Stretching your shoulders (and all of your body) is recommended at any time, even when you aren't exercising or going to the gym. You should stretch all of your major muscle groups twice a week for 60 seconds, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.

Stretching is key for flexibility as you age or have a desk job all day and don’t get to move much unless you’re on break or off work.

All but the most ardent fitness buffs are likely to remember to stretch before and after workouts. A shoulder stretch is one of the best stretches you can do, but it tends to be forgotten in favor of stretching hamstrings and arm muscles.

Our shoulder muscles tend to get tight because we spend so much time sitting at computers, or in front of the TV. Tension from daily life also settles in the neck and shoulders, making muscles tire tighter than just about anywhere else in the body.

Stretching your shoulders before a workout will prevent pain and warm up your muscles. Doing a few stretches after a workout will help you wind down and relax. Stretching your shoulders after a workout won’t prevent injuries or pain, but it will help you feel better

The more you stretch, the more flexible you'll become, so incorporate a shoulder stretch or two into pre and post workout routine. You'll have a better range of motion and be able to perform all the exercises in your workout without too much pain or stiffness.

A resistance band helps you get more out of the shoulder stretches you perform. These stretches are often used in physical therapy, but you can use them at home or the health club. You perform exercises as indicated in the description and then slowly bring the resistance band up to its starting position.

It's important to perform any exercise using a resistance band deliberately to prevent it from snapping back and causing injury. Choose a resistance band appropriate for your skill level. Low resistance bands are appropriate for beginners.

How We Chose Our Ratings

Our ratings for best shoulder stretches consider how helpful the exercise is for loosening tight, pre-work muscles and helping you relax after a workout.

We also looked at the difficulty level, choosing stretches with a low to moderate difficulty level and excellent results, along with a few harder stretches that give stellar results for people who can master them.

Most exercises can be done without a resistance band or dumbbells, but we included a few stretches that will work with or without a band or only with a band for the sake of variety.

Here are the criteria we used:

  • Availability of tutorials online explaining the stretch
  • Difficulty level. How hard do you need to work to get results?
  • Can the stretch be done with or without a resistance band?
  • Do online reviewers and experts like the stretch?
  • Can you do the stretch anywhere and anytime?
  • Does the stretch relieve physical tension easily?

If the exercise required a resistance band (or you could use one, if needed), we looked at the best resistance band for the stretch and included a combined rating for the band and the stretch.

Top 10 Best Shoulder Stretches

 Here are ten stretches you can do for your shoulders before or after a trip to the gym or a home exercise session. You can even do some of these stretches sitting at your desk.

Neck Rolls

Tilt your head to the right side and roll it from your chin to your chest. Then move your head to the left and make a “U” shape as you do it. Now reverse the process, tilting your head to the left side, and roll your chin to chest to the right in a “U” shape. Do the shoulder stretch five times in each direction. Remember to roll the neck and head to the side and forward. Don’t roll the head to the back, as it will put pressure on your cervical spine.

Rating: 4.9 out of 5 stars

Standing Shoulder Press

A standing shoulder press helps to stretch and strengthen your shoulders. You can perform this with a resistance band, though some people use barbells or dumbbells. A resistance band adds tension to the exercise to work the stabilizer muscles in your shoulders and upper body more efficiently than dumbbells or barbells.

Perform the standing shoulder press (sometimes called military press) by standing on a resistance band and holding the other end even with your shoulders. Your palms should face outward. Extend arms above your body and wider than the width of your shoulders. Lower the band slowly; then repeat five or more times.

The Serious Steel Assisted Pull-Up Band, Resistance & Stretch Band comes in six different resistance levels, and it has excellent online reviews. These strong resistance bands don’t have a synthetic, rubbery smell, and you can use it for pull-ups, chin-ups and other exercises as well.


Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars

Cow-Face Pose

This pose is a hard shoulder stretch to do pre-workout if you have tight shoulder muscles. You are essentially holding your hands behind your back in this exercise. If you sit at a desk all day or have a lot of tension to deal with all the time, the Cow-Face Pose will help you loosen up, but it will take time to master.

Raise your right arm up straight, then bend the elbow and bring the hand behind your head. Take your left arm and put it behind your back. Bend your left arm and allow the back of your left hand to touch the right shoulder blade or be as close to the right shoulder blade as possible. Try to grab the right fingertips with your left hand.

Repeat the above steps on your other side.  Use a towel or light resistance band to create some tension by gently pulling on the towel or band in opposite directions. Try to perform this pose with the EliteFTS Pro Short Light Resistance Band or another short, light resistance band if you can’t do it on your own or with a towel.

The EliteFS Band is 4.5 mm thick and 1.125 inches wide. If you’re unable to perform this exercise with either a towel or resistance band, keep doing other shoulder stretches until your muscles are loose enough to try the Cow-Face Pose.

Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars

Cross-Body Shoulder Stretch

Stand or sit tall. Take one arm and put it above your elbow with the opposite hand. Pull the arm across your chest until you feel the muscles stretch.  Hold the position for 30 seconds to get the full effect, and then repeat on the other side of your body. The elbow needs to be below shoulder height for this shoulder stretch to work.

Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars

Wide Leg Standing Forward Bend

 This standing exercise is easy to do, and some people may even find it fun! Stand up with your feet slightly wider than your hips. Your toes should face forward. Put your hands behind your back. Interlace your hands and fingers.

Tighten your leg muscles and bend both knees slightly. Bring your torso down, dipping towards the floor, with hands interlaced behind you.

Let your head hang down, with chin tucked into your chest. Stay in the pose for one minute.

Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars

Shoulder Rolls

Achieve better shoulder mobility by rolling your shoulders. Sit or stand erect and roll your shoulders up, to the back, and down in a single motion.  Do this shoulder stretch ten times, then roll your shoulders up, forward and down in a fluid motion and repeat ten times.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Chin Retraction

If you keep your chin in the same position all day while working at a computer, looking at your cell phone, or watching TV, the chin retraction releases tension and warms up muscles for exercise. Thrust your chin forward and pull it back by tucking it in against your throat. Keep your chin parallel to the ground. Your chin should be straight when you tuck it in, not pointing at the floor or ceiling.

You should look like you are giving yourself a double chin when doing this stretch. Do this stretch up to ten times in a row.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Arm Circles

Here’s another easy stretch to get your arm and shoulder muscles loose and make them stronger. Stand perpendicular to a wall and make large, slow circles with your arms.  Do the arm swings in one direction, and then in the other with the opposite arm. Don’t slouch or round your back; you won’t get excellent results unless you have good posture.

Do ten repetitions in each direction.

Rating: 4.4 out of 5 stars

Shoulder Rotation

Stand with your back against a wall. Rest your scapula in a natural position. Move both elbows outward until the sides of your biceps touch the wall. (Both elbows will be in a 90-degree position when you do this.)

Turn your right arm up without altering your elbow position. Your right hand should come in contact with the wall, and your left arm should be down with the left palm touching, or almost touching, the wall.

Switch the arm positions slowly so the left arm is down and right arm is up, followed by the right arm down and left arm up for 30 seconds. Keep arms as close to a perfect 90-degree angle as possible. Envision the right position by thinking of  a football referee making "goal post arms."

Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars

Sphinx with Arm Extension

Most shoulder exercises can be done standing or sitting, but here’s one you can do lying on the floor. Lie with your face down on a yoga mat and bend arms at your sides. Your palms should be on the ground and even with your chest. Your fingertips should face straight ahead.

Bring your chest up with your hands in the bent position as you rise. You should feel an arch in your upper back, but no pressure in your lower back. Elbows should be squeezed and close to your sides.

Now you can raise your right hand off the floor. Straighten your right arm and bring your bicep even with your ear if you can. Try to avoid raising up your should or scrunching your neck. Hold the position for five seconds. Lower your right arm, and then repeat on the opposite side.

Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars

Stretching Guide

 Stretching your shoulders releases tension and makes you feel happier and more relaxed. It will also help prevent injuries and muscles pain in your shoulders and related areas. Do a short warm-up before lifting weights or doing a routine workout to protect your muscles.

Choose a few stretches for your shoulders and do them slowly before and after your workout. If you have limited time, only one stretch will be sufficient. The shoulder is a delicate joint, and it's quite versatile, so it’s important to take five minutes to safeguard your muscles before exercising.

Overall, stretching your muscles will keep you flexible; prevent pain during sports, exercise and everyday activity. When you stretch, follow the instructions for the pose carefully, and hold each stretch for between 30 and 60 seconds.

Don't hold the stretch so long it's painful. You want to feel the stretch but avoid pain.  When you stretch, move smoothly and avoid bouncing. A bouncing movement can make the muscle tighter and cause injury.

When done slowly and consistently, stretches for shoulder muscles and other muscle groups can decrease the chance of injury, make your muscles work better, increase your range of motion and improve blood flow to your muscles. You will perform better in sports and during your workouts when you stretch before and after physical activity.

Featured Image via Pixabay

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