3 Exercises for Overhead Mobility

May 28, 2017 by VAHVA Fitness

3 important shoulder exercises to develop overhead mobility and strength. These shoulder drills will open up the shoulders and can alleviate shoulder pain.

The purpose of these shoulder mobility drills is to develop strength in the entire range of motion when you are lifting your arms overhead.

This overhead mobility will come helpful in sports, movement, martial arts and especially in overhead pressing and handstands.

By opening up the shoulders and developing overhead strength, you can significantly alleviate shoulder pain or even fix the shoulders (it ultimately depends on the specific case) because shoulder pain is often due to the lack of mobility in one or more muscles.

We've covered overhead shoulder mobility in numerous of other videos:

These drills are a bit different since you will primarily work on overhead pressing strength. Mobility training done right (proper execution and light weights) will produce great gains in strength.

A lot of people commonly ask whether mobility drills "actually work" because the resistance is often quite small. This is exactly why mobility training works.

Majority of people have bad imbalances everywhere in the body and it's rare to see healthy and natural joint function with a full range of motion. 

When the range of motion of the joint is not clean and there is room for improvement (all of us have), minimal resistance will produce the best results. If you can't do a movement right with a small 1kg / 2 lbs plate, don't expect to do it better with a heavy barbell.

Who should do these exercises and why? Anyone who wants to improve their strength, range of motion of the shoulders, prevent injuries, maximize performance and improve their posture.

A couple of sets per exercise and 5 to 15 repetitions per set will work but the most important thing is to focus on the form and mind-muscle connection. Repetitions are there for guidance, the key is to feel the muscles contract and burn.

For a structured mobility program, see Movement 20XX. M-20XX consists of many different types of mobility training and has the most well-rounded approach to develop good structural balance in the entire body.

1. Overhead Raise

wide raises for rear delts and trapezius

Overhead raise done with just your bodyweight is the best way and the starting point to develop overhead mobility.

You will develop strength and mobility in the shoulder and upper trapezius muscles.

When you do the shoulder raise correctly: slow tempo, control and flawless execution, you should feel a really strong burning sensation in your muscles.

If you feel it's too easy, then you need to slow down the tempo and focus more on mind-muscle connection.

Incline Shoulder Raise

overhead pulses

Incline shoulder raise is a slightly different variation of the shoulder raise. Incline will put more emphasis on the upper traps (active tension) and for this purpose it's an excellent variation. 

2. Back Press

prone press for shoulder mobility

Back press is usually avoided because some people experience shoulder pain from it. The reality is that back press done right is safe to do and can prevent or even alleviate shoulder pain.

The problem with back press is that people usually are not ready to do it, their form is off or they use too much weight.

You need to begin with the lightest amount of weight possible: preferably a wooden stick or the lightest barbell (around 5-10 kilos or 10-20 lbs). The form needs to be slow, controlled and flawless.

In case you still experience discomfort or pain, you need to work on the basic shoulder raises and develop sufficient levels of mobility in your traps and shoulders. Training your rotator cuff and other shoulder muscles can also help.

Once you can comfortably do the back press, it becomes one of the best exercises to develop overhead mobility.

Wall back press is an excellent way to emphasize the shoulders and avoid excess arching of the spine. You can also do the back press on a bench to help to stabilize the body.

3. 1-Arm Side and Front Press

prone dislocations for shoulders

One arm side or front press is different to the back press and one of the most useful movements you can do to develop overhead strength and mobility.

Front press will require more anterior shoulder mobility in the end-range of the joint. Side press instead will open up the traps and work the lateral deltoid.

Doing both side press and front press is important since they really do work the different muscles and yield very different results.

Keep your spine stable and neutral to really focus on the shoulders. The execution needs to be super slow and you should aim to keep your scapula (shoulder girdle) stable in order to properly work the targeted muscles.

Biggest mistake is to use too much of your traps (scapula elevation) to do the movement, arch the spine or use momentum. When it comes to mobility, slow and controlled movements produce the superior results by a big margin.


samuli jyrkinen

About the author 

Samuli Jyrkinen

Samuli is the ninja behind the scenes (photography, videography, websites, program platforms and more). He has been training religiously for over a decade and has a firm grasp of physical and mental fitness. You will find our story here.

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