Shoulder Stretches

Shoulder Stretches

Ah, stretching – the overlooked, yet critical factor for longevity and optimal fitness progress. And shoulder stretches are no exception, and critical for healthy shoulders and avoiding injury.

These days, we have so much information on training for optimal results, but so little on how to keep ourselves healthy and injury-free. And there is no more important aspect of your fitness and training then avoiding injury. It can completely derail your fitness progress, or worse.

To that end, we’ve put together this post on shoulder stretches. Below, you’ll learn everything there is to know about stretching and how to keep your shoulders safe in the long-run.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

Table of Contents

Main Takeaways

  • There are two types of stretches: Dynamic and Static. Each has their own benefits and best time to perform them.

  • Shoulder stretches are easy to perform and can be done without equipment.

  • Stretching past your body's mobility and range of motion may lead to injuries or muscles tears.

Muscles Stretched

Primary Muscles Stretched 🙆‍♂️

  • Shoulder (all 3 heads: Anterior, Lateral, and Posterior)

Secondary Muscles Stretched 🙆‍♂️

  • Chest
  • Lats
  • Biceps

The Two Types of Stretching (And When to Use Each)

Typically, stretching comes in two forms:

  1. Dynamic Stretching
  2. Static Stretching

Dynamic Stretching – Pre-Workout

Dynamic stretching is about motion and movement, and is mainly used to loosen your muscles and get the blood flowing. Swinging movements and rotation movements are ideal dynamic stretches. Rotating your arms in a circular motion is perfect to warm-up your arms and shoulders.

In general, we should do dynamic stretching as part of our warm-ups to loosen up our muscles, raise our core body temperature, and get into the mindset of training. (1)

Static Stretching – Post-Workout

Static stretching is when you elongate a muscle and keep it that way for up to a minute – such as a quad stretch. It’s just as the name implies, a “static” stretch. You stretch to a point, and then movement stops and the stretch is held.

Static stretching is best left for once we are done with the workout, and when our muscles are warm. This is a great way to cool down, relax, and slowly improve your flexibility.

You can also include a bit of static stretching before working out, but be careful not to overdo it. Research suggests that stretching our muscles too much can decrease their power output temporarily, which can hinder our performance.

The 5 Best Shoulder Stretches | Dynamic & Static

Dynamic Shoulder Stretches

Below, we’ll look at two of the best dynamic stretches for your shoulders.

Shoulder Rotation Stretch (Dynamic Stretch)

Shoulder Circle Stretch

The first dynamic stretch is your classic arm rotation. These are fantastic for warming-up your shoulders and increasing their mobility.

Start with your arms at your side. Swing your arms up directly in front of and rotate them in a full circle until they return to your side.

Shoulder Swing Stretch (Dynamic Stretch)

Another great dynamic stretch to do pre-workout. Great for warming up your shoulders.

Start in the standing position, with your arms extended directly in front of you, parallel to the ground and your palms facing down.

Swing each arm laterally, staying parallel to the ground. So your right arm swings to the right, and your left arm swings to the left. Swing your arms until they swing just past your body, then return to the start position.

Static Shoulder Stretches

Cross-Body Shoulder Stretch (Static Stretch)

Across Chest Shoulder Stretch

The first one is the cross-body shoulder stretch. Perform the stretch by bringing one arm in front of your chest and holding it in place with your other arm. Try to keep your arm as straight as possible.

Hold the stretch for 5 seconds. Then stretch the other arm.

This is great for stretching your posterior deltoid head (the rear head of the three-headed deltoid muscle).

Overhead Shoulder Stretch (Static Stretch)

Standing Tricep Stretch

Next is the overhead shoulder and tricep stretch. 

Raise one arm, bend it at the elbow and bring the hand behind your head. Then, with your other arm, grab the elbow and pull the arm inward and to the rear until you feel a strong stretch in your tricep and shoulder.

This is great for stretching your posterior and lateral deltoid heads (the rear and side heads of the three-headed deltoid muscle).

A variation of this stretch is the overhead towel stretch:

Towel Shoulder Stretch

Arms Behind Back Shoulder Stretch (Static Stretch)

Behind Back Shoulder Stretch

The behind back shoulder stretch is ideal for stretching your anterior and lateral deltoid heads (the front and side heads of the three-headed deltoid muscle).

As you clasp your hands behind your back, you might not be able to straighten (or raise) your arms. Just clasp your hands so that your palms are facing, and raise your hands and arms in a slow, upward motion until you feel a comfortable stretch.

Cross Over Shoulder Stretch (Static Stretch)

Cross Over Shoulder Stretch

The cross over shoulder stretch is effective at stretching the posterior and lateral deltoid heads (the rear and side heads of the three-headed deltoid muscle).

Bend at the waist and cross your arms in front of you. Grab the backs of your upper legs just above the knees. 

Holding a solid grip on the backs of your legs, very slowly move your upper body in the up direction (as if you’re slowly standing taller). Feel the stretch in your shoulders.

Standing Doorway Shoulder Stretch (Static Stretch)

Doorway Shoulder Stretch

The standing doorway shoulder stretch requires a doorway, and is great for stretching the anterior deltoid head (the front head of the three-headed shoulder muscle).

Stand in a doorway with your arms up, and positioned as shown with your palms on the near side of the door frame, and facing forward. Slowly lean your upper body forward until you feel the stretch in your shoulders.

Safety And Precautions For Safe Shoulder Stretches

For the most part, stretching our muscles is safe, but you should avoid static stretching cold muscles. For one, this can increase the risk of strains and tears. Plus, some research suggests that static stretching before training can decrease our power output. (2)

Shoulder Stretching

When stretching your muscles, it’s also important to listen to your body and avoid pushing too far past your current mobility. Again, this can increase the risk of injuries. Instead, stretch just past your current range of motion to the point where you feel the stretch, but not to the point where it hurts.

Adequate hydration is also vital for optimal muscle, connective tissue, and joint health. As a rule of thumb, we should aim for 8-12 glasses of water per day, especially before, during, and after our workouts. (3)

Also click for information about lat stretches.

Click to return to more stretching routines, and check out our shoulder exercise videos.

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David Williams

A diet and fitness enthusiast, David is an ex-Army Airborne Ranger and Infantry soldier with decades of fitness and wellness experience. A West Point graduate with a degree in engineering, he focuses on technical research related to fitness, nutrition, and wellness. He loves the beach and working out, and spending time with his wife and daughters.

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  1. Core body temperature. Core Body Temperature – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (n.d.).
  2. K;, Y. T. I. K. Y. M. Y. (n.d.). Acute effect of static stretching on power output during concentric dynamic constant external resistance leg extension. Journal of strength and conditioning research.
  3. Palsdottir, H. (2021, October 11). Drink 8 glasses of water a day: Fact or fiction? Healthline.

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