Shoulder Rolls

written by
Joel Runyon
last updated
September 30, 2021

We love a good, simple stretch that can be done literally anywhere with minimal effort or time required. The classic shoulder roll is a prime example of one of these stretches. You can do this one standing up, sitting down, and multiple times throughout the day. It’s great for all of those desk-bound office workers out there. 

Experiencing shoulder pain - whether it originates from an injury, a hard shoulder-intense workout, or just general tightness - is never fun. If you do have an injury to your shoulders, be sure that you consult your doctor or physical therapist to determine a correct course of action. But if you are looking to loosen up your shoulder joints or perhaps increase flexibility and overall range of motion in this area of your body, look no further than these simple shoulder rolls. 

Having good shoulder health hygiene is important, especially as many of us spend days hunched over our computers or our phone screens. Reminding yourself to sit up straight, pull the shoulders back, and incorporate some strategic movement can really pay off for the health of your shoulders in the long run. Let’s talk all about shoulder rolls - how to perform them, the specific benefits of this movement, and ways to modify it if necessary. 

What are Shoulder Rolls? 

You perform shoulder rolls just as they sound - by rolling your shoulders frontwards and backwards to increase movement and keep the muscles loose and healthy. Begin the move in a standing position. Remember to stand tall with your shoulders pulling away from your ears. 

From here, take a deep breath in and shrug your shoulders upwards. Once you’ve reached the top of the shrug, roll your shoulders back and down in a somewhat circular motion and then bring them forward completing a circular motion. That’s one repetition. Repeat this movement as many times as you may need. We recommend it at least ten times. 

You can also do this movement going the opposite way. Once you’ve done ten shoulder rolls in one direction, return to the original starting position. This time, you’re going to do the movement but reverse the direction. This way may feel a bit funkier, but that’s ok. Do your best and remember to breathe deeply! 

Benefits of Shoulder Rolls

Keeping your shoulders tension and pain-free is definitely a positive no matter who you are. Shoulder rolls will help not only loosen the shoulders and surrounding areas but also strengthen them as well. 

But, as we know, tightness in one area of the body can most certainly cause tension in other areas as well and the shoulders are no exception. If you have tight shoulders, this could also cause tension in the neck, the trapezius muscles, the upper back, or even the chest. 

When you roll your shoulders using this method, it will help send blood flow not only to the shoulders but also to the neck. This should help keep those muscles warm and loosen them up a bit. Of course, it’s not as satisfying as a massage, but it is an easily accessible way to bring some relief to these tight areas of your body. 

Rolling your shoulder back repeatedly can also help open the chest. It will help fight those rounded shoulders that can cause the chest to collapse while in a seated position. Even doing a few seated shoulder rolls while working at your computer can be beneficial for this issue. Not to mention, shoulder rolls will inevitably help improve your posture. When the muscles are tight, it can be difficult to sit or stand up straight. Implementing stretches and exercises as simple as the shoulder roll can help you sit and stand more upright and keep you feeling pain and tension-free. 

Shoulder Roll Modifications and Variations 

The way this exercise is described below, the shoulder rolls are performed while standing. You can modify this by performing them in a seated position and still receive the same stimulus. It is great for workers who are confined at their desk for long periods of time. 

If completing the shoulder roll all the way around is not accessible for you, then aim to do a half-shoulder roll. This can be performed by shrugging the shoulders up to the ears and then rolling the shoulder blades back down your back. You do not have to focus on bringing them forward to complete the full circle. 

It is important to do these in a slow and controlled manner. Instead of rushing through them, take your time and enjoy the movement. Keep integrity in your position by holding an upright position in the chest and resisting the urge to move your head excessively. Avoid sticking your neck out too much. Try to focus on just moving the shoulders and feeling the tension dissolve in the muscles.


standing shoulder rolls movement demo

Starting in a standing position, draw your shoulders forward, followed by; forward and up; up and back; back and down. Repeat.

written by
Joel Runyon

Joel is the founder of IMPOSSIBLE and the founder of MoveWell. Joel founded MoveWell after sustaining an injury while running an ultra marathon on every continent. Joel is writes about mobility, pain management and health and wellness overall.

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