The Yoga Solution to BJJ Shoulders

The most frequent request I get when working with martial artists is for shoulder openers. In jiu-jitsu, our shoulders are always rounding forward, hunched-over in the quintessential 'grappler' position. Perhaps as a consequence of this rounding and also because of the nature of defending submissions, shoulders are also common points of injury.

All of the shoulder stretches I teach here focus on gentle and mindful opening to help lengthen and strengthen the muscles all around your shoulders.
Each pose below also has two options: One against a wall, and one either lying down or on the floor. Special thanks to Gina Giovanna Cavallo for demonstrating these techniques!

1. 8-Point Shoulder Opener

This pose focuses on flexibility and mobility, and involves not only the shoulders, but also the neck, arms, back, and chest.

Option 1: Lying down

  • Begin lying flat on your stomach with one arm out at a 90-degree angle from your body, with your palm face down.
  • Start to roll onto the side of your body that has the arm extended, lifting the top leg and placing your toes slightly behind your bottom knee to help you stabilize.
  • Keeping the bottom shoulder grounded, you can try to rotate as deep as feels accessible to you.
  • If you are comfortable here, you can flip the bottom palm to face upward and let gravity pull your hands toward each other.
  • If you are able to clasp your hands, slowly bring your top hand to meet your bottom hand, but try to be mindful of keeping that 90-degree angle from the body.
  • Hold for at least 3 deep breaths.
  • Come out of this pose as slowly and mindfully as you've entered and repeat on the opposite side.

Option 2: Against a Wall

  • With this option you can begin by standing with one shoulder flush to the wall, arm extended back at a 90-degree angle.
  • Make sure your feet are directly under your hips, slightly away from the wall.
  • Keeping your shoulder pressed to the wall, begin to slowly turn your feet to face away from the wall, going as far as feels good.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.

2. Eagle Arms / Criss-Cross Stretch

This movement helps to open the backs of the shoulders (specifically your deltoids & rhomboids). The pose is pretty simple and straight forward, so don't be afraid to spend a bit more time in the stretch and allow it to work its magic

Option 1: Lying Down

  • Begin by lying face-down on your stomach, lifting the torso, and then threading the right arm under the left until your right elbow is lined up with the center of your chest, palm facing down.
  • Reach your left arm in the opposite direction and continue to walk your fingertips away from your body.
  • You can either keep your head lifted, or hook your chin over your shoulders.
  • Hold this pose for 2-3 minutes, then repeat on the opposite side.

Option 2: Sitting or Standing

  • Begin standing or sitting upright, extending the arms forward and bending at the elbow, almost like you're preparing to do the robot.
  • Cross your left arm under your right at the elbow, wrapping your arms and trying to get the palms of your hands to touch.
  • If you are unable to bring your palms to touch, you can either touch the backs of your hands together or grab for your opposite shoulders – just keep your elbows crossed.
  • Once you feel comfortable here, you can play around with lifting and dropping the elbows and feeling the different parts of your shoulders being utilized.
  • Hold this pose for 2-3 minutes, then repeat on the opposite side. 

3. Puppy Pose

This pose helps to relieve chronic tension in the shoulders and neck, opens the chest, and stretches the spine.

Option 1: On the Ground

  • Begin on all fours in tabletop position, hips over knees, shoulders over wrists, tops of feet flat on the mat, toes facing back.
  • Trying to keep your hips over your knees, begin to walk your hands out forward and lower your chest toward the floor.
  • Widen your knees if necessary, and try to sink your torso lower and lower.
  • Stay in this pose for at least 3 minutes and come back to tabletop to safely come out of the pose. 

Option 2: At the Wall

  • Start by standing facing a wall, about a foot away.
  • Place palms and forearms flat against the wall at a 90-degree angle.
  • Begin to walk your feet back, while melting your chest towards the wall.
  • You can also walk your arms up or down and find your sweet spot.
  • Breathe here for a few minutes, trying to keep your arms as flat against the wall as possible. 

Try adding these movements to your warm up or cool down and your shoulder mobility should improve.

As always, especially if you have any preexisting injuries, consult a physician before incorporating these stretches into your routine or before making any changes to your routine.

*Disclaimer: This instruction is provided for entertainment purposes only and does not represent nor is it meant to substitute for the advice of a medical professional or for the direction of an in-person coaching session. Please talk to a physician before beginning any new exercises.