Lifters who lack shoulder mobility have a tell: During barbell front squats, their elbows point down instead of straight out in front. Ensuring shoulders enjoy a full range of motion is essential, since limited mobility increases the risk of injury—mainly because it changes the body’s alignment and creates muscular imbalances.
On the flip side, developing mobility can make certain exercises, such as front squats, feel easier. Plus, it’s nice to have total use of your shoulders when you’re throwing a ball, putting on a jacket, or taking a box off a shelf.
One test of shoulder range of motion is to clasp hands behind your back, one elbow high and one elbow low. If there’s a gap, your mobility is lacking. If you can do it in one direction and not the other—meaning your hands touch when your right elbow is high, but not your left—that’s a sign of imbalance.
It will take time to build up range of motion. Take a few minutes each day to stretch all the muscles around the shoulder: pecs, biceps, lats, traps, and delts. While you’re stretching, focus on deep breathing—five inhales and exhales per position—which will enhance the movement. And until your hands clasp behind you, use a towel or yoga strap to bridge the gap.
The other benefit of working on your shoulder mobility? It feels so good.