3 Exercises For Overhead Mobility

Movement has to come from somewhere.

If the muscles that are responsible for shoulder movement aren’t functioning properly, something else will in it’s place. That’s how compensations can occur in areas like your lower back or your upper trapezius muscles (causing extra tension and aches). Shoulder impingement syndrome is also likely to develop.

The exercises below will help mobilise and strengthen your shoulder muscles so that you can move into overhead positions, both safely and with efficiency.

1. Foam Roll

Soft tissue work on your lateral seam helps free your movement to make shoulder movement more accessible.

  • Lie down on a foam roller from your armpit to your ribs and roll from your front to your back, under control.

  • Make sure you can maintain steady and calm breathing as a relaxed state facilitates change more effectively rather than a stressed one.

2. Serratus Anterior Activation

This muscle is essential to create and stabilise overhead movement (a more in-depth explanation is further down this post).

  • On your back, reach up with one arm so that your shoulder blade is off the ground (do not twist your trunk to do this).

  • Keeping your arm straight, rotate the arm outwards so that your elbow pit is aimed at your face.

  • Lower the straightened arm while maintaining the “reach” and “rotate” cues. You should feel activation below your shoulder blade, on the side of your ribs if you’re doing this correctly (it may take time to build up awareness of this area as this muscle is very commonly under-used).

    *Another cue that can help is “armpits up”.

3. Banded Overhead Stretch

Applying your new overhead shoulder range of motion into an ‘active’ banded stretch like this helps your body maintain mobility because “if you don’t use it, you lose it”.

It’s called an ‘active stretch’ because you’re engaging your muscles throughout, rather than letting it hang.

  • Step back into a lunge with your Mobility Band wrapped around your wrist and your arm in as far of an overhead position as you can manage.

  • Cue in “armpits forward” or the same cues as the ‘Serratus Anterior Activation’ exercise. You want to be stretching and practicing this position with this activation so that you can access it more readily in function and life.



The Serratus Anterior Muscle

This muscle is essential to create the scapula movement necessary for overhead movement. In technical terms, the scapula must upwardly rotate, depress, and protract (abduct) for optimal stability during an overhead position. This means that the serratus anterior and lower trapzius muscles must be engaged in harmony with each other to produce these motions.


It is generally accepted that the scapula moving in this way provides the last 60° of shoulder flexion (overhead) as depicted on the right. This can explain why pain or shoulder impingement syndrome can occur in those with underactive serratus anterior muscles, as the soft tissues in the sub-acromial space become impinged due to improper shoulder mechanics and instability during overhead movements.

Another area that is commonly restricted is the thoracic spine.

Watch our video on thoracic mobility here.

Give these a go and let us know how you get on! Don’t forget to share the love to help others striving for optimal overhead mobility!

Author: Laurent Pang

ONI Personal Training | Massage Therapy | Nutrition Coaching