How to Do the Anterior Shoulder Stretch

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

 Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Shoulder muscles including anterior deltoid, pectoralis minor, pectoralis major, and supraspinatus

Level: Beginner

Stretching your shoulders can feel good, especially for those who spend long hours hunched over a computer. It can also prepare you for walking with good posture. As follow-up exercises, arm circles can be used to take your shoulders through their full range of motion. Also, seated stretches for the shoulders, back, and neck can be beneficial.


You may get tight shoulder muscles from a variety of activities and sports. But everyday life, such as working at a desk or reading, can lead you to slouch or hunch your shoulders. As a result, you can use some stretching to return flexibility and range of motion to your shoulder muscles and restore good posture.

This behind-your-back shoulder stretch will stretch the front of the shoulder and the chest (the anterior deltoid and the pectoralis minor muscles). The anterior deltoid muscle works to flex the shoulder and horizontally adducts the shoulder (moving it toward the center of the chest). The pectoralis minor helps in breathing by lifting the ribs and protracting the scapula. The pectoralis major adducts and medially rotates the shoulder. The supraspinatus abducts and externally rotates the shoulder, drawing it away from the center of the chest.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Begin by standing up straight with shoulders relaxed and back.

  1. Clasp your hands behind your lower back.
  2. Lift your clasped hands, keeping your elbows straight and away from your body. Maintain an upright posture.
  3. Stop lifting at the point you no longer feel comfortable; don't stretch to the point of pain.
  4. Stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. You need do only one stretch per session.

Common Mistakes

Do these stretches gently and with a constant pressure rather than any jerky motions. Do not force the stretch past where it is comfortable without pain.

Modifications and Variations

There are different ways to stretch your shoulders, including variations if you have any restrictions.

Need a Modification?

If you have difficulty clasping your hands as instructed, hold on to a towel or belt behind your back.

Anterior Shoulder Stretch Variation

This version will also stretch the anterior deltoid and pectoralis major and set you up for good posture.

  1. Stand up straight with shoulders relaxed and your back straight.
  2. Place the palms of your hands on your lower back (rather than clasping them as in the first version).
  3. Now try rotate your elbows inward toward the middle of your back while keeping your palms flat on your lower back.
  4. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. You need do only one stretch per session.

Anterior Shoulder Rotation Stretch With Towel or Walking Pole

This stretch targets the supraspinatus muscle, which is part of the rotator cuff.

  1. Place a towel or walking pole (or golf club) behind your back vertically. Your right arm is bent at the elbow behind your back grasping the object while your left arm is above your head or at your shoulder grasping the object behind your head.
  2. Keep your right shoulder relaxed. The stretch will be for this shoulder.
  3. Pull up on the towel or pole with your left hand, which will draw up the lower hand that is grasping the object. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
  4. Switch and perform it with the left hand low and the right hand high. Keep your left shoulder relaxed.
  5. You need do only one stretch per side per session.

Safety and Precautions

If you have any shoulder instability due to rotator cuff tears, tendinitis, arthritis, or feel any pain or instability, do not do shoulder stretches until you have discussed it with your doctor.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.