Posted by Jon Scott on 15th Apr 2024

Why are arm circles considered a dangerous stretching exercise?

Understanding the Risks of Arm Circles in Stretching

     Arm circles, once a staple of warm-up routines that every kid in the 2000’s and earlier has experienced, have recently come under scrutiny in the health and fitness world. While they seem harmless, these seemingly small movements can pose risks when performed incorrectly.

Author of article is Jon Scott

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So, why are arm circles considered a potentially dangerous stretching exercise?

Shoulder Strain

One of the primary concerns with someone doing arm circles is the potential for getting a shoulder strain. Performing large, fast circles without having proper form can place excessive stress on the shoulder joint, leading to discomfort and/or even injury. The risk is higher for individuals with pre-existing shoulder issues or already experiencing limited mobility.

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Rotator Cuff Impingement

Arm circles using internal rotation of the shoulder can increase the risk of rotator cuff impingement. This happens when the tendons of the rotator cuff become compressed between the bones of the shoulder, causing a lot of discomfort and inflammation. If you continue to do incorrect continuous repetition of improper arm circle movements can worsen this condition over time.

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Neck and Upper Back Tension

In addition to shoulder concerns, arm circles can add to tension in the neck and upper back, especially if performed using poor posture. Excessive twisting or hunching during the exercise can strain the muscles and ligaments in these areas, leading to discomfort, tension and stiffness.

Limited Range of Motion

Even though it is a popular belief, arm circles may not effectively improve shoulder mobility for everyone. Individuals with pre-existing mobility restrictions or tightness in their shoulders may find that arm circles exacerbate their limitations rather than improve them. In such cases, trying out alternative stretching exercises may be more beneficial.

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Lack of Warm-Up

While arm circles are usually a warm-up activity, they may not adequately prepare the muscles and joints for more strenuous exercise. Without proper warm-up protocols in place, the risk of injury during a following physical activity may increase.

Misalignment and Muscle Imbalance

Arm circles with improper alignment or asymmetrical movements can contribute to muscle imbalances and issues over time. This is particularly concerning for people who engage in repetitive motions or activities that already place strain on certain muscle groups. Doing the wrong motions over and over again can cause lasting issues.

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Alternative Options

Thankfully, there are plenty of safer and more effective alternatives besides arm circles for warming up the shoulders and improving flexibility.

Other exercises you could try instead of arm circles:

  • Shoulder rolls- You can do shoulder rolls in different ways depending on your range of motion, flexibility, and other factors such as injuries. 
  • Scapular retractions- Exercises that require you to pull your shoulder blades together toward the spine. The shoulders do not move upward toward the ears in these types of exercises. These movements will focus specifically on improving integrity and strength of the muscles around the shoulder blades.
  • Dynamic stretches- Targeting the shoulder girdle, it can provide similar benefits without the associated risks.

Take it slow when stretching


     While arm circles may have been a go-to exercise in the past, it's important to approach them with caution and use proper technique. By understanding the potential risks and exploring alternative stretching options, you can maintain safety and injury prevention in your fitness routine. Take care of yourself, only you can feel the discomfort and make changes. Remember, it's not just about the exercise itself but how you perform it that really matters.