance this is something you struggle with.
Here is the live demo:
Now, this exercise can be a bit uncomfortable at first, but it gets better as you improve your overall mobility. The roller matters here! We recommend the trigger point roller (our affiliate link), but any will do! They come with a variety of densities so you have the find the right one for you. It should be comfortable. After all, we want you to love stretching as much as your body does!
We’ve created a full write-up post on this shoulder stretch if you need a full review.
What if you’re struggling with pain?
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! If you are having issues or trouble with your shoulder, we recommend you check out the PhysioReady Shoulder Impingement Program. It’s an entire online program dedicated to getting your shoulders pain free and feeling awesome.
You can also check out our Ultimate Guide to Shoulder Impingement where we teach all d to know about what the heck is going on with your shoulder and show you how to fix it! Or if you’re looking to stretch out those shoulders of yours, check out our Top 5 Shoulder Stretches Exercises To Do At Home. We also created a post on the Top 5 Shoulder Strength Exercises To Do At Home if you’re looking to beef up your shoulders.
Physiotherapist and Founder
A Toronto-based Physiotherapist with a passion for sports, orthopedics, and human movement. Mitchell’s goal is to understand how the site of pain is impacted by the entire body – rather than pinpointing a specific disturbance. He is also the founder of www.TheMovementCentre.ca - a website geared toward giving people the tools they need to self-manage, treat and prevent their injuries.
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