When was the last time you stretched a muscle in your chest? So often we focus on stretching out the backside of our body (like our glutes, lower back, and upper back), but who knew that tight muscles in the front of the body could be contributing to the pain we feel in the back?
It is important to stretch out our chest muscles (such as the pectoralis), because when they are tight, they pull your shoulders inward. This results in major neck strain and can contribute to poor posture.
What Causes Tight Chest Muscles?
If you’ve ever made a visit to the gym, you have probably seen many real-life examples of tight chest muscles. This would be characterized as a rounded shoulder that is inwardly rotated.
This phenomenon isn’t only present in people who work out at the gym. In todays world, pretty much everyone is compensating their posture for looking down at their phones. If you take a close look at most people, they will have a bit of a slouched shoulder, with a slight protrusion of the neck.
Chest muscles can become short and tight because of lifestyle, weight training, and simply a lack of stretching. If you work at a desk job, have suffered a shoulder injury, are in a seated position for most of the day, or if you simply have poor posture (whether as a result of the aforementioned, or other), then you’re going to have tight pecs.
I also believe that a lot of people have un-expressed emotions in the form of trauma. We’ve all experienced trauma in some way, shape, or form in our lives. Maybe we went through a really hard break-up, or we are mourning someone in our lives. Maybe we were abused, or got into a life-altering accident.
Trauma can give us a sense of hopelessness, and we become protective of ourselves, and our emotions. An open heart wouldn’t be scared to express these emotions, but when we protect our emotions, we’re protecting our heart, and when we’re protecting our heart our body takes the form of protection – rounded shoulders to keep our heart hidden and safe.
I have found that stretching and breathing to open up the chest muscles is a great way to process these emotions on our own and help get rid of some of that stiffness so that we can make our hearts more receptive.
What Are Your Chest Muscles?
The chest muscles include the pectoralis major and minor. They originate on the sternum (breastbone) and collarbones to insert on the humerus (upper arm bones). These muscles internally rotate and extend the arms, and depress and protect (move away from each other) the scapula (shoulder blades).
When our chest muscles become too tight, we become stuck in the rounded shoulder position. This rounded shoulder position puts stress on the muscles along the front of the neck, causing them to become short and tight (which leads to neck and upper back pain). Tight pectoral muscles limit shoulder flexion, the ability to raise your arm overhead.
Tight pectoralis muscles also keep the shoulders in a chronic internally rotated position. This is the opposite of what we want – we want the pectoralis muscles to be somewhere in the middle – not too internally and not too externally rotated. But to get these muscles back to where we want them, we need to focus on exercises that externally rotate them.
What Are The Benefits of Stretching The Chest?
Stretching the chest muscles has a plethora of different benefits. Some of those I’ve outlined below:
– will help relieve upper back pain (the pectoralis muscles influence our upper back, believe it or not!).
– will help relieve neck pain (open chest muscles means less slouching forward, which puts less strain on the neck to constantly be in the forward position)
– will allow you to breath better (opening up the chest means that your ribs will start opening up, too! It’ll be easier for you to take a deep breath, as there will be more space to do so when the muscles are relaxed after stretching. Taking in more air will also allow your body to heal, since oxygen-rich blood is crucial for proper body healing).
– will give you a new sense of self-confidence (opening up the shoulders shows the world that you’re more confident and receptive to others. People who are shy often round their shoulders to protect themselves from the harms of others, they naturally curl into a depressive state).
Chest Stretches You Can Do Right Now
The stretches below are for anyone who wants to open up their chest muscles so that they can stand straighter and feel more confident about themselves. Be sure you breathe deeply when performing these stretches and always take your time. If any stretch feels too intense, then ease back a bit until you have found a happy medium where it is slightly uncomfortable, but not sharp and painful.
1. Open Book Exercise
1. Start by lying on one side with the knees bent, in line with your hips. Bring the leg that is closest to the floor straight, with the top knee remaining bend. Place a pillow, ball, or bolster under the knee that is bent.
2. Place both arms out in front of you, elbows straight and palms together.
3. Inhale and take the top arm to the ceiling as you look up.
4. Exhale and bring the top arm down behind your body as far back as it will go.
5. Stay in this position for 4-5 deep breaths, relaxing your shoulders.
6. Inhale, and then exhale and return to starting position. Repeat on the other side. Do 3 repetitions for each side.
2. Chest Doorway Stretch
1. Stand at the end of a wall or in a doorway facing perpendicular to a wall.
2. Place the inside of your bent right arm on the surface of the wall. Position your bent elbow at shoulder height (or move your elbow a little higher to stretch into the lower pec muscles).
3. Turn your body away from the positioned arm, and hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds. Repeat with the opposite arm, and do 3-5 repetitions on each arm.
Tip: You can also do this exercise laying on your stomach on the ground, and then laying one arm straight out to one side, palm facing down. Next, you would start rolling your body, arm still on the ground, until you start to feel a stretch in your pecs – this exercise is a good one!!
3. Heart Melting Pose
1. Get into all fours, and keep your knees and feet hip-width apart. The hips will remain directly over the knees throughout the whole posture.
2. Keeping your arms straight, walk your hands forward, maintaining the shoulder-width distance. The rotation of your arm is external.
3. Now melt your belly and heart down toward the floor. Your gaze will remain forward, unless if you aren’t as flexible, keep your neck in a position that is most comfortable for you.
4. Breathe deeply here for 30-60 seconds, and then come back to a seated position. Repeat 2-3 times.
4. Cow Face Pose
1. Start seated on the floor with your legs extended in front of you and your arms resting at your sides.
2. Bend your knees, and bring your left foot underneath your right knee, sliding it to the outside of your right hip.
3. Stack your right knee directly on top of the left, and then slide your right foot to the outside of your left hip. Shift your weight slightly from side to side until you are sitting evenly on your sit bones. If this is too uncomfortable for your hips, simply keep seated in crossed-leg position.
4. Extend your left arm up toward the ceiling, and then bend it, bringing your left hand to your spine.
5. Internally rotate your right arm, and then bend your right elbow and bring your right hand up to the centre of your back. If possible, hook the fingers of both hands.
6. Breathe deep for 30-60 seconds, and then release. Now do the other side.
5. Overhead Triceps Stretch
1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and roll your shoulders down and back.
2. Reach your right arm to the ceiling, keeping your shoulder down and away from your ears.
3. Bend your right elbow, placing your right hand toward the middle of your back with your palm facing your back.
4. Reach your left hand to the ceiling and place your fingers on your right arm, just above the elbow.
5. Breathe deep and apply light pressure to deepen the stretch. Hold for 15-30 seconds.
6. Repeat on the other side, and do 3 repetitions on each arm.
6. Beginners Bow Pose
1. Lie on your stomach, and bend your knees, bringing them on your hip (or as close as you can get).
2. Grab your feet with your hands (as shown above) and lift the head, chest, and knees off the mat. If you cannot lift your knees, simply perform the variation in the video above, where you just lift your chest off the ground, using your grip to propel you upwards.
3. Breathing in, kick your legs so that your arms naturally go with them, and roll forward onto your belly (this step would be eliminated if you choose to not bring your knees off the ground).
4. Breathing out, go back into the original position. Repeat 5 times.
Tip: If you can’t reach your feet, tie a towel or resistance band around each ankle and grasp for the end of each towel. This will make it easier to get into the pose in the future.
7. Camel Pose
1. Kneel upright with your knees hip-distance apart. Press your shins and tops of your feet into the floor, and do not squeeze your buttocks.
2. Rest your hands on the back of your pelvis, fingers pointing to the floor, almost like they are in your back jean pockets.
3. Lean back, with your chin slightly tucked toward your chest. If you’re a beginner, stay here, and keep your hands on the back of your pelvis.
4. If you are comfortable here, reach back and hold onto each heel. Your palms should rest on your heels with your fingers pointed toward your toes and your thumbs holding the outside of each foot. If you feel any compression in your lower back, tuck your toes to elevate your heels.
5. Lift up through your pelvis, keeping your lower spine long. Keep your head in a neutral position or allow it to drop back without straining or crunching your neck.
6. Hold for 30-60 seconds, and release by bringing your hands back to your front hips. Inhale, and lift your torso by pushing your hips toward the floor, with your head coming up last.
7. Repeat 2-3 times if your back in comfortable with the pose. This is a very deep heart-opening pose, so once or twice will suffice.
8. Hands Clasped Chest Stretch
1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than hipbone-distance apart.
2. Clasp your hands behind your back. If this is too hard, hold a towel or a strap and place your hands as close together as your can.
3. Raise your arms upwards behind you, while you bend at the waist. Let your head hang lose and raise your arms as far overhead as possible. Keep the hands clasped and touch your palms together if you can.
4. Hold for 30 seconds, come back into standing position and release the hands. It is good to repeat this one 3 times, in between the other exercises above.