7 Shoulder Mobility Exercises to Relieve Aches and Fix Your Posture
To get stronger in the saddle, look no further than your… shoulders?
Cycling is obviously a lower body-dominant activity, but when we move, every part of the kinetic chain, from head to toe, is in on the action—and turns out, the joints at the top of your arms play an important role in powering your ride.
“Shoulder and thoracic spine mobility is important for cyclists because it will affect their posture—and that, in turn, will affect their lungs and breathing capacity,” explains Brian Gurney, a board-certified sports clinical specialist and physiotherpist at BeFit Therapy.
Yes, you’ll still be able to ride even if you have some immobility in the shoulders—but if you’re not breathing as well as you could be, you’re probably not riding as powerfully as you could be either.
A lack of mobility in the shoulders is very common for cyclists.
Plus, chances are, you have some amount of immobility in your shoulders. “A lack of mobility in this area is very common for cyclists since they’re spending so much time sitting on the bike and in a forward, rounded posture,” Gurney says. (Double whammy if you spend hours every weekday at a desk job.)
Keep reading for more about how good movement in your shoulders can boost your performance, plus eight physical therapist–approved shoulder mobility exercises and stretches to help.
Why Shoulder Mobility Exercises Are Important for Cyclists
In addition to the impaired breathing function, shoulder immobility can also affect your ride by putting excess strain on other parts of your body. It can cause pain in your back, neck, elbows, or wrists, says Ellen Foster, D.P.T., a physical therapist and cycling specialist at Beyond Exercise. “It’s especially common for cyclists to shift weight onto their opposite side and might lead to total-body compensations, such as sitting heavier on one side of your pelvis, which could lead to saddle sores,” she says.
And even if your shoulders seem to be moving fine, a lack of strength in this area could be detracting from your cycling. “Mobility is a bit of a wellness buzzword right now and it’s impossible to talk about mobility without talking about stability,” says Foster. “In addition to immobility, instability or weakness in the shoulder can contribute to neck pain and hand numbness on the bike.”
Mobility or stability issues in your shoulders can result from your riding and everyday lifestyle, but they’re also common in cyclists after accidents. A fall off the bike can cause clavicle fractures, separation of the acromioclavicular joint (in your shoulder), and rotator cuff tears, notes Foster.
It can be difficult to self-diagnose a lack of shoulder mobility, but if you’re having issues in this area, you may notice that your shoulders and thoracic spine (a.k.a., your T spine, or upper back) are rounded and/or your head leans forward, says Gurney. If you’ve been experiencing neck pain on or off the bike, that could be another sign that your shoulders need attention, as weakness or a lack of mobility in these joints is often associated with neck aches. You might also just notice a stiffness in your shoulders or your T spine.
The good news: There are tons of simple exercises to strengthen the muscles surrounding your shoulders and stretches to help boost your mobility. Add the following shoulder mobility exercises—favourites of Gurney and Foster—to your weekly routine. They can help boost your mobility and stability by improving thoracic extension and your posture overall.