Shoulder Stretches

Open Your Chest and Improve Your Posture with Shoulder Stretches

Male swimmer stretching. Matt Henry Gunther

Stretching your shoulders can feel good, especially for those of us who spend long hours hunched over a computer. It can also prepare you for walking with good posture -- shoulders back and relaxed and chest open for better breathing.

Precautions for Shoulder Stretches

If you have any shoulder instability due to rotator cuff tears, tendinitis, arthritis, or feel any pain or instability, do not do shoulder stretches until you have discussed it with your doctor.

Do these stretches gently and with a constant pressure rather than any jerky motions. Do not force the stretch past where it is comfortable without pain.

Anterior Shoulder Stretch

This behind-your-back shoulder stretch will stretch the front of the shoulder and the chest (the anterior deltoid and the pectoralis minor muscles).


  • Begin standing up straight with shoulders relaxed and back.
  • Clasp your hands behind your lower back. If you have difficulty doing this, hold on to a towel or walking pole positioned horizontally behind your back.
  • Lift your clasped hands, keeping your elbows straight, back out away from your body. Keep an upright posture.
  • Stop lifting at the point you no longer feel comfortable; don't stretch to the point of pain.
  • Stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.

Anterior Shoulder Stretch Variation

This version will also stretch the anterior deltoid and pectoralis major and set you up better for good walking posture.

  • Stand up straight with shoulders relaxed and your back straight.
  • Place the palms of your hands on your lower back (rather than clasping them as in the first version).
  • Now try rotate your elbows inward towards the middle of your back while keeping your palms flat on your lower back.
  • Hold for 10 to 30 seconds.

    Anterior Shoulder Rotation Stretch with Towel or Walking Pole

    This stretch targets the supraspinatus muscle. It is part of the rotator cuff.

    • Place the towel or walking pole (or golf club) behind your back vertically.
    • Grasp it with your right hand near the small of your back, and with your left hand at the top of your back.
    • Keep your right shoulder relaxed.
    • Pull up on the towel or pole with your right hand. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
    • Switch and perform it with the left hand low and the right hand high. Keep your left shoulder relaxed.
    • More on this towel shoulder stretch and its use in physical therapy

    What Do the Muscles Stretched in this Exercise Do?

    The anterior deltoid works to flex the shoulder and horizontally adduct the shoulder. The pectoralis minor helps in breathing, lifting the ribs. It also protracts the scapula. The pectoralis major adducts and medially rotates the shoulder. The supraspinatus abducts and externally rotates the shoulder.

    Follow-up exercise: Arm circles to take your shoulders through their full range of motion.

    More Shoulder Stretches


    Rotator cuff exercises, MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 5/9/2015.

    Hyrosomallis, C. Effectiveness of strengthening and stretching exercises for the postural correction of abducted scapulae: a review. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Feb;24(2):567-74. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181c069d8.

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