The chest muscles can shorten and tighten as a result of sitting or standing for many hours. Tight chest muscles can, in turn, lead to feelings of constraint and discomfort in the upper back, according to Arnold G. Nelson and Jouko Kokkonen, authors of вЂњStretching Anatomy.вЂќ To loosen up the chest muscles, use a combination of stretches, or choose the one stretch that feels most effective. Keep your movements smooth and controlled, breathe deeply at regular intervals throughout the stretch and avoid bouncing. A good stretch executed with proper form produces light tension, not strain or pain.
Open Doorway Stretch
Nelson and Kokkonen recommend stretching the chest through a doorway. Stand several inches in front of an open doorway, facing the doorway with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place one foot slightly in front of the other to help you balance and position your hands on the door frame at shoulder-height. Keeping your knees straight, but not locked, hinge your body forward from your ankles and press your chest through the opening. Your back should remain straight. Leaning farther forward deepens and intensifies the stretch. Hold for up to 30 seconds.
Clasped Hands While Standing
Clasping your hands behind your back has the desired effect of opening up the chest and lengthening the muscles. Standing straight with your feet shoulder-width apart, press your shoulders down and slightly back. Align your head over your spine and focus forward as you relax your arms and clasp your hands behind your back. Gently squeeze your shoulder blades together to broaden your chest, and then slowly straighten and raise your arms several inches to the back. Relax your neck and raise your chin and chest toward the ceiling for additional stretch. Hold the position for up to 30 seconds.
Clasped Hands While Seated
You can achieve an effective chest stretch while seated at your work desk. Sitting with a straight spine and your shoulders pressed down and back, allow your arms to dangle at your sides. Simply squeeze your shoulder blades together until you feel light tension across your chest area. To intensify the seated stretch, clasp your hands behind your head with your elbows directed away from your body's midline. Slowly draw your bent elbows backward while raising your chin and chest toward the ceiling. When you find the point of stretch, hold the position for up to 30 seconds. Repeat seated chest stretches throughout the day if you tend to work hunched over your desk.
A rolled-up towel is an effective tool for stretching the chest, according to Bob Anderson, author of вЂњStretching.вЂќ Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and grasp the rolled-up towel near both ends. Stretch the towel to remove slack and slowly circle your arms in front of you and over your head, keeping your elbows straight. You might need to move your hands farther apart if you're unable to circle your arms around completely. Anderson says this is a particularly useful stretch, because as you rotate your arms from front to back, you can pause and hold the stretch where you experience tightness. To target the chest muscles most effectively, hold the stretch when your arms are directly behind you at shoulder-height.