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  • A Sequence of (mostly)
    Active Shoulder Stretches
    for Improving Shoulder Flexibility and Strength

    The following set of active shoulder stretches can be done as a sequence. Most of the stretches are muscle assisted and so the effect is to strengthen the arms and shoulders as well as stretch them. And so you could think of these as shoulder stretching exercises.

    Arm overhead shoulder stretch, reaching one arm up, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Arm overhead shoulder stretch, hands clasped and palms pressing upwards, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Arm overhead shoulder stretch, pulling one arm to the side, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Arm overhead shoulder stretch, pulling one arm to the inside, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Arm overhead shoulder stretch, triceps stretch,  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Arm overhead shoulder stretch, pulling hands apart to add tension, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Arm to the side active shoulder stretch, pulling one arm back while holding on to upper arm with other hand, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Outer shoulder stretch, crossing arms in front of chest with elbows bent, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Outer shoulder stretch, crossing arms in front of chest with elbows straihgt,neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Eagle arm position shoulder stretch, forearms tipped to one side.  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Arm overhead external rotation stretching exercise, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Penguin shoulder stretching exercise for internal rotation,  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    From down position pulling one arm to the side against resistance to stretch outer shoulder of resisting arm, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    From down position pulling one arm to the opposite side behind the back  against resistance to stretch outer shoulder of resisting arm,  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Arm overhead shoulder stretch, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Reaching arms back from down position to stretch shoulders, hands not clasped,  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Hands clasped and arms stretching back from down position, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Reverse prayer shoulder stretching exercise,  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    High penguin shoulder stretch, wrist to chin external rotation shoulder stretching exercise, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

    For more yoga arm positions read Yoga Shoulder Stretches.

    For seated stretches read Arm Stretches.

    Arm Overhead Shoulder Stretches

    Single Arm Overhead Reach

    Arm overhead shoulder stretch, reaching one arm up, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Arm overhead shoulder stretch, reaching one arm up, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

    When stretching your shoulders it can be very helpful to feel and operate your ribs, shoulder, elbow and hand. In this simple reaching exercise start with the arm relaxed, then reach up with the same-side ribs up, then your shoulder. Make the arm feel long by straightening your elbow and reaching with your fingers. Smoothly relax and repeat.

    After practicing one arm at a time, try it with both arms simultaneously reaching up.

    Hands Clasped Palm Press

    Arm overhead shoulder stretch, hands clasped and palms pressing upwards, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Arm overhead shoulder stretch, hands clasped and palms pressing upwards, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Arm overhead shoulder stretch, hands clasped and palms pressing upwards, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

    This exercise can also be used to exercise the rotation of your forearms. Start with your hands clasped in front of your chest with palms facing back. Turn your palms outwards as you lift your arms overhead. Straighten your elbows when your arms are over your head and reach up with ribs and shoulders. Return to the start and because this shoulder stretch has an asymmetrical hand position, switch the interlock of your fingers.

    Stretching the Side of the Shoulders with the Arms Up

    Arm overhead shoulder stretch, pulling one arm to the side, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Arm overhead shoulder stretch, pulling one arm to the inside, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

    For this over the head shoulder stretch reach an arm overhead with the elbow straight. Grab the forearm with the other hand. Pull the straight arm out to the side to stretch the shoulder of the grabbing hand. Then pull the straight arm inwards to stretch its shoulder.

    For both of these actions keep your neck feeling long and your chest open. (This actually applies for most shoulder stretches.)

    For both variations, gradually resist the stretch so that your arms feel like they are working against each other.

    Overhead Triceps Stretch

    Arm overhead shoulder stretch, triceps stretch,  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Arm overhead shoulder stretch, triceps stretch,  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

    Since the arms are already overhead you can use this opportunity to stretch your triceps. Grab the bent elbow of one arm and pull it inwards. To vary the stretch (and exercise the external rotation muscles of the arm being stretched) try to rotate the arm being stretched so that the forearm is more rearwards.

    Arms Overhead Shoulder Reactivation Exercise

    Arm overhead shoulder stretch, pulling hands apart to add tension, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

    This isn't so much a shoulder stretch as it is an activation exercise. With elbows straight and wrists crossed, pull your arms outwards against each other. You'll be exercising the trapezius. This type of exercise can be helpful for shoulder flexibility since you are practicing muscle control near the limits of most peoples range of motion. Work at smoothly pulling outwards then smoothly relaxing.

    Horizontal Plane Shoulder Stretches

    Choke Hold Shoulder Stretch

    Arm to the side active shoulder stretch, pulling one arm back while holding on to upper arm with other hand, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Arm to the side active shoulder stretch, pulling one arm back while holding on to upper arm with other hand, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

    This shoulder stretch looks a little like a choke hold. Start with one arm out to the side but slightly forwards and with its elbow straight. Grab onto the upper arm with the other hand. Then pull the straight arm back.

    You'll be stretching the rear of the shoulder of the bent arm. You'll also be exercising the straight arm.

    Hug Yourself Shoulder Stretch

    Outer shoulder stretch, crossing arms in front of chest with elbows bent, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    With elbows bent cross your arms in front of yourself and grab opposite shoulders with both hands as if giving yourself a hug. Use your fingers to draw your elbows past each other.

    Repeat with the other arm on top.

    Straight Elbow Hug Yourself Stretch

    Outer shoulder stretch, crossing arms in front of chest with elbows straihgt,neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

    This is like the previous stretch except you do it with elbows straight.

    You may find that your pectoralis major cramps up in this stretch. You may find it helpful to focus on spreading your shoulder blades.

    Eagle Arm Position Shoulder Stretches

    Eagle arm position shoulder stretch, forearms vertical (viewed from front), neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Eagle arm position shoulder stretch, forearms tipped to one side.  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

    The two previous stretches can actually be used as substitutes or preparations for the eagle pose arm position. If you can actually get your arms into eagle pose then the door is open to more shoulder stretching possibilities. With forearms vertical (viewed from the front) you can tilt your arms to one side or the other. Find the side that gives you the best stretch. For me this means pulling towards the top-arm-side.

    Safety Helmet Shoulder Stretch

    Arm overhead external rotation stretching exercise, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Arm overhead external rotation stretching exercise, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Arm overhead external rotation stretching exercise, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    This shoulder stretch can be used to work the external rotators of the shoulders with the arms overhead or while pressing the arms overhead. With elbows bent bring your elbows together in front of your face. Keep the elbows pressing together, press your forearms backwards over your head. From there keep the elbows pressed together and try to separate your hands by rotating your upper arms externally.

    Penguin Shoulder Stretch Variation

    In this penguin yoga pose variation the back on one hand is against the waist with elbow bend and pointing forwards. Use the other hand to pull the elbow inwards. This is acts rougthly as an internal rotation shoulder stretch.
    Penguin shoulder stretching exercise for internal rotation,  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

    This variation of penguin shoulder stretch can be done while standing. Place a hand against the side of your waist or hips with the elbow bent and pointing out to the side. Use your free hand to pull the elbow inwards.

    Here again you may find it helpful to protract (spread) the shoulder blade of the arm being stretched so that the outer tip of your collar bones move forwards.

    You could also do both arms at the same time and use the muscles of the shoulder to pull the elbows inwards. In this case you'll be using muscles at the front of your shoulders (and possibly the subscapularis) while stretching the back of your shoulders and possibly your rhomboids.

    Arm Behind the Back Shoulder Stretches

    Arm Behind the Back Lateral Stretch

    From down position pulling one arm to the side against resistance to stretch outer shoulder of resisting arm, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    From down position pulling one arm to the opposite side behind the back  against resistance to stretch outer shoulder of resisting arm,  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

    Repeating some tricks from the arm overhead shoulder stretching set, you can repeat the process with these two arm behind the back stretches, pulling to the straight-arm-side and then to the bent-arm-side to stretch the outside of the shoulder with elbow straight and bent respectively.

    Binding Preparation Shoulder Stretch

    Arm overhead shoulder stretch, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Arm overhead shoulder stretch, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

    This shoulder stretch can be used as a preparation for binding poses like half bound lotus or the variation of side angle where you hook your hand on the thigh from behind your back.

    Reach an arm behind your back and hook it into the palm of the other hand. Use that hand to pull the hooking hand forwards. As you can do in a bind, try to resist with the arm being stretched.

    Rearward Arm Stretch

    Reaching arms back from down position to stretch shoulders, hands not clasped,  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Reaching arms back from down position to stretch shoulders, hands not clasped,  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

    For this shoulder stretching exercise, reach arms backwards then work at retracting the shoulder blades (pulling them inwards) while at the same time pulling the arms inwards. To get the arms higher, drop the front of your chest and pull downwards and inwards on the front of your shoulders.

    Stretching Arms Back with Hands Clasped

    Hands clasped and arms stretching back from down position, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Hands clasped and arms stretching back from down position, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Hands clasped and arms stretching back from down position, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

    This could be called Dwikonasana or the "The shoulder stretch used in prasaritta padottanasana C". If you can actually clasp the hands for this pose (with elbows straight) you work the arms in a different way than in the previous stretch. Because the hands are clasped you don't have to use the rhomboids to pull the shoulder blades inwards. You can actually work the opposite muscles by pulling the hands outwards as if trying to pull the hands apart. Notice the shoulder position changes in the last two pictures. In the first picture the fronts of my shoulders are ope, in the next picture the fronts of my shoulders are moving downwards as is my chest.

    Reverse Prayer Shoulder Stretch

    Reverse prayer shoulder stretching exercise,  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Reverse prayer shoulder stretching exercise,  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    Reverse prayer shoulder stretching exercise,  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

    If you can get into reverse prayer position you can play with it to vary the shoulder stretch. To get your hands higher try dropping the front of your chest and spreading your shoulder blades. You can also try pressing the finger tips into each other so that the palms move away from each other. Or try moving the hands to one side.

    High Penguin Shoulder Stretch

    Wrist to chin external rotation shoulder stretching exercise,  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
    High penguin shoulder stretch, wrist to chin external rotation shoulder stretching exercise, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

    Because of the similarity in technique to penguin shoulder stretch I'm calling this "High Penguin Shoulder Stretch". Place a hand against your chin or cheek bone with elbow pointing forwards. Use the other hand to pull the elbow inwards while resisting the hand with the chin or cheekbone.

    With the elbow pulled inwards towards your chest, you can use the chin to push the hand outwards so that you stretch the shoulder in external rotation.

    You may find that this is a nice counterpose after reverse prayer.

    More Shoulder Stretching Options

    For more on shoulder stretching and shoulder stability options check out Yoga Shoulder Stretches and Exercises.

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