I am going to break upper body mobility into three areas.
- Tight Shoulders/Chest
- Tight Forearms/Wrists
I have found that these three areas are the most prone to being immobile and lead to injuries ranging from low back and neck pain, to torn pecs, rotator cuff problems, carpal tunnel and more. Unfortunately this is due to the ’rounded desk posture’ of our modern society (sitting, typing, writing, texting) resulting in poor posture. The resulting ‘C’ shape with a rounded upper back, hunched over shoulders, and forward jutting neck compromise stability and force transfer for nearly any movement. On top of that, the poor positioning leads to improper muscle recruitment patterns in a variety of exercises, heck it will even make breathing more difficult.
In other words these positions are terrible to default to, and merely going to the gym and working out will not address the problem – in fact it will more than likely lead to significant injury.
5 Best Upper Body Mobilizations:
1) Myofascial Release:
Items Needed: A ‘Peanut’ which is two lacrosse balls taped together. You can make your own or grab one off Amazon, the cheapest I found is this one.
Purpose: Restore the gliding surfaces of the various layers of tissue. Make sure to breath in deeply and work out any sore/tight areas. Also keep your abs tight and strive to keep your lower back on the ground throughout the movement.
Modifications: There isn’t much you can do to make this easier. A more advanced version or for bigger people (like myself) would be to get a weight of some sort like a kettle bell and hold it on your chest. This will give you some extra weight to really dig into that T-spine.
Aim for: A minute or two of maintenance once all the knots are cleared out. Whenever a knot comes up, spend a minute or two on just that area and try to loosen it up.
2) Wall Slides:
Items Needed: A wall! Or any flat vertical surface.
Purpose: Activate the low trap, external rotators, and rhomboid. Stretch out the pecs and internal rotators. It’ll also help to teach you to not engage your upper traps (by shrugging).
Keep your shoulder blades back and down throughout the movement.
Hands, wrist, forearms pressed into the wall the entire time.
Modifications: If you can’t do this perfectly the first time, don’t worry about it. It can take some time to restore movement that hasn’t been addressed in years. Only go to the point of discomfort, no need to push through any pain.
Aim for: Spend a minute or two doing this.
Items Needed: Nothing!
Purpose: Restore T-spine mobility. Try to breath out on the way up, and in on the way down.
Modifications: This is a very gentle stretch, push as hard as you’d like at the top and bottom.
Aim for: 15-20 repetitions. Shouldn’t take more than a minute.
Items Needed: None!
Purpose: Warm up and mobilize the fingers, wrists and forearm muscles.
Modifications: Several are covered in the video! Just put as much weight as you’d like into your hands.
Aim for: 2-5 minutes before any activity involving the hands.
5) Shoulder/ chest:
Items Needed: Resistance band, like these.
Purpose: Stretch out the shoulders and pecs. Reposition the shoulder into an anatomically correct position.
Modifications: Can perform without a band although it will be less effective. Just grab a doorway and step through.
Aim for: 2-4 minutes per side.
These drills are easy to perform, can be personalized to your needs, and shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. I highly suggest using these as part of your warmup routine to allow for better positioning and safety during your workout. Additionally, working out immediately after mobilizing will help to cement your changes by teaching your Central Nervous System new motor and muscle recruitment patterns.
Try these drills for a week or two and see if you notice an improvement, if not change up the timing, range of motion you explore or try out some new mobilizations. Stick with what works!
Want to learn the 5 Best Lower Body Mobilizations? Click here.
Another article I found on some more thoracic mobility and a quick way to address it here.