Stephanie Thielen by Stephanie Thielen

Computer desk jobs, driving, swimming and carrying boxes all have one thing in common: the use of our arms and chest to perform the task. A large percentage of what we do in life is in front of us, making it common for our chest to get stronger and tighter, but with time, this forward motion has the opposite effect. It begins to restrict our chest, shoulder and arm flexibility. 

Pectoralis major and minor, anterior deltoid, and biceps are all muscles located on the front of the body. Tight pectoral muscles along with limited range of motion in the shoulder joint can pull the shoulders forward, giving you a postural distortion called “rounded shoulders.” Opening up the front of the body through a variety of chest stretches can increase flexibility and range of motion in the chest and provide pain-free movement of the shoulder to help improve upper body posture. 

5 Variations of Chest Stretches

The following chest stretches provide various ways to open up the front body. You do not need to limit performing them to only after a workout. Executed regularly, you will start to see and feel continual improvements in chest and shoulder flexibility.

  • Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds or 3-5 breath cycles. One inhale + one exhale = 1 breath cycle.
  • Avoid bouncing. With each exhale, move into the stretch a little further, but only to the point of tension, never pain.
  • Perform stretches 2-3 times.
  • Bring focus to not just pulling the shoulder blades down and back, but shining your chest and heart forward to create length within the pectoral muscles.

Behind the Back-Elbow to Elbow Grip:

This quick and easy stretch can be performed seated or standing.  Simple to perform, it’s a great way to get a quick stretch anytime of the day.

  • Seated or standing, begin with arms hanging by your sides and shoulders pressed down away from your ears.
  • Gently squeeze your shoulder blades together, broaden the chest, and then bring the arms behind the back and grip elbow to elbow.

Above the Head Chest Stretch:

This is another stretch that can be performed either seated or standing. Play around with the positioning of the hands to emphasize shoulders and/or chest.

  • Seated or standing, interlock your fingers, bend your elbows and raise your arms above your head.
  • Gently squeeze your shoulder blades together and move your elbows and hands backward.
  • Vary the height of your hands to emphasize shoulders and/or chest (hands behind head, hands on top of head, hand a few inches above head).

Bent Arm Wall Stretch:

This exercise allows you to stretch each side of your chest separately. 

  • In a split stance, left leg on the front and right leg on the back, stand at the end of a wall or in a doorway.
  • Bring the right arm up to shoulder height and position the palm and inside of the arm on the wall surface or doorway. Your arm should look like a goal post.
  • Gently press the chest through the open space to feel the stretch.
  • Moving the arm higher or lower will allow you to stretch various sections of the chest.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Extended Child’s Pose on Fingertips:

In yoga, Child’s Pose is considered a resting exercise, but when the arms are extended, this exercise becomes very active in the upper body while still providing a stress relief to the low back.

  • Kneel on the floor. Touch your big toes together and sit on your heels, then separate your knees about as wide as your hips.
  • Bend forward from the hips and walk your hands out as far in front of you as possible. With the arms extended and palms facing down, come up onto the fingertips as if you have a ball underneath your palms and melt the chest toward the ground.

Side Lying Parallel Arm Chest Stretch

This exercise allows you to target each side of the chest separately and give special attention to the shoulders.

  • Lying prone on your stomach, extend both arms out to the sides creating the letter “T”, palms facing down.
  • Start to roll onto your right side by pushing yourself with your left hand. Lift the left leg, bend the knee and place the left foot behind you on the floor for stability. Rest your head on your right temple.
  • Keep the left hand on the ground close to the chest for balance, or for an extra stretch, lift the left hand up toward the ceiling.
  • Repeat on the other side.