The "Old-School" Shoulder Flexibility Test (and what it actually tells you about your shoulder health)

Do you remember doing this as a kid?

Most children find this task easy enough. Sadly, most adults will NOT.

What about you - can you still do it? Take 30 seconds and see how you measure up!

How Did You Score?

  • Excellent = Fingers overlap
  • Good = Fingers touch
  • Average = Fingers are less than two inches apart
  • Poor = Fingers are more than two inches apart

How did you do? Did you find any side-to-side differences?

What The Results Mean for Athletes

This test has real world implications on your athletic performance. Especially for your front squats and pressing movements.

Specifically, the test requires good:

  1. shoulder flexion + tricep flexibility of the top arm
  2. shoulder extension + internal rotation of the bottom arm.

These ranges of motion (ROM) are needed in many places in athletics and life.

Front Squatting Requires Good Shoulder ROM

Front Squats, Clean & Jerks, Military Press

All of the above movements require good shoulder flexion and tricep flexibility. If your top arm was tight in the test, chances are you:

  1. Have difficulty with shoulder mobility in these movements
  2. You compensate to avoid the tightness and don't realize you have a problem...yet.

What You Risk If You're TOP Arm Was Tight

You are missing shoulder flexion / tricep flexibility and are more likely to experience:

  • Shoulder pain (doh!)
  • Rotator cuff issues / tendonitis, etc
  • Wrist and/or low back pain (from compensating)
  • Less weight on front squats, presses, clean & jerks, etc

What You Risk If You're Bottom Arm Was Tight

The arm that reaches behind the back in the test requires shoulder extension and internal rotation. This range of motion is required in:

  • Bench press
  • Pushups
  • Dips
  • Skin-the-cat, etc

If you are missing ROM here there are several risks.

  •  Anterior shoulder pain
  •  Shoulder impingement
  •  Shoulder instability / dislocation
  •  Less weight and less reps on pressing movements

Check out this video for some helpful tips on extension:

Once you light the fire of shoulder inflammation…it’s hard to put out that flame. Best thing to do? Don’t put your shoulders at risk in the first place!

What the Results Mean for Non-Athletes

Reaching Overhead

The tight triceps and tight thoracic spine that limit your top arm reaching up and over your back in the test also limit reaching overhead.

This means every time you raise your child, reach up into your cupboard or hang from a tree branch - you are risking your shoulder health. You also are putting your low back at risk because the low back tends to arch to compensate for tight shoulders 

The tight pecs, anterior deltoid and scapula that limit putting your arm behind your back carry their own risks including:

  • Anterior shoulder pain
  • Shoulder impingement
  • Rotator cuff issues

If you value living a pain free, active life with your loved ones - don't let the tightness build!

For The 1%...

A small percentage of you may pass this test with flying colors. Congratulations! Your range of motion is good...but what about strength?

Sometimes a lack of strength training can allow you to be hyper-mobile...but the lack of strength can also pre-dispose you to injury. 

The ideal combination is strength WITH flexibility so don’t forget to train for both!

What To Do Now

If you scored anything less than “Excellent” on the shoulder flexibility test then it’s time to get to work! A good place to start is with FREE ACCESS to "The Super Shoulders" 30-day program.

About The Author

Shane Dowd is a sports performance and mobility coach. He specializes in injury prevention and flexibility for athletes.


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