How To Tell If Your Shoulders Are Tight

Often times the thing stopping us from nailing a pose isn’t always the thing we think it is 🧐

We think we don’t have enough flexibility in our spines to do a wheel pose, but really it’s about glute and hamstring strength and wrist and shoulder mobility. We think we don’t have the upper body strength to do a crow pose, but really it’s about your core strength and wrist mobility. Another example would be thinking your hamstrings are tight and that’s why down dog is hard, but in actuality it’s your shoulders.

These are just a few examples of when we think the thing that might be stopping us is one thing, but it ends up being something else. Of course, there are times when the thing stopping us is actually what we think, but for today’s blog post I want to teach you how to test for yourself what might be stopping you in a pose. As you can see from my examples, a very common culprit is shoulder mobility, so that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

Here are 3 ways you can test the mobility of your shoulders so that you and your teacher can make an action plan around increasing shoulder mobility if this is affecting your practice. Do these in front of a mirror so you can actually see what’s going on:

1. Arms Only Line up with Cheek

This is probably the most obvious of my 3 examples, so that’s why we’re starting here. Go ahead and lift your arms up towards the ceiling. And then notice where your arms land. If your upper arms are in front of your shoulder, like next to your cheek, then this is a pretty good indication that your shoulders are very tight. Honestly, if this applies to you, you probably don’t need to bother checking number 2 and 3. But if your arms were more or less able to get closer to being in line with your ears or shoulders, move on to number 2 and 3.

2. Elbows Bending

Another indication of needing to improve shoulder mobility is if when you lift your arms towards the ceiling, if your elbows bend in order to do so. You can also check this in side bends, as it tends to happen there too. If you struggle to straighten your arm at the elbow when you reach your arm over your ear and side bend, then your shoulder mobility is pretty restricted and your body is trying to find the movement at other joints – in this case, at the elbow. If this isn’t you, then head on to number 3.

3. Ribs Sticking Out

This last one is a sneaky sneaky one that most people don’t even realize they’re doing. If you can get your wrists in line with your shoulders and your elbows do NOT bend doing so, but you still feel like your shoulders are tight, then I would bet this one applies to you:

Stand in front of a mirror with your side facing the mirror. Lift your arms by your ears. And then instead of looking at where your arms land, look at what your ribs are doing. Are you jutting your bottom ribs forwards at all? Are you in any kind of low back backbend? If so, this means your body is trying to find more range of motion in your arms and shoulders by pulling it from elsewhere because the shoulder movement is restricted. In the case of number 2 it’s your elbows, but in this case it’s your spine and ribs. This is SUCH a common thing that I see in people. In fact, I do it myself. 

So why does all of this matter for your yoga poses? Other than general joint health and wanting to be able to use your arms efficiently, a lack of range of motion in our shoulder joints can greatly affect our ability to do a pose. These issues become extremely apparent if you look at handstand, so we’re going to look at each of these within the context of handstand to learn why, though we can certainly go over it in terms of wheel, downdog, and more:

1. Arms Only Line Up with Cheek

If you think about what a handstand looks like, you have to be able to get your wrists to stack under your shoulders in order to go vertical. If your arms can’t get in line with your shoulders, then you won’t be able to get your hips and legs over your shoulders, and you’ll never actually be able to get up into the handstand.

2. Elbows Bending

Unless you are a CrossFit junkie, you are most likely not strong enough to support your weight fully on your hands, upside down, as if you’re doing pushups. If your elbows bend in a handstand, you’re effectively asking your body to do upside down pushups, which would be hard as hell, right? Keeping your elbows straight is going to give you the stability and access to strength in your arms to help hold you up vertically and upside down.

3. Ribs Jutting Out

If you’ve ever taken my class before, you’ve heard me say “pull your bottom ribs in” or “lift your front hip points up” in core exercises. This is because once you start to backbend and let your ribs jut out, you lose your core strength and in the case of handstand, you lose the integration of your shoulders, core, and pelvis/legs. If you ever want to balance, you need these 3 things to be integrated and your core needs to be able to be active. What’s more, is when you lose that core strength, and you start to backbend, it can sometimes bother people’s lower backs because there’s no support to the spine. Keeping the ribs in in a handstand will help you stabilize and support your spine in this position so none of that icky low back feeling happens to you.

SO if any of these apply to you, you’re probably thinking “ok cool, Kate, but WTF do I do about this?” Well, I’m offering 1 FREE 30 min one-on-one virtual Zoom sessions for people* who want to get more specific about their yoga practice and create strong, healthier, more flexible bodies they can depend on. Grab your free session with me here to work on you shoulder mobility, and anything else you’re curious about. It’s free. No commitments or CC necessary.

Till next week,


* Please note this offer is only valid for those individuals who have not taken a private yoga session with me before.

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