How to Improve Reaching Your Hand Behind Back

This blog post covers the best exercises and stretches to improve your ability to reach behind your back.


How far Should I be able To Reach behind my back?

hand behind back

Ideally – you should be able to reach your hand to the level of the shoulder blades.

(Keep in mind – it is common to have a slight reduction in hand behind back mobility on the side of dominance.)

Internal Rotation Test

If you are having difficulties with reaching behind your back, this suggests that you have a lack of internal rotation in the shoulder.


Shoulder Internal Rotation Test

shoulder internal rotation test

Instructions:

  • Lie down on your back.
  • Bring your arm out to side to shoulder height.
  • Keep your elbow bent at 90 degrees throughout the test.
  • Lower the palm side of your hand towards the floor.
  • DO NOT allow the shoulder to pop forwards.
  • Measure the angle of the forearm to the vertical.

Results: If the angle is less than 70 degrees, you have limitations in your INTERNAL ROTATION.

Improvements in the amount of internal rotation in the shoulder should result in the improved ability to reach further up the back.

Why You Should Improve Your Hand Behind Back mobility

If you are not able to bring your hand behind your back, I am willing to bet that you have experienced difficulty with:

  • Scratching your back
  • Doing up your bra strap
  • Tucking in your shirt at the back
  • Wiping yourself after using the toilet

Poor mobility in the shoulder will usually lead compensatory movements which can eventuate into an injury!


How to Improve Reaching Your Hand Behind the Back

Quick Navigation:

  1. Releases
  2. Stretches
  3. Over Pressures
  4. Gentle Movements
  5. Isometric Strengthening
  6. Eccentric Loading
  7. Strengthen Internal Rotators
  8. Address Rounded Shoulders

1. Releases

The first step in regaining your ability get your hand behind your back is to release those tight muscles that are limiting your ability to do so.


a) Release with Massage Ball

(Muscles targeted: Posterior Deltoid, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor, Posterior Capsule)

posterior shoulder release

Instructions:

  • Lie down on your side.
  • Place your arm out in front of you.
  • Place a massage ball underneath the back of your shoulder joint.
  • Apply an appropriate amount of your body weight on top of the massage ball.
  • Proceed to roll over the ball.
  • Pause on areas of increase tightness.
  • Continue for 2 minutes.

Here are the areas you will need to target:

2. Stretches

Once the tight muscles have been released, follow it up with stretches to the shoulder.


a) Posterior Deltoid

posterior deltoid stretch

Instructions:

  • Tie a resistance band onto a stationary object at shoulder height.
  • Lightly hold onto the band.
  • Move away from the anchor point to create tension in the resistance band.
  • Allow the band to pull your arm across your body.
  • Place your other hand on the back of the elbow.
  • Pull the arm further across the body.
  • Turn your body slightly away from the anchor point.
  • Aim to feel a firm stretch in the back of the shoulder.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

b) Rotator Cuff

(Muscles targeted: Infraspinatus, Teres Minor)

rotator cuff stretch

Instructions:

  • Place the back of your wrist onto the side of your hip.
  • Use a strap (or your other hand) to pull the elbow towards the body.
  • Aim to feel a stretch in the back of the shoulder.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

Note: If you are having difficulties with this stretch, place the back of your wrist in a slightly lower starting position down the hip.

3. Over Pressures

If you feel that the Releases and Stretches need to be pushed to the next level, try out these Over Pressures!


a) Shoulder Adduction

shoulder adduction hand behind back

Instructions:

  • Place your hand behind your back.
  • Use your other hand to pull this arm further across the back.
  • Perform 30 repetitions.

b) Using a Towel (Or Strap)

hand behind back towel stretch

Instructions:

  • Hold onto either ends of a towel behind your back.
  • Try to reach the hand at the bottom as high up the towel as possible.
  • Use the hand at the top to pull the towel upwards.
  • This should pull the lower hand further up the back.
  • Perform 30 repetitions.

c) Sleeper Position Crank

sleeper stretch

Instructions:

  • Lie down on your side.
  • (The side that will be targeted is the one closest to the floor.)
  • Bring your shoulder and elbow to 90 degrees of flexion.
  • Place your hand on the back of the wrist.
  • Slowly guide the hand down towards the floor.
  • Make sure to keep the elbow bent at 90 degrees throughout this exercise.
  • Do not allow the shoulder to pop forwards as you guide the hand towards the floor.
  • Aim to feel a stretch in the back of the shoulder.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

Note: If you have difficulties lying on top of your shoulder, you can perform the same exercise whilst standing against a wall instead.

d) Partner Assisted Over Pressure

Instructions:

  • Lie down on your back.
  • Place your arm out to the side.
  • Keep your shoulder and elbow at 90 degrees.
  • Have your partner place their hand on the front of your shoulder and the other hand at the back of your wrist.
  • Keep your shoulder completely relaxed.
  • Allow your partner to crank your arm downwards as they block any forward movement of the shoulder.
  • Perform 30 repetitions.

e) Hand Behind Back (Lying down)

hbb stretch

Instructions:

  • Lie down on your back.
  • Place your hand behind your back as high as possible.
  • Keep your shoulder relaxed.
  • Turn your torso towards this shoulder.
  • Aim to feel a stretch in the back of the arm.
  • Perform 30 repetitions.

Note: This is not an easy stretch to perform!

4. Active Movements

It is important to get the shoulder actively moving into internal rotation as soon as possible.


a) Arm Crank (Front)

Instructions:

  • Sit in front of a table.
  • Place your elbow on the table.
  • Maintain a 90 degrees bend in the elbow.
  • Keep your shoulders blades back.
  • Move your hand as close to the table as possible.
  • Do not allow the shoulder to pop forwards as your hand gets lower.
  • Perform 30 repetitions.

b) Arm Crank (Side)

internal rotation with shoulder abducted

Instructions:

  • Place your elbow on a table towards the side.
  • Maintain a 90 degrees bend in the elbow.
  • Keep your shoulders blades back.
  • Move your hand as close to the table as possible.
  • Do not allow the shoulder to pop forwards as your hand gets lower.
  • Perform 30 repetitions.

c) Elbow Lift

elbow lift

Instructions:

  • Place your hand on your stomach.
  • Gentle pull your shoulders backwards.
  • Lift your elbows up.
  • Perform 30 repetitions.

d) Hand Lift Off

lift hand off back

Instructions:

  • Place your hand behind your back.
  • Pull your shoulders backwards.
  • Without letting your shoulder tip forwards, lift your hand off the back.
  • Make sure to keep your elbow bent at 90 degrees.
  • Perform 30 repetitions.

5. Isometric Loading

Isometric loading involves developing a muscular contraction without moving the shoulder.


a) Sleeper Stretch Position

isometric shoulder strengthening sleeper stretch

Instructions:

  • Lie down on your side.
  • (The shoulder that will be targeted is the one closest to the floor.)
  • Bring the arm that is on the floor to shoulder height.
  • Bend your elbow to 90 degrees.
  • Use your hand on the other arm and place it on the back of the wrist.
  • Slowly guide the hand down towards the floor.
  • Make sure to keep the elbow bent at 90 degrees throughout this exercise.
  • Aim to feel a stretch in the back of the shoulder.
  • Whilst maintaining this position, gradually push the back of your wrist into your other hand for 30 seconds.
  • Aim to feel a contraction in your shoulder.
  • Relax.
  • Guide the hand lower towards the floor.
  • Whilst maintaining this position, re-apply the pressure into your other hand for 30 seconds.

Note: If you have difficulties lying on top of your shoulder, you can perform the same exercise whilst standing against a wall instead.

6. Eccentric loading

Eccentric loading involves developing a contraction whilst the muscle is lengthening.

(This is an effective way to increase the length of a tight muscle!)


a) Arm Crank (Sitting)

eccentric shoulder internal rotation

Instructions:

  • Sit down on a chair with your leg supported in an elevated position.
  • Hold onto a light weight.
  • Place your elbow on top of your knee.
  • Maintain a 90 degrees bend in your elbow throughout the exercise
  • Slowly lower the weight to the point where your shoulder just starts to pop forwards.
  • Perform 30 repetitions.

Note: You may need to trial a few different weights until you find a weight that is challenging (but still comfortable) for you.

b) Arm Crank (Lying Down)

eccentric strengthening shoulder internal rotation

Instructions:

  • Lie down on the floor.
  • Hold onto a light weight.
  • Bring your arm to shoulder height.
  • Keep your elbow bent at 90 degrees.
  • Slowly lower the weight without letting the shoulder pop forwards.
  • Perform 30 repetitions.

7. Strengthen Internal Rotation

The next step is to strengthen shoulder internal rotation to maintain the additional mobility that you have reclaimed.


a) Shoulder Neutral

shoulder internal rotation with resistance band

Instructions:

  • Tie a resistance band to a stationary object at elbow height.
  • Hold onto the band.
  • Move away from the anchor point to increase tension on the band.
  • Keep shoulders back throughout the exercise.
  • Bend your elbows to 90 degrees.
  • Keep your elbow fixated to the side of your body.
  • Pull the resistance band across the body.
  • Perform 20 repetitions.

b) Shoulder Abducted

shoulder internal rotation strengthening with band

Instructions:

  • Tie a resistance band to a stationary object above you.
  • Support your elbow on a flat surface at shoulder height.
  • Keep your elbow bent at 90 degrees.
  • Whilst holding onto the resistance, slowly pull the band forwards/downwards.
  • Perform 30 repetitions.

c) Prone Hand Lift

hbb prone hand lift

Instructions:

  • Lie down on your stomach.
  • Place your hand behind your hip.
  • Keep your shoulder blade pulled back.
  • Lift your hand off your back.
  • Hold for 3-5 seconds.
  • Perform 10 repetitions.

8. Address Rounded Shoulders

When you have Rounded Shoulders, the shoulder blades are in a protracted position (rolled forwards) on the rib cage.

As a result – the arm will attempt to maintain a more neutral position by external rotating the arm bone (Femur) relative to the shoulder blade.

This can lead to tightness in the back of the shoulder which limits the amount of internal rotation.

If you have Rounded Shoulders, please be sure to address it with the exercises mentioned in my complete guide:

See post: Exercises for Rounded Shoulders.


Common Questions

a) Why can’t I reach behind my back?

Tightness in the back of the shoulder can restrict the amount of internal rotation available in the shoulder.

Internal rotation is the main movement to help you reach your hand behind your back.

b) How often should I perform the exercises?

Start with 2-3 times per week.

Assess how your body responds at this frequency.

Aim to increase frequency to 4-5 times per week.

c) How long is it going to take?

This significantly is dependent on how tight your shoulder is.

Persist with the suggested exercises for at least 3 months.

If you still can’t reach behind your back after this period of time, I would strongly encourage you to seek guidance from a health professional.


Conclusion

Having the ability to reach your hand behind the back is an important movement of the shoulder.

(We use this movement in our every day life!)

Inability to perform this movement is usually a result of having limited amount of internal rotation of the shoulder.

The suggested exercises in this blog post will help increase the ability to reach your hand behind the back.


What to do next

1. Any questions?… (Leave me a comment down below.)

2. Come join me:

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3. Start doing the exercises!


Disclaimer: The content presented on this blog post is not medical advice and should not be treated as such. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Use of the content provided on this blog post is at your sole risk. For more informationMedical Disclaimer.

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