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Our shoulders take a lot of punishment: Work stress, the pressure of rush-hour traffic, and the endless demands of your smartphone and computer can lock your shoulders into a nearly permanent shrugged position. This limits mobility, degrades posture, and even inhibits proper breathing. 

The tightness that results can make routine movements like reaching high shelves, as well as athletic activities like pull-ups, difficult or impossible. The solution, however, may not involve more stretching, but rather strengthening and activating the small muscles that control your arms in extreme positions. 

“A lot of flexibility issues arise because of instability,” explains Mikey Mueller, NASM-CPT, USAW, Alpha Coach at Life Time. “The body says, ‘You can’t control this range of motion, so I’m not going to allow you to have it.’”

These exercises will counteract this. Within a few sessions, you’ll feel a difference in how your shoulders, chest, and upper back move. Within a week or two, expect reduced shoulder tension and newfound ease of movement. 


Perform the following moves before an upper-body workout (see the preceding workout), or anytime your shoulders feel stiff. Do eight to 12 reps of each, using 2.5 to 5 pound weights. 

The starting position (pictured at right) is the same for each move: Stand with the weights at your sides. Keeping your back flat and knees soft, hinge at the hips until your torso is nearly parallel with the floor, allowing the weights to hang down toward the floor. 

Bent-Over High Row


  • Keeping your torso long, slowly retract your shoulder blades and lift the weights toward your ribs until your triceps are about parallel to the floor. 
  • Pause at the top for a count of one, then lower your arms. Repeat.

Bent-Over Face Pull


  • Keeping your back flat, lift the weights toward your face, raising your elbows out to the side as high as possible.  
  • Pause at the top, then lower your arms. Repeat. 

Bent-Over Flys 


  • From the starting position, rotate your arms so the backs of your hands face your legs. 
  • Keeping your back flat, raise the weights to the side, finishing with your arms just above parallel to the floor, thumbs pointed toward the ceiling. 
  • Pause at the top, then lower your arms. Repeat. 

Bent-Over Y Raise


  • Keeping your arms straight, slowly raise your arms overhead to a 45-degree angle so that your arms and torso form a Y.
  • Pause at the top, then lower your arms. Repeat.  

This originally appeared as “Shoulder Savers” in the November 2018 print issue of Experience Life.

Photography by: Chad Holder; Styling: Pam Brand; Fitness Model: Kate Wieland

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