Many athletes foam roll their lower bodies, but neglect the upper half. (Learn how to foam roll your upper back.) That's a missed opportunity because it's especially important to foam roll your shoulders to help protect the joints and maintain their proper range of motion.
How Foam Rolling Works
Before we get into specific drills, it's important for you to understand what foam rolling is doing (and not doing) for you.
Many people claim that foam rolling lengthens fascia (i.e., connective tissue within the muscles) and improves tissue quality. This is unlikely, because to "lengthen" your fascia, it must lengthen your bones. (Learn more about the benefits of foam rolling.) It's more probable that rolling causes neuromuscular relaxation. Dr. Carl DeRosa, author of Mechanical Low Back Pain and Mechanical Shoulder Pain, discusses this concept in the videos below.
In other words, self-massage techniques like foam rolling may stimulate your brain to relax your muscles. Your muscles then become more tolerant when stretching dynamically and statically.
With all that being said, you can argue, "Who cares how foam rolling works as long as it helps me feel better?" And the resounding consensus is that foam rolling will improve your mobility and help accelerate the recovery process.
Foam Roller Shoulder Exercises
Now that you have a better grasp of the benefits and limitations of foam rolling, let's get into practical techniques.
You can perform these exercises before or after a workout. Roll slowly over the muscle, and make sure to focus on tender areas.
Thoracic Spine Foam Rolling Drill
Your shoulders and thoracic spine are an integral unit. If you lack sufficient t-spine mobility, your natural shoulder range of motion may be affected, which can impair technique when throwing or performing an exercise.
Shoulder, Chest and Biceps Rolling Drill
This drill works directly on your shoulders and the muscles that act on them.
Notice that we use a med ball instead of a foam roller, because it allows for better maneuverability, and the smaller surface can target smaller muscles. You can use a foam roller, but the med ball is more effective.