Who doesn’t have tight shoulders and neck these days?

Carrying a backpack, driving, traveling, sleeping can all cause some level of tightness in the neck and shoulders.

Sitting at a desk, texting on your phone (anyone?) carrying kids and stress can also cause neck and shoulder problems.

And if you are a fitness instructor, Pilates teacher or personal trainer, you are likely have tight shoulders due to working with and spotting your clients.

Shoulder flexibility is something that cannot be forced.

I compare it to how you can’t force a flower open, you just have to wait until it opens on it’s own. You have to honor the tight spots, breathe through them, and have patience for letting the muscles open up. And do your stretches often, and carefully.

I learned a lot about the relationship between the shoulders and ribcage when I had a frozen shoulder for almost 2 years. It was super painful! I went from handstands every day to barely able to touch my head. I couldn’t even move my arm to touch my lower back, let alone do a handstand. I had no injury; apparently with “frozen shoulder” the muscles and joint capsule get so tight for no apparent reason.

What I realized was that I didn’t move my shoulder much at all really, I thought I was stretching my arms overhead when I was really just lifting the whole front of my ribcage.  I could’t really separate the arm from the ribs.  That makes sense, since they are connected by muscles, but for me those muscles have always been super tight.  That tension was causing pain and imbalance in strength and function.

What helped it to heal was this simple exercise I learned…which I still do today even though my shoulder is back to normal.

It is so simple, in fact, that you might be tempted to just skip it. But just try it, and I bet you will feel great after.

Remember to get a true stretch in the shoulders, engage your abs to hold your ribcage in place and let the arms relax. Sometimes the relaxing is the hardest part!

You will feel a difference!

ARM CIRCLES (on the mat)

This is great for beginners or very super tight folks.  I always like to have a pillow or folded towel to keep the back of the neck long and relaxed.  It also helps to keep a long straight spine while you do the exercise.

Lay flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the mat.

The most important part of this exercise is to keep your front ribs actively (meaning using your upper abdominals) reaching down towards your hips. In other words, try to keep your back flat on the mat as you reach overhead. You may not be able to touch the mat over your head, but that’s okay because you will be getting a much better shoulder stretch than if you let your ribs lift up. Don’t forget to breathe!

Circle your arms wide to the sides and all the way down to your hips. As your arms go over head let gravity take them, don’t use any muscular action at all. Reverse the circles. Repeat 8 -10 times each direction.

Over time you will feel much more freedom in the shoulders and less pain and tension in the neck and upper back.  Practice!

Here’s a video for more clarity:


I would love to know what you think of this. Was it harder than it looks to keep the ribs down as you circle the arms? How did you feel after?

Stick around for more shoulder stretches which are so good for you!

Be Well,