Do you participate in or are you interested in doing Crossfit workouts? Having sufficient shoulder mobility should be at the top of your check-list if you are a member of a CrossFit gym, as many of the movements performed demand a high degree of motion in this area.

For example, the overhead position is frequently visited in many of the movements (ie: snatch, shoulder press, pull-ups, handstand push-ups, etc.) and if someone does not have sufficient mobility in this area, not only will this affect their performance but it may also increase their risk of injury.

Additionally, having a strong front rack position is extremely important when performing a clean or front squat, which are two other very common movements. Being able to easily get into a front rack position could be the difference between making or missing a lift while also limiting excess stress being placed on your elbows and wrists. 

Needless to say, shoulder mobility is extremely important for CrossFit athletes (or anyone else performing similar movements in the gym) and can have a large impact on performance, as well as longevity in the sport, and should be addressed if it is an area someone experiences limitations. 

Below we will discuss the effects that limited shoulder mobility may have on common movements seen in a CrossFit gym. Additionally, we will include a quick movement screen that you can perform on yourself, along with exercises to try out that will address these potential limitations.

Overhead Press

Having sufficient thoracic extension and shoulder flexion is extremely important in order to keep the barbell stacked over your shoulder so that you limit the amount of stress being placed on your rotator cuff and achieve a balanced/stable overhead position. Additionally, if someone is limited in these areas, they will often compensate by searching for motion in their lower back, which can place unneeded stress in this area.


This position is essentially the same as the overhead press except now you are inverted. Having enough shoulder flexion and thoracic extension is very important to maintain a stacked (and therefore balanced and strong) handstand position. This will also allow you to breathe easier while upside down due to the decreased compression from not excessively arching through your back.


The snatch is similar in that having a stacked overhead position is extremely important for having a successful lift. Being limited in these areas could result in weight being distributed too far out in front, causing you to miss the lift forward. Additionally, having sufficient internal rotation is very important during the middle phase of the lift, as this will allow you to keep the bar close to your body (knuckles facing down), and remain balanced throughout the lift.

Front Squat

Thoracic extension and shoulder flexion is very important for the front rack as well, however, having sufficient external rotation in your shoulders also becomes increasingly important.  This will allow for your elbows to point forward while also remaining in line or slightly inside your hands, which will create a much stronger position.

Gymnastics (pull-up bar/rings)

The hollow and arch positions are the foundation of all the gymnastics movements you will be performing on the rig or olympic rings. Though the hollow body position does not demand a lot of mobility through the shoulder, the same is not true for the arch position. If you do not have the ability to adequately extend through your thoracic spine and bring your arms overhead, this may cause compensations like excessive bending in the arms/knees. These compensations are representative of “energy leaks”, that will make the exercise less efficient and more challenging to complete.

Self Assessment:


Sit with your low back touching the wall and knees tucked up slightly toward your chest. With thumbs pointing upward, bring arms overhead in an attempt to try and touch the wall behind you without your low back coming off the wall. If you are unable to touch the wall behind you or it is very challenging to do so, this may be a sign you need to work on improving your thoracic spine and overhead mobility.

Front rack:

Standing tall with elbows at 90 degrees straight out in front of you, attempt to bring your elbows together. Make sure you maintain your wrists being stacked overtop your elbows without curling your fist closer to your shoulder.  If this is a challenging position for you, this may be a sign that you need to work on gaining external rotation mobility in your shoulders.


*Most of these exercises will address several areas (ie. flexion and external rotation) and not just one in isolation, however, have been labeled under one area based on the main movement it is targeting.

*Add 2-3 sets of 2-3 exercises prior to your workouts and see if you notice a difference with your lifts.

Shoulder flexion 

  • Banded shoulder flexion – link 
  • Supine PVC shoulder flexion – link 

Thoracic extension

  • Seated behind the neck press – link 
  • Banded thoracic extension in squat – link 

External rotation

  • Back rack elbow raises – link 
  • PVC front rack contract/relax – link 

Internal rotation

  • Side-lying DB rotations – link 
  • Banded IR in 90/90 – link 


Are you struggling with Crossfit due to lack of shoulder mobility? Looking to get into Crossfit but worried that you won’t be able to handle all the movements? Let’s chat about how we can help you improve your deficits to improve your performance and reduce your risk of injury.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is for educational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional before starting any exercise program, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition or injury.