Seven pre-workout exercises that improve shoulder range of motion

It may surprise you just how fast you can improve your workout performance with these simple changes. Results happen quickly when you identify opportunities for improvement and apply the right corrective exercises.

Recently, I released a few case studies from clients struggling with shoulder mobility and flexibility issues. In most cases, it wasn’t because of pain or discomfort in the shoulders that caused the desire to improve their shoulder range of motion. Our athletes wanted to gain strength, improve the comfort of olympic lifting positions, perform exercises as prescribed in class, and become a better CrossFit athlete.

Your shoulders are a complex system of stabilizing and primary moving muscles. Over time, inactive use of your full range of motion can tighten these tissues and create challenges when you want to perform at your best, which demands full range of motion. Things like poor posture, insufficient self care maintenance, joint issues, limited flexibility, and previous muscle injuries are a few contributors that can create shoulder limitations.

Meet Bill. He came to me with goals to improve his overhead squat, snatch, and press; pretty much everything overhead. He was finding it difficult to control the bar and feel confident anytime he saw an overhead movement in a workout. I know Bill has an incredible athlete engine, so removing anything holding him back would only contribute to greater improvements.

A healthy shoulder has an incredible span of range of motion that it can access. Check out the below chart. Forward flexion can reach 180 degrees.

Bill was experiencing shoulder restrictions that were causing many of the issues holding him back from better performance in his workouts and his lifting positions.

His shoulder forward flexion was about 160 degrees of the available 180 degrees shoulder range. Bill wanted to improve his overhead exercises, but the missing 20 degrees of shoulder function was as much a hindrance as chaining a kettlebell to his leg and trying to sprint. If left untreated, the body will adapt his technique over time to easier and vulnerable positions that are both less powerful and more injury prone. Driving the knees forward to maintain an upright shoulder position is one example of how your body will compensate for lack of shoulder mobility. Lower back and knee problems will then likely develop as a result of the overcompensation.

The plan

I recommended a three step process to address the problem and improve his shoulder range of motion. Bill spent just 15 minutes, three to four times per week, executing his plan before each workout.

Phase 1 – Adhesion break down and tissue smoothing
Phase 2 – Lengthening and realignment.
Phase 3 – Range of motion capture/restrengthening

Adhesion break down and smoothing
2 Rounds:
A1. Chest: Tennis/lacrosse ball work. Standing and using a wall for leverage, place the ball on your chest and search for tight or sore muscle tissue. (30 sec. each side of your chest)
A2. Shoulder Girdle: Position ball under armpit, outside of shoulder blades, and across trapezoids, search search for tight or sore muscle tissue. (30 sec. each side)
A3. Arms: Using a foam roller, lay on the ground with one arm fully extended above your head with a neutral spine. Place foam roller above elbow (closer to your shoulder rather than your wrist). Oscillating your weight across the foam roller, travel up the arm to your armpit and back down. (30 sec. each arm)

2 rounds:
A1. Pec Stretch: Standing next to a pole or doorway, extend your arm and rotate your torso to stretch your pec as far as you comfortable can. (45 sec. each side)
A2. Using a bench and foam roller: position foam roller lengthwise down your spine and lay down with your arms out and elbows bent at 90 degrees, allowing your chest to stretch and open up (45 sec.)

2 rounds:
A1. Banded face pulls 3×12 reps
A2. IYT’s 3×5 reps each position (I-Y-T)

Here’s a picture of what Bill accomplished in just five weeks! Bill executed his plan for just 15 minutes, three to four times each week, prior to his workout.

Here’s a few more photos showing similar case studies with the same results.


Whether your goal is to excel in the gym or realize better daily movement, utilizing corrective exercises can help you improve your performance and avoid injury. Work with your coach to learn which movements are best for you.

Ready to start the process? Here’s what you should expect:

  1. Movement Screening Assessment – We’ll measure your range of motion and potential movement dysfunctions that are holding back your performance or increasing your risk of injury.
  2. Injury/Dysfunction Diagnosis – Understand the cause of your range of motion limitations.
  3. Corrective Exercise Protocols – We’ll create an exercise and training plan for you, just like we did for Bill.
  4. Movement Screening Reassessment – We’ll evaluate your progress and make changes to your plan as needed.

Just with any new skill or exercise, the key to accomplishing your functional and performance goals is to work on the cause of your limitations. Start with your biggest limitation then continue to address each subsequent area of your training and continue to improve. Corretive exercise routines can help you meet your goals and set new PR’s.