If You Ever Struggle To Zip Up (or Off!) Your Own Dress, These 4 Stretches Can Give You the Shoulder Mobility You Need

Photo: Getty Images/gruizza
We’ve all been there: You're trying to get into that perfect party dress, but you can't seem to get your arm and shoulder to bend in the way you need them to in order to get that zipper all the way up. It can be level-ten frustrating.

Not this year! We’ve got you covered with four easy stretches that home in on shoulder mobility so you can break out your best holiday dresses—zippers and all.

“Reaching up to zip a dress requires internal rotation of the shoulder, as well as flexion of the elbow, wrist, and a stretch of your chest,” says Austin Martinez, MS, CSCS, ATC, vice president of training and experience with national assisted stretching studios, StretchLab. “A more mobile shoulder joint can help you better reach your arm behind your back and up farther between your shoulder blades.”

Experts In This Article

While some people naturally have more range of motion than others, Martinez explains that chronic poor posture can make your shoulder joint tighter. “Slouching in front of phones, computer screens, working from home, etc. pulls on the muscles of our shoulders and upper back,” he says.

If you're feeling the mobility block, you can improve it with a few focused stretches that open up the muscles surrounding your shoulder joint so that you can reach further—and get that zipper up.

Four shoulder mobility stretches recommended by a pro

1. Parallel arm shoulder stretch

Martinez says this move opens up the backs of your shoulders.

  • Stand upright and place one arm across your body. Keep that arm parallel to the ground and pull your elbow towards your opposite shoulder.
  • Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, and repeat two times on each side.

2. Reaching up shoulder stretch

“This exercise emulates the same movement patterns you might use to zip up a dress or scratch your back,” Martinez says.

  • Place one hand behind your lower back.
  • Reach it up between your shoulder blades.
  • Hold where it still feels comfortable for 20 to 30 seconds, and repeat two times per side.

3. Reverse shoulder stretch

You’ll really feel this one in your anterior deltoids and chest, opening up your shoulders so you can increase your range of motion, Martinez says.

  • Stand upright and clasp your hands together behind your back.
  • Slowly lift your hands upward.
  • Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, and repeat two times.

4. Elbow-out rotator stretch

If your shoulders are particularly stiff, this one might feel a little tougher at first, so don’t worry if you have to ease into it.

  • Stand with one hand behind the middle of your back and your elbow pointing out.
  • Reach over across your chest with your other hand, and gently pull the elbow forward.
  • Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, and repeat two times per side.

Try this sequence the next time your shoulders are aching: 

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