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Improve Shoulder Mobility with the 3D Shoulder Pendulum Exercise

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

Shoulder mobility and stability are common topics of discussion in the gym. Studies show that 18-26% of adults have been affected by shoulder pain at some point in their lives, making it one of the most common pain syndromes. In order to treat and prevent these specific types of shoulder injuries, we need to focus on how the shoulder works as a unit with the humerus, scapula, and thoracic spine; the major players in proper shoulder mechanics.


shoulder pendulum exercise for mobility


These mechanics are necessary to complete exercises like overhead motions, especially for athletes, as they are at a higher risk for shoulder issues due to repetitive overhead movements. The shoulder pendulum exercise shown in this blog is a 3D functional exercise designed to influence and improve scapular humeral rhythm, shoulder muscle activation, and stability in all three planes of motion.


I love this exercise for my warm-ups as it helps turn on some of the smaller intrinsic muscles of the shoulder and also influences core and extremity movements, which is something I try to preach to my athletes daily! This exercise helps you learn body control at the end range as well as takes you through three-dimensional patterns and drivers to initiate proper motor function. This is a great way to assess and address any shoulder dysfunction in athletes, both as a test and also as a great exercise to work on at home.


Benefits of the 3D Shoulder Pendulum Exercise


The 3D Shoulder Pendulum Exercise is best used as a dynamic stretch in your warm-up routine before exercising. This movement targets the shoulder blade, creating better flexibility in that area, which helps to:


  • Reduce stiffness

  • Increase mobility

  • Ease pain

  • Speed up injury recovery


All you need is a dumbbell! However, you can do this exercise with weights or without. If you don't have a dumbbell, try a can of soup or anything with a little bit of weight. If you don't have anything that would work, that's fine too!


How to Perform the 3D Shoulder Pendulum Exercise


This exercise is performed in all three planes of motion, creating a three-dimensional movement that's important for balance, range of motion, function, and injury reduction.


If you're using weight, grab a dumbbell or soup can in your right hand, stand in a split stance with your right foot forward, and bend your knees. The first exercise will be performed in the sagittal plane.


Sagittal Plane


With your right foot forward and your knees bent, swing your right arm backward past your glutes, and then swing it forward overhead, letting your shoulder blade drop into its pocket. Let your arm swing back down to finish one repetition. Make sure to squeeze your glutes and drive your hips forward while you swing your arm up. This will decelerate the upper body in order to protect the lower back. Repeat this movement for 10 repetitions and then switch sides.



shoulder pendulum in the sagittal plane

shoulder pendulum in the sagittal plane


Frontal Plane


Now, moving into the frontal plane, lower into a squat and place the dumbbell in your right hand, with your palm facing up or away from your body. Swing your right arm to the right and overhead, making a counter-clockwise semi-circular motion. Let your arm swing back down to finish one repetition. As you swing your right arm up, your hips should be jutting out to the right. Repeat this movement for 10 repetitions and then switch sides.



shoulder pendulum in the frontal plane


shoulder pendulum in the frontal plane


Transverse Plane


The transverse plane is all about rotation, so we will add a body twist in this last movement. Put your right foot slightly in front with the dumbbell in your right hand. Make sure your right arm has a slight bend in the elbow as this will release some tension in the shoulder. Make the motion as if you're taking the dumbbell out of your left pocket, and then swing your arm across your body while twisting, opening your shoulder. This movement should look almost like swinging a golf club in reverse. Repeat this for 10 repetitions and then switch sides.



Shoulder pendulum in the transverse plane

Shoulder pendulum in the transverse plane

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Scott Ryan, BS, CSCS, CF-L1, CF-W, BFRC, is a professional coach who specializes in Applied Functional Science, Strength and Conditioning, CrossFit L1, and Olympic Lifting. He attended New England College in New Hampshire obtaining a bachelor's degree in Kinesiology with an emphasis on Biomechanics. He has a passion for injury prevention and coaching, as he was a collegiate athlete who suffered sports injuries. His goal is to get athletes back to optimal shape as well as prevent future injuries.


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