You might be wondering, why am I writing a blog post to runners in regards to shoulder mobility? Well, you've come to the right place if you want this question answered along with mobility concerns, understanding proper form to strengthen your shoulders, and improve overall shoulder joint health. This guide will walk you through my favorite shoulder mobility poses and how to properly practice to feel a difference, see the positive results, and improve your running economy.
We must first address the difference between mobility and flexibility.
Mobility is the ability for a joint to move actively through full range of motion. Example: being able to circle your arms at the shoulder joint shows your shoulder mobility in its' ball and socket joint. Some might not be able to bring their arms behind their back at all. This would show hindered mobility.
Flexibility is a passive action using an outside source to stretch to the joints end range. Example: using a towel to stretch your shoulders behind your back; some may get their hands closer than others. That would be the difference in their flexibility.
We don't really need shoulder flexibility. Why would we care how close we can get our hands behind our head with assistance? But to shut the trunk of our car, to itch behind our back, or to lift something over our head without pain requires a great deal of mobility.
As runners, we need mobile shoulders as well. As you run, your arms swing back and forth. This helps propel you forward. Our arms are connected to our shoulders, which are also in motion and must move with our arms. A strong and mobile upper body is required for runners to maintain good posture and even, proper breathing.
Common Q's + A's
Q: Should I do these poses if I have an injured shoulder?
A: You should first see a physical therapist or licensed professional for your individual needs before attempting any of these poses on your own. Although they may help increase mobility and strength in a rehab program, placing these poses at the proper recovery timing will be at up-most-importance for your rehabilitation success.
Q: I don't do yoga, how do I know if I am doing these right?
A: Yoga commonly suggest going to your "edge". However the emphasized word should be "YOUR" edge. Having good body awareness and knowing when a stretch is approaching your edge/limit is a good place to start. Do not move in ranges of motion past painful points. If you notice you're holding your breath during these poses, relax and breath. That could also be a sign that you need to work up to that suggested pose.
Q: When should I practice these poses?
A: These shoulder mobility poses are best practiced at the end of your day. I love taking my runners, lifters, and overall general shoulder mobility clients through this yoga flow at the end of their day to release extra tension, get a good stretch before bed (which can help promote better sleep), and relieve pain caused by possible poor posture from the days' duties. At the end of the day, people are normally pretty warm from moving all day and respond to a deeper stretch better at this time.
Q: I am not a runner, should I still focus on shoulder mobility?
A: Absolutely! The older you get, the harder it is to keep full range of motion in all joints. It's great to practice these poses to keep your shoulders healthy, mobile and strong.
Q: I am a runner, why should I prioritize this? And how often?
A: This is dependent upon each individual runners' needs. However, if you are in generally good health and are looking to excel in your sport, practicing shoulder mobility once a week or before bed each night would be a great practice to have.
The Muscular Culprits
Trapezius: becomes tight from constant sitting and leaning forward and is a response from chronic stress. When your traps become super tight, runners tend to feel chronic pain in their neck and upper shoulders after their run, especially longer runs.
Serratus Anterior: located under the armpit, strong serratus anterior will help retract, or pull the shoulders down and away from your ears while running. Strengthening this muscle will decrease shoulder discomfort and pain.
Latissimus Dorsi: located on the back, when this muscle is tight, it contributes to compressing your shoulder joint and will injure your rotator cuff. Strong lats are needed to protect your shoulders, too.
The Shoulder Mobility Flow
Watch and refer to the video below for the entire shoulder mobility flow:
Crescent Pose (Añjaneyāsana)
Crescent Pose: Starting at the top of your mat, step your left foot to the back of your mat coming into a lunge. Bend your right knee to a 90 degrees while maintaining knee and ankle alignment. Keep your left heal elevated off the mat and high on the ball of your foot. Keep your hips facing forward. Now, pulling the core in, raise your straight arms over your head with your hands facing each other. Relax the shoulder blades down your back and away from your ears. Stretch your arms tall and long while working your shoulders down your back.
Exercise Prescription: This pose will test your muscular endurance and range of motion by keeping your arms right over your head. Hold this pose for 60 seconds, or 15 slow breaths. Step to the top of your mat and repeat on your left side.
Up Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
Up Dog: Stepping both feet to the top of your mat, hinge in a forward fold and place the palms of your hands on the ground (this will require a big bend in your knees). Step your right foot to the back of the mat followed by your left foot, meeting in a tall plank. Slowly shift your weight forward so your chest is over your wrists and lower all the way to the mat. using your core, begin to straighten your arms pulling your shoulders, then your chest, and eventually your rib cage away from the mat, as pictured. You shoulder work comes into play when you work the shoulders down and away from your ears. This will feel like lengthening the spine and bettering your posture.
Exercise Prescription: Hold up dog for 10-30 seconds with perfect form. Once your shoulders get tired, be sure to lower and not put. Remember, this is also a backbend. If straightening your arms feels like **too much**, come to cobra instead with your forearms on the ground.
Child's Pose (Bālāsana)
Child's Pose: From up dog, shift your hips back towards your heels and extend you arms out long in front of you as you lower your chest and head to the mat. Your shoulders are now being pressed back behind your head as you reach your arms out as long as they can go, feeling a nice side body stretch. I like to call this an active child's pose (versus passive).
Exercise Prescription: Hold child's pose for 30-60 seconds.
Prayer Hands (Anjali Mudra)
Reverse Prayer Hands: By reversing prayer hands, you're able to work your shoulder blades together and practicing depressing the top of your shoulders down your back. This is extremely hard, and you may not be able to bring your palms together initially. Grabbing for the wrists or finger tips would be a great place to start. If you're able to touch your palms, be sure to sit tall and work your fingers ups to mid-back.
** If you are dealing with a shoulder injury, do not perform this exercise. This may exaggerate shoulder weaknesses and cause discomfort.
Exercise Prescription: Hold this pose for 30 seconds.
Eagle Arms (Sukhasana Garuda)
Eagle arms: This pose is the counter-pose to prayer hands. You will now operate the shoulder blades and interlace your arms in front of your chest. You want to still pull the top of your shoulders down. To begin, cross the elbows (one on top of the other) and continuing spiraling your arms until your palms touch. From here, raise your arms up to the top of your chest and in front of your face.
Exercise Prescription: Hold this pose for 30-60 seconds.
Full Wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana)
Wheel: You have now primed your shoulders and spine to try full wheel. If you are new to full wheel, bridge pose is a great way to work shoulders as well as getting into a back bend. If you are ready to try full wheel, lay on your back and bend your knees so your feet are planted underneath your knees. You don't want your heels to be too close to your butt; but not too far away either. Plant your hands with the palms on the ground by your head (your fingers will be pointed towards the bottom of your mat). Press into your feet and palms as you lift your heart to the sky. Extend through your legs and straighten your arms. This is a weight-bearing pose for both your shoulders and your legs. Breath, as it is easy to forget in this pose.
Exercise Prescription: Have some fun! Try wheel pose a few times and see how long you can hold it for. A good goal would be 5-10 breaths.
Practice Makes Perfect
You do not need to practice this full flow in order or all at once. Those who deal with shoulder mobility problems should practice these as much as possible, without pain. This flow is a wonderful tool to break apart or do together after a long work day. The more you practice these poses, the easier they will get and you will see a direct impact on how easy you can move around your shoulder joints.