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The Best Stretch For Your Shoulders

July 24 2010

There are number of shoulder stretching exercises. But which is the most important and why?

Why stretch the shoulder posterior capsule?

  • Shoulder Pain: It has been shown in number of studies that posterior shoulder tightness could be one of the risk factors for shoulder problems and pain.
  • posterior capsule tightness in shoulder pain

    Figure: The figure shows how a tight posterior capsule can cause impingement and shoulder pain when you raise your arm.

  • Weight Lifters: It has been consistently shown in number of studies that overhead athletes, recreational weight lifters and bodybuilders have limited internal rotation or a tight posterior capsule.

    The tight posterior capsule in weight lifters could be due the limited internal rotation end-range of motion exercises compared to external rotation exercises.

What are the stretches for the posterior capsusle?

The two most common stretches for posterior capsule are:
1. Sleeper stretch
2. Cross body stretch.

sleeper stretch for shoulder paincross body stretch for posterior capsule tightness

So which is the best shoulder stretch?

Of the two, a recent study showed that the cross body stretch to be more effective for posterior capsule and increasing IR range of motion compared to sleeper stretch

Practical Application

  • If you had to pick just one stretch to prevent shoulder pain and problems, pick the cross body stretch.
  • If you have the time, do both.

Reference 1
Reference 2

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OMAR | Sun July 25, 2010  

Great article Anoop.  Keep ‘em coming! wink

Anoop | Sun July 25, 2010  

Thanks Zach for the comment! aven’t seen you much in the forums lately.

OMAR | Mon July 26, 2010  

I don’t have much to share so just read others posts and soak up the knowledge.

Brandon Carroll | Wed October 06, 2010  

This is interesting I want to know I have been told that cross the body stretch is a waste of time.

Anoop | Thu October 07, 2010  

Hi Brandon,

That’s the popular version among strength coaches because it stabilizes the scapulae and hence theoretically better. But didn’t pan out in research.

Hope you read the scapular exercises article.

James | Sun December 05, 2010  

Hi Anoop,

Nice presentation and a quick question. If the impingement pain is due to over doing the bench press and has caused internal rotation of the shoulder joint, creating loss of ROM in the external rotation movement.

Would you still suggest these stretches?


Wouldn’t these stretches cause more damage than good to the above problem? As they increase Internal rotation ability.


What stretches would you suggest instead, for a patient with the above impingement problem?

Thanks in advance,


Anoop | Tue December 07, 2010  

Hi James,

That’s a really good question. It seems logical that people with greater internal rotation will not have tight posterior capsule. But it’s not the case it seems.

It has been shown in resistance trained individuals that they have limited IR. The same goes for overhead athletes, especially basball pitchers.Though they use the IR to propel the ball, their IR is seriously limited compared to ER.

I think the discrepancy is because in posterior capsule tightness we are talking more about soft tissues that just muscular tightness.

bernie | Fri October 14, 2011  

I have issues with overhead work.  I can deadlift 200kg, squat 160kg and military press 90kg but I struggle to hold an empty olympic bar overhead and squat.  The shoulders just won’t take it.  Is it a mobility issue?  I’ve tried these stretches with no results.

Anoop | Sun October 16, 2011  

Yep it is a mobility issue. Most people who lift weight and don’t stretch have trouble with overhead squats.

I do think regular stretching will help. Have you tried PNF?

What do you think?



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