Monday, January 25, 2010

What's the Best Shoulder Stretch? Not the One Taught in the Textbooks

I have been searching all over the Internet for a stretch for the deltoid muscle, but the ones I did find don't work. Could you please come up with some (in detail)?

Answer: I can go into an elaborate explanation as to why you don't "feel" the stretch, or I can give you the simple version. For the sake of time and saving you from some unneeded boredom, I will give you the bullet points to your inquiry.
Most exercisers will perform stretches "they are good at". Most people will perform stretches they don't necessarily need and stay away from stretches they should do. Why? Stretching very tight muscles can be painful, discomforting, and irritating. Most clients I work with avoid stretches they find difficult because it is uncomfortable and somewhat frustrating. Those stretches you perform and don't "feel"; chances are you don't need. You don't need those muscles stretched because they are possibly already lengthened or the joint capsule has been compromised. I'll tell you a couple of stretches they may be a waste of your time:

Waste of Time Stretch: Cross-over Rear Delt Stretch. I have trained more people that experience pain with this stretch than relief. This stretch is a staple in most textbooks, but the truth is, it is rarely applicable for a "seated" society. Most women exhibit excessive range in the shoulders, and men typically don't feel this stretch. Over-doing this one can cause the posterior capsule to "loosen" making it less stable for activity. The horizontal adduction movement causes mild impingement for those with unhealthy shoulders and may increase likelihood of inflammation, pain, and ultimately...client session cancellations. Avoid this one and try this one instead:

Cross-Behind Towel Stretch: Guess what? More painful for some, but more beneficial. It will take some time for the rotators of the shoulders to become lax enough to "feel" the benefits of this stretch, but once you can get your fists closer to each-other behind the middle of your back...the better.

The Frozen Shoulder Workbook: Trigger Point Therapy for Overcoming Pain & Regaining Range of MotionHere's a good book for anyone that has severe tight shoulders that prohibits normal activty.


  1. Even for posterior capsule stretching (i.e., overhead athletes), I find that the adduction movement is almost useless unless the scapula is stabilized. Instead it tends to slide along the ribcage and lengthen the rhomboids/mid&lower traps instead. Personally I like to fixate the scapula manually for the client.

    I love the version you've presented though. Definitely a good call for most trainees!

  2. Thanks Mark! I think the posterior capsule stretch is overrated. It is overly used in PT and I think causes more harm than good. Thanks for your comments!

  3. Thanks for confirming this for me! As a newbie trainer who just told a client not to do the post delt cross over it's good to have an expert explain my gut instinct.

  4. After surgery for an impingement last year and reading the online reviews of this book on amazon, I just bought the book.


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