I do yoga – why are my shoulders so tight?

I do yoga – why are my shoulders so tight?

Here’s an article for you guys that do yoga that might be wondering why you still have such tight shoulders. I had extremely tight shoulders until a few months ago when I started doing physical therapy exercises and deep tissue work on my own that helped undo YEARS of tight shoulders. (Keep in mind that I was a weightlifter before I started doing yoga.)

It actually comes down to logic. Your hip flexors and hamstrings are much more likely to open up when you are doing yoga because you have the full weight of your body to facilitate deeper stretching as those muscles are stretching and strengthening. This doesn’t always apply to your upper body. Consider poses that help open your upper body such as crescent moon (standing side stretch), reverse warrior, and triangle pose – these poses all help to open up your upper body, but they do not use the weight of your body to help your upper body open up. There are only a few poses that help with this, namely downward facing dog and dolphin. Eagle is another great pose for opening up your shoulders, but it does not use your body weight to help you open up. Rather, eagle and other poses that do not utilize your full body weight rely on your strength and your willingness to push harder.

So, what’s the point of this blog? Is it to tell you that you can’t rely on yoga alone to open up your shoulders?

Well, yes. Yoga is not the only thing that you need to help open up your shoulders. You need to be doing pulling exercises using a pull-up bar or resistance band to help counter the pushing exercises prevalent in yoga (planks, downdog, low plank, updog, etc).

I am also writing this because you need to keep this is in mind when approaching exercises that target your upper body but do not rely on body weight resistance to help you push further. In these instances, YOU have to push yourself to go further. You can’t let the weight of your body do the work for you. You have to reach back more. You have to pull your shoulders down and back. You have to really concentrate on keeping your ribs drawn in and not splaying open your chest. Here are 5 tips to take with you to your next yoga session to help you work on upper body flexibility:

1. Push beyond what’s easy. You can usually go further than you think you can. Keep pushing in poses. Ask the instructor for an extra little push. Squeeze a little bit more. (Note: Be careful though. Pushing too far beyond your range of motion limits can result in injury.)

2. Proper shoulder positioning. Easier said than done, but one of the big problems that people have with upper body mobility involves them not being to let their shoulders relax. You need to be able to pull your shoulders down and back so that your chest is framed by your arms and shoulders. Most people tend to have their arms and shoulders in front of their chest.

3. Reach your arms back further. You have to mindfully reach your arms back further than you’re used to. You can’t get complacent with a little bit of discomfort. You want to push your range to really help open up your shoulders.

4. Downdog is not just for your legs. Downdog is for your back, not just your hamstrings. Try pulling your body away from your hands, externally rotating your arms so that your biceps face slightly forward, and squeeze your shoulders blades away from one another to make this pose more focused on your back.

5. Don’t get lazy in inversions. Inversions are great, but if you are still looking forward in handstand, that means that your back is arching and you’re not using your full range of motion. The goal of inversions it to replicate mountain pose as much as possible while balancing on your hands, head, or forearms. When your body is not perpendicular to the ground, you are putting too much pressure on the fronts of your shoulders, and you could end up with chronic injury to your shoulders.

Make sure to check out the new MFY apparel that we have in stock by clicking here. Black and pink (women’s) tanks are now available!

Happy yoga-ing.


2 thoughts on “I do yoga – why are my shoulders so tight?”

  1. Hey Dean,

    Started following your blog and FB page and videos b/c I am an athlete and have always been bad about stretching. Like you say above yoga definitely has helped my hip flexors and hamstrings but my shoulders are still very very tight (i lift and am a competitive tennis player).

    Care to share some of your PT and deep tissue routine?


    1. Hey Steve – thanks for commenting. I use a lacrosse ball for deep tissue massage and a pull-up to help open up my shoulders, basically breaking up all the muscle from my sternum to my shoulder blades (rotator cuff, pecs, teres major, lats, traps, sub-scapularis) and then I swing from a pull-up bar, sideways, back and forth, and twisting. I’ll make a video someday.

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