Stretches for the Shoulders and Back

Your shoulders and back consist of numerous muscles and connective tissues that facilitate various movements of your arms and torso. Stretching these structures can help increase or maintain the range of motion of your joints. This will help them function better and may decrease your risk for injury. A variety of stretches can help achieve these objectives.

Arm Circles

The shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint that allows various ranges of motion. Arm circles stretch the shoulders through many of these movements. Stand upright with your arms extended at shoulder height, forming a straight line across your chest. Begin circling your arms forward; make small circles at first and gradually make them bigger until you are moving your shoulder joint through as big a range of motion as possible. Continue for 15 to 30 seconds and then repeat the exercise by circling your arms backward.

Arm Cross

The arm-cross stretch works on the latissimus dorsi muscles, or lats, on either side of your spine and the back of your shoulders. Stand and cross your left arm over your chest. Place your right hand on your left elbow and pull your left arm close to your body. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and then switch arms.

Arm Extensions

Arm extensions stretch the anterior, or front, part of your deltoids—the most prominent shoulder muscles. Stand upright and join your hands behind your back with your arms extended. While keeping your arms as straight as possible, lift your hands backward and upward until you feel light tension in the front of your shoulders. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.


The cobra stretch is featured by the American Council on Exercise as a way to stretch your lower back. Lie face down on the ground with your hands on the ground below your shoulders. While leaving your feet and legs on the ground, push your torso upward by extending your arms to curve your spine. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.

Sideways Lean

Sideways leans stretch the lats and upper back muscles. Stand upright and reach both hands above your head as far as possible. Clasp your hands together and turn your palms upward. Lean to the left and hold for 5 seconds, then lean to the right, then back to the left, and so on for your desired number of repetitions on each side.

Trunk Twists

Trunk twists stretch your back muscles through trunk rotation. Start in the same position as arm circles. While keeping your feet flat on the ground, twist to the left and allow your right arm to cross your chest. Then twist to the right and let your right arm to extend away from your shoulder and left arm to cross your chest. Continue alternating sides in this fashion for 15 to 30 seconds.

About this Author

Matthew Schirm has worked in the sports performance field for 10 years. He has professional experience as a baseball coach and weight training instructor. He recently earned a Master of Science degree in human movement from A.T. Still University in Mesa, Ariz.