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Upper Body Mobility Exercises: How to Get in Peak Shape

Upper body mobility is often overlooked by many people, but it’s an important part of overall fitness. If you’re wondering why it’s such a big deal or what exercises you can do to improve your upper body mobility, this article is exactly what you’re looking for. So upper body mobility: why is it important and how can you develop it? Let’s find out…

Upper body mobility is important because it makes you more flexible and allows a wider range of motion for your body, thus improving your athleticism. Some upper body mobility exercises include standing arm swings, downward dog, and thoracic rotation.

If you’d like to know more details about the benefits and how to do the exercises, keep reading.

Upper Body Mobility: General Description 

Upper body mobility refers to the ability of your upper body to move without any pain or muscle soreness. For your upper body to be fully mobile, your joints, muscles, and connective tissues must work together seamlessly. Don’t confuse upper body mobility exercises with upper body flexibility exercises, though. They’re quite similar, but not exactly the same. Mobility focuses on the ability of your upper body to complete its full range of motion while flexibility refers to the ability of your muscle to lengthen.

It’s especially important for athletes and people who engage in activities that involve lots of movement in their upper body parts such as the shoulder. Lack of mobility will limit your athletic ability, stress your joints, and increase the chance of sustaining injury. You can test your upper body mobility if you’d like to give you an idea just how fit you really are. It’s one thing to have strong muscles, and another thing to be fit.

Benefits of Upper Body Mobility Exercises 

I’ve already mentioned the major benefits of upper body mobility exercises, but let’s look at them in some detail.

Increased Flexibility 

Let’s start with the obvious. One of the big causes of upper body stiffness is the lack of fitness. Over time, our muscles and joints start to stiffen such that you can’t easily stretch them anymore. This limits your range of movement and reduces your flexibility. Your muscles and joints need to be loose so that it’s easy to move them in whatever direction you’d like.

Upper body mobility exercises are, hence, imperative because they help keep your movements fluid. By keeping your joints, muscles, and connective tissue loose, you are automatically increasing your flexibility.

Less Chance of Injury 

When your muscles, joints, and connective tissue get stiff, that can be dangerous for you. It’s not uncommon to see athletes sprain their muscles and joints by attempting movements that their bodies can’t take. This part is especially important if you engage in activities that require lots of upper body movement. For example, if you use your shoulders a lot in whatever you do, chances are you’ll run into trouble if those muscles around there are stiff and unyielding.

By loosening up with these exercises, you’re freeing up your upper body to enjoy its full range of motion with a reduced risk of injury.

Functional Use

For both athletes and regular people, the upper body is a central part of our daily activities. We shake people, hug them, and sometimes carry stuff from the top shelf. Athletes involved in sports like boxing, gymnastics, and fitness all use their upper bodies. Performing upper body workouts is therefore essential not only to keep yourself fit, but to help you go about your normal activities. Quite the handy exercise…

Upper Body Mobility Exercises for Peak Performance 

Now that you know why you should bother doing upper body mobility exercises, I’ve got a list of exercises you can do for peak performance…

Standing Arm Swings 

Perhaps my favorite upper body mobility warmup, standing arm swings are quite effective for loosening up your shoulders. They target your shoulders specifically but are great for your general upper bodies today. It’s a simple workout. Start by standing upright with your arms down by your side. Engage your core, make your elbows straight and flex arms muscles, then swing both arms up over your head and bring them back to the starting position. Then rinse and repeat, until you feel like your shoulders could rotate 360°.

Shoulder Pass-Through 

The shoulder pass-through is another effective workout for developing shoulder flexibility and increasing range of motion. Typically, you would need some kind of rod or stick to hold with both hands using an overhand grip. Then stand upright while holding the stick across your body with your arms stretched out of your body and parallel to the floor. Once set, slowly raise the stick in your hands until it’s overhead. Go as far back as you can and hold that position for as long as you can. Then come back down and go again.

High-To-Low Rows 

One of my favorite things about these upper body mobility exercises is that most of them do not require any complicated movements. They’re just simple movements you can do even from home. High-to-low rows are another easy workout that helps with your upper body. It targets your upper back and thoracic muscles and helps provide extra stability for the shoulder joint.

To effectively perform this workout, you need a resistance band. Anchor the band around something higher than you, then kneel on one knee like you’re about to propose. Use your opposite hand to then pull the band down until your upper arm is parallel to your body.

Rotation With Dumbbell 

If you engage heavily in overhead and throwing movements, rotation with a dumbbell is a great way to warm up. You can loosen up the muscles and joints in your shoulder and build not only flexibility but also strength. Rotation with a dumbbell is also easy to learn and master. Stand with your feet about shoulder length apart and hold a light dumbbell. Once set, raise your elbow up until it’s on the same line with your shoulder and your hand is facing downward. 

Now your starting position is set, the next step is to rotate your elbow until your hand now faces upward. Slowly go back to your starting position, and you can go again as many times as you’d like before switching hands and doing the same thing again.

Thoracic Rotation 

Back to needing no equipment and thoracic rotation is one effective drill that will help free up your upper body. You start by kneeling down and bending slightly forward until your hands also touch the ground. Make sure to keep your back and elbow straight. Then put one arm over your head and rotate that arm toward your other arm before moving in the opposite direction so that your elbow is pointing up to the sky. You can repeat this as many times as you want and switch hands too.

Upper Body Rotation 

Upper body rotation is super similar to thoracic rotation. In fact, it involves all the exact same steps except one. Instead of putting your hand on your head so that your elbow is jutting out like in thoracic rotation, you just keep your arms outstretched. Then swing your body until your hand is pointing up. Then come back to the starting position and go again.

Cat Camel 

This drill is working on your arms, neck, and shoulder. Also called the cat and cow, it helps to stretch your abdomen and spine and improves your posture as well. To do this workout, go down on all fours. Your hands should be in line with your shoulders as your legs with your hips. Then take a deep breath, and as you exhale, engage your core and pull your spine upwards. At the same time, release the tension in your neck by pulling your chin down towards your chest. This is the first phase and should look somewhat like a cat stretching.

For the second part, inhale and arch your back inwards, pushing your tailbone upwards this time while lifting your head. Of course, don’t keep any tension in your neck. This is now the cow part of the exercise. Keep moving back and forth between the two parts.


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What Causes Lack of Shoulder Mobility?

One major cause of poor mobility in your shoulders is something called adhesive capsulitis, which happens when the tissues around the shoulder area become stiff and/or inflamed. Other causes include previous injury or simply lack of exercising.

Why Do I Have a Limited Range of Motion in My Shoulder?

Again, it’s most probably because you haven’t exercised for a long time and the muscles and tissue around that area are getting stiff. You can do some upper body mobility warm up to loosen your shoulder up.

How Long Does It Take To Get Flexible Shoulders?

If you continue these upper body flexibility exercises regularly, you should start to feel a difference in about two weeks. Of course, the longer you continue the better the mobility.


Now you know about upper body mobility and what exercises you can do to keep your upper body as fit as possible with a full range of motion. You can mix them up and add them to your general workout routines to help stretch and strengthen your upper body for more workouts.

Now it’s your turn. Have you ever had difficulty moving your upper body in any direction? Which of these exercises sounds like the most fun? Is there anything I missed? I’ll read all your comments so lay it all out for me.

Also read:

  1. Lower Back Mobility Exercises
  2. Overhead Squat
  3. Trapezius Stretches
  4. Neck Mobility Exercises
  5. Stretching for Weightlifting
  6. Squat Stretches
  7. Tricep Stretches


  1. 5 Quick Tests to Screen Your Mobility You Can Do at Home // TheUAP:
  2. Why Being Flexible Is Great for Your Health // HealthLine:
  3. 10 Great Upper Body Exercises for Women // HealthLine:
  4. Four Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Injury // My Alive:
  5. Thoracic Mobility Exercises For A Strong, Pain-Free Back // HealthLine:

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Ernesto Mendez

Author: Ernesto Mendez
Orthopedic Clinical Specialist

Experience: 26 years
Best Results: Snatch – 208 kg,
C&J – 240 kg

Dr. Ernesto Mendez is a licensed physical therapist, a board Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS) and founder of Movement 4 Wellness Physical Therapy, LLC. He earned his degree from Thomas Jefferson University. He is also an Olympic weightlifting coach (USAW L1) and Functional Fitness Level 1 Trainer. His experience includes the areas of pain management, movement analysis, injury recovery, surgical rehab, corrective exercise, and athletic, military, and occupational performance. Dr Mendez is passionate about Olympic weightlifting and fitness. Ernesto Mendez is responsible for designing multiple training programs, writing blog articles, posting daily weightlifting content, doing live weightlifting and mobility seminars.

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