If you suffer with tight or niggling shoulder injuries then these 9 dynamic shoulder warm up exercises are for you.
Shoulder problems are very common but just by working on a few simple arm warm ups and rotator cuff warm up exercises, that require no equipment, you can prevent or fix the majority of issues.
The following shoulder mobility exercises can be performed either before your workout or just as a means to keep your shoulders free moving and healthy.
Let’s get started…
Shoulder Joint Quickly Explained
The shoulder is a complicated joint that needs to be both mobile and stable, balancing these two requirements can be challenging to say the least.
The shoulder is a shallow ball and socket joint compared to the hip joint. The ball is attached to the end of the humerus and the socket is part of the shoulder blade. The rotator cuff muscles weave around the head of the humerus keeping the joint in place and through a series of contractions manoeuvre the arm.
The acromio-clavicular joint (were the clavicle and shoulder blade meet) sits above the head of the humerus and provides additional support during overhead movements.
The scapula or shoulder blade, that has the arm hanging from it, is also not a solid joint allowing for freedom of movement across the back of the ribcage.
Shoulder problems occur when the shoulder joint is stiff leading to an overuse of certain rotator cuff muscles or the scapula is unstable preventing a firm foundation for the arm to move off.
You can better understand the challenge of the scapula by thinking about the difference between standing up and fishing from a boat (unstable) versus fishing on land (stable).
Correct arm movement should start with a bracing of the core securing the spine and then the scapula enabling a steady platform for the arm to operate from. Ultimately, stabilisation moves from the inside out happening in milliseconds and hopefully in the correct order.
The scapula stabilisers are the serratus anterior and lower trapezius muscles, problems start to occur when you use your neck and upper trapizus muscles to assist in the stabilisation process.
The shoulder is at a mechanical disadvantage when you see the small size of the shoulder muscles and the long lever that they have to operate. Ensuring that humerus has the flexibility to move and align correctly for the best efficiency of movement is vital.
Weak and over stretched or traumatised shoulders can lead to frequent dislocations or abrasions as the head of the humerus moves off the scapula joint.
Common daily shoulder activity consists of inward (internal rotation) rather than outward (eternal rotation) movements so we close the body down and build an inequality in shoulder strength. Shoulder issues will perpetuate as some muscles continue to weaken and others strengthen.
A shoulder complex with imbalances in muscle strength and length leads to simple injuries that feed into each other and further perpetuate the problem leading to constant niggling issues.
How to Fix Shoulder Problems
A great many shoulder issues can be fixed by increasing mobility at the shoulder joint and improving stability at the scapula.
Many common problems with the shoulder result in the scapula compensating for a lack of movement at the shoulder or the shoulder moving poorly due to a lack of stability at the scapula.
Each has a role to perform and by enabling them to function as they should separates the two and enables them to better perform and/or heal.
The shoulder joint is delicate and when dealing with an existing problem care should be taken not to overdo things.
Take your time and listen to your body, less but with more frequency is better than too much and not very often.
How to Warm up the Shoulders and Rotator Cuff Muscles
Below is a video of 7 dynamic shoulder warm up and rotator cuff warm up exercises for you to see exactly how they are performed.
9 Shoulder Warm Up Exercises Explained
The following 9 shoulder mobility exercises should be performed slowly and smoothly with a focus on exactly what the movement is working to achieve at the shoulder. The movements also function as good rotator cuff and arm warm ups.
These dynamic shoulder stretches should be performed before your workout but can also be used at anytime throughout the day just to keep your shoulder mobile.
There are no set amount of repetitions that are necessary for each exercise, just work through the movements spending more time at the areas that feel the most restricted.
1 Straight Arm Circles Warm Up
A simple way to encourage mobility at the shoulder joint is to perform arm circles.
Work through varying sizes of circle starting with small circles and progressing to much larger ones.
Focus on driving the movement directly into the shoulder by keeping the arm straight and shoulder down.
Keep the core muscles tight and hips steady.
Perform the movement in both directions and on both the left side and right side.
Practice: work through sets of 10 rotations before changing direction.
2 Overhead Shoulder Rotation Lasso
The lasso mobility exercise will help to open up the shoulder joint in the overhead position.
Caution should be exercised with this movement because overhead rotations can irritate soft tissue against the acromio-clavicular joint.
Try to keep the arm as straight as possible to drive the mobility into the shoulder joint rather than the elbow.
Keep the shoulder down and away from the ears avoiding hunching at the shoulder and neck.
Work through varying sized circles overhead in both directions.
Practice: work through sets of 10 rotations before changing direction.
3 Cross Body Shoulder Swings
Cross body shoulder swings will further open up the shoulder joint moving the humerus head around the glenoid cavity or shoulder socket.
The best way to remember this movement is to imagine drawing a figure 8 in front of you with your hand.
For the tennis player you will be familiar with the movement as it mimics the forehand and then the backhand when performed in the backwards direction.
Move smoothly and deliberately focusing on the shoulder joint moving around the socket.
Practice: there are 4 variations to this exercise: one arm moving forwards, one arm moving backwards, both arms forwards (feels like padding a kayak) and both arms backwards.
4 One Forwards and One Backwards
As a shoulder mobility and coordination challenge you can spice things up with the one arm forwards and one arm backwards exercise.
Start with a straight arm moving forwards and then add in the other arm moving backwards.
Again focus on keeping the shoulders down and away from your ears.
Practice: perform sets of 10 rotations in one direction before changing.
5 Shoulder Corkscrew
The shoulder corkscrew mobility exercise will actively twist and free up space at the shoulder socket.
Begin with just one arm, working on keeping the arm straight and twisting the arm both inwards (internally) and outwards (externally).
Once you have mastered the one arm you can practice rotating one arm inwards while at the same time rotating the other outwards.
Alternate sides rotating one arm in and one arm out.
You should have the sensation of wringing out a wet cloth or corkscrewing the upper body from one shoulder to the other.
You will more than likely experience some fatigue in the shoulders as you perform this exercise as the body clings to various holding patterns to protect the shoulder. Try to relax and move smoothly.
Practice: begin with just one arm of 10 in and out rotations. Next progress to total corkscrews of 20 or more rotations.
6 Alternating Chest Hugs
The alternating chest hug is a dynamic shoulder stretch that will help to open up the chest and assist the humerus from being pulled to the front of the socket.
The chest hug exercise is a great chest, shoulder and arm warm up movement before performing any horizontal pulling or pushing exercises like rows or push ups.
You can affect the type of pull on the chest by taking the hands back at a higher or lower position.
It is best to start off the movement by taking the hands back to just above the waist and then increase the height as the chest muscles start to warm up.
Practice: work through a series of repetitions slowly raising the hands higher and higher behind the back.
7 Rolling Shoulders Circles
Rolling shoulder circles will help to mobilise the scapula across the back of the ribcage.
Move smoothly and deliberately in large circles sliding your hands up and down your thighs.
Be sure to draw the shoulders backwards and then set them down as if trying to drop them into your back pockets.
Practice: move through a series of both forwards and backwards shoulder rolls
8 Wall Slides
Wall slides will help to improve shoulder stabilisation at the scapula.
Stand with your back against a wall. Raise both arms up to head height and press your hands, head, shoulders and elbows backwards.
Keeping gentle pressure against the wall slowly raise your hands upwards and back down again, if you lose contact with the wall then stop.
You should feel your scapula (shoulder blades) engage as you press back against the wall.
Keep the movements deliberate and focused.
Practice: perform 5 – 10 slow repetitions making sure your hands, head and elbows don’t lift off from the wall.
9 Overhead Band Rolls
Overhead band rolls will rotate the humerus head around the full circumference of the glenoid fossa (shoulder joint) helping to mobilise and nourish the entire joint.
Take hold of a resistance band with the hands at shoulder width.
Keeping the arms as straight as position take them overhead and all the way down to your backside. Reverse the movement back to the start position at the hips.
Experiment with the amount of tension that you have on the resistance band but keep it light, too much tension can lead to compensations at the shoulder joint.
Practice: work through 10 to 20 full repetitions from the hips to the buttocks and back again.
Conclusion to Shoulder Warm Up Exercises
The shoulder is a complicated joint that requires attention to keep it mobile and free from injury.
Most shoulder issues can be fixed with a combination of shoulder and rotator cuff mobility exercises to free up movement at the shoulder socket.
You can practice the above 9 mobility exercises at any time, either before a workout or more frequently just to keep your shoulders healthy.
Don’t overwork the shoulders if you are dealing with an injury as they have a tendency to cease up to protect themselves.
Just 5 minutes on a regular basis can go a long way to maintaining happy and healthy shoulders for a long time to come.
Take care and enjoy the benefits that these simple mobility exercises can deliver.
Learn more: 7 Safe Shoulder Exercises For A Rotator Cuff Injury
To see more posts about prehab/rehab workouts, go here.
Have you tried any of these shoulder warm up exercises? Let me know below….
Shoulder problems occur when the shoulder joint is restricted leading to an overuse of certain rotator cuff muscles or the scapula is unstable preventing a firm foundation for arm movement.
Good shoulder mobility prevents compensations throughout the body leading to pain and injuries.
The shoulder is a 3 dimensional joint and should therefore be mobilised in every direction. Arm circles, shoulder twists and stretches should all be used to improve shoulder joint mobility.
Lawrence Van Ryn says
I am 79.5 yrs of age and just stared a Health fitness center and do a different part of my body such as Shoulders, arms, back, lower body and extremities five days a week and have not done any warm-ups. Been at it only one week, after viewing your information I will start using your warm-up outline and post you on my results.
Thank you, Larry
Ralph Melkonian says
Greg, great shoulder mobility exercises!!
Did you get these from z-health
BTW they work!!
Michael Seda says
Great article. Though I haven’t used a kettlebell for mobility workouts before. Mostly, I use probar and stretch sticks.
Ralph Melkonian. says
Greg great job
Circle exercises come from z-health?
Btw they work !!
Greg Brookes says
Thanks Ralph, I’m pleased they work for you.