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Yoga for Tight Shoulders: 5 Yoga Poses to Open Your Upper Back and Shoulders

By: Meagan McCrary, E-RYT 500

Tight shoulders? You’re not alone. Nearly everything we do—sitting at a desk, working on a computer, cooking a meal, picking up children, riding a bike, driving a car, etc.—closes off the front of our chests and creates varying degrees of tension in our shoulders and neck. Repeated over time, and your shoulders inevitably become tight.

We also tend to hold a lot of tension in our shoulders, neck, and jaws thanks to our nervous system’s stress response (or hyperarousal). When we become anxious or stressed our body responds accordingly, kicking us into fight-or-flight, a.k.a. survival mode. Your heart rate speeds up, pupils dilate, and your muscles contract, particularly your jaw, and before too long your shoulders are hiked up to your ears without you even realizing it.

The good news is that we can work with the body and breath to calm down and essentially reverse the stress response. One of the many reasons yoga is so great! Opening your chest and releasing deeply held tension in your shoulders not only feels better physically, it will also help you relax. Below are some of my favorite yoga poses for tight shoulders.

A Standing Wide-Legged Forward Bend with Hands Locked

Prasarita Padottanasana, or a Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend, with your fingers interlaced behind your back is probably the most common (and familiar) shoulder stretch done in yoga classes, mainly because it’s simple, easy to do, and effective.

  1. Begin standing with your feet about a leg’s length apart and parallel with all of your toes pointing straight forward.

  2. Reach your arms around and interlace your fingers behind you at your sacrum.

  3. Inhale and lengthen up through the sides of your torso; exhale, broaden your collarbones, and pull your upper outer arms back.

  4. Inhale and lift the sides of your chest up; exhale and, with bent knees, slowly hinge forward at your hips.

  5. Once in a forward fold, continue to lift your upper outer arms and shoulder blades away from the floor, and release your sternum toward the floor.

  6. Lengthen the back of your neck and take five deep breaths.

  7. To release, unlace your fingers slowly and bring your hands to your hips. Bend your knees and, on an inhale, lift your elbows and shoulders away from the floor and rise back up to stand.

Eagle Pose, Arms Only

The upper half of Garudhasana (Eagle Pose) can be a somewhat intense stretch through the trapezius, outer shoulders and upper arms, as well as between the shoulder blades through the upper back. There are a few different variations of the same stretch, so choose the appropriate one for your shoulders.

  1. Standing with your feet hip distance apart (or from a seated position), extend your arms straight out in front of you with your palms up shoulder height.

  2. Tightly cross your left elbow over your right.

  3. Bend both elbows so that both palms face you and fingers point straight up. (If that’s not happening, bend both elbows and bring your palms to opposite shoulders, crossing your forearms.)

  4. Now turn your palms out with your thumbs pointed at you.

  5. Slide your left palm forward and behind the right, bringing the palms to touch. (Or, once you’ve turned your palms out, feel free to press the back of your hands together.)

  6. Use your left palm to press your forearms back to center with your fingers pointed up.

  7. Inhale and lift your elbows any amount; exhale and lengthen your hands away from your face. Take seven rounds of deep inhalations and exhalations.

  8. To release, slowly lower your elbows and unwind your arms, bringing them down to your sides before repeating on the second side crossing your right elbow on top.

Cow Face Pose, Arms Only

The upper half of Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose), is a very deep stretch that requires external rotation of the top shoulder and internal rotation of the bottom, and often a strap between the hands to make the grasp.

  1. Either standing with your feet hip distance apart or sitting on a block with your spine lifted, inhale and reach your right are straight up.

  2. Slowly begin to rotate your right palm toward the back of the room, thumb pointing to the right.

  3. Bend your right elbow and bring your right palm to your upper back, pointing your right elbow skyward.

  4. Pause and bring your left hand to your right elbow, hugging the elbow closer to the side of your forehead.

  5. Inhale and lift up through your chest. (Feel free to stay here and breath, skipping the bottom arm instructions.)

  6. As you’re ready, reach your left arm out to the left and begin to turn your left palm to face the back of the room, thumb down.

  7. Slowly bend your left elbow, bringing the back of your left hand to you the middle of your back and up toward the back of your heart.

  8. If your fingers touch, hook them into each other, or hold on to a strap between your hands.

  9. To release, slowly lengthen your left hand down toward the floor and rotate the palm forward. Then reach your right arm back up before lowering it down by your side.

  10. Do a few large arm circles before switching sides.

Dolphin Pose

Ardha Pincha Mayurasana (Dolphin Pose) opens upper back while deeply stretching the shoulders and outer arms. I actually prefer it to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog); however more flexibility of the hamstrings is required, and it’s a bit gentler on the wrists.

  1. From Tabletop Pose on your hands and knees, lower your elbows to the floor directly underneath your outer shoulders and parallel your forearms, pointing your index fingers straight forward.

  2. From Tabletop Pose, place your forearms on the floor with your elbows directly underneath your shoulder heads.

  3. Clasp your hands together, interlacing your fingers.

  4. Tuck your outside pinkie finger inside the other so that the outer edges of your wrists and hands are flat and even.

  5. Press down through your outer wrists and forearms, and lift your shoulders away from the floor.

  6. Tuck your toes under and begin to lift your knees up, taking your hips up and back.

  7. Keeping your forearms parallel, spread your fingers, press down through your elbows and strongly lift your shoulders away from the floor.

  8. Hug your elbows toward one another and broaden your collarbones as you press your thighbones back.

  9. Lower your knees back down after a few breaths and press back into Balasana (Child’s Pose).

Extended Puppy Pose

Utthita Shishosana (Extended Puppy Pose), is basically a non-(or very little) weight-bearing Downward-Facing Dog Pose, gently stretching the spine in both directions while opening the shoulders, chest, upper back, and underside of the arms.

  1. Come into Tabletop Pose on all fours with your knees underneath your hips and shoulders over wrists.

  2. Point your toes straight back, resting the tops of your feet on the mat, and parallel your shins.

  3. Slowly begin to walk your hands forward, keeping your arms straight, and lower your chest towards earth, releasing your forehead to the mat (if your forehead doesn’t easily rest on the floor, try placing a low block underneath it).

  4. Keep your hips high over your knees.

  5. Press into your palms and lift your forearms, elbows, and shoulders away from the floor.

  6. On an inhalation, reach your hips up and back lengthening your spine; exhale and gently draw your low ribs in to support your low back.

  7. If your neck feels comfortable, take five to seven rounds of breath.

  8. When you’re ready walk your hands back and return to Tabletop Pose.

Study shoulder care with Julie Gudmestad: Creating Shoulder Strength and Stability – Focus on Serratus.

Meagan McCrary is an experienced yoga teacher (E-RYT 500) and writer with a passion for helping people find more comfort, clarity, compassion and joy on the mat and in their lives. She is the author of Pick Your Yoga Practice: Exploring and Understanding Different Styles of Yoga a comprehensive encyclopedia of prominent yoga styles, including each system’s teaching methodology, elements of practice, philosophical and spiritual underpinnings, class structure, physical exertion and personal attention. Currently living in Los Angeles, Meagan teaches at the various Equinox Sports Clubs, works privately with clients and leads retreats internationally. You can find her blog, teaching schedule and latest offerings at www.MeaganMcCrary.com

9 Yoga Poses for Upper Back Pain

The strain from sitting at a desk, driving in a car, or looking down at your cell phone can cause upper back pain. Try these yoga poses to stretch away the discomfort.

The upper back is prone to tightness. Our thoracic spine makes up the middle segment of the vertebral column and is attached to the ribs, making this section of the spine naturally less mobile than the cervical spine above and the lumbar spine below. Constant sitting and looking at devices means poor posture, leading to tightness in the shoulders, chest, and neck.

These nine yoga poses will help to reverse the effects of sitting and poor posture by releasing the tight muscles of the chest, shoulders, and the upper back muscles that surround the thoracic spine. To get started, all you need is a yoga mat and two yoga blocks.

Suffering from a sore neck, back and shoulders? Get our mobility guide to ease pain and soreness.
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Cat-Cow | 8 breaths

These combined yoga poses help to warm the entire spine, while also stretching the rhomboids and the trapezius, loosening up tightness in the upper back.

  1. Begin in a tabletop position on your hands and knees. Stack your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees.
  2. On an inhale, tilt your tailbone towards the sky, lowering your belly towards the floor to come into cow pose. Squeeze your shoulders together and keep your neck long. Feel a stretch through your abdomen.
  3. Exhale and round your spine up towards the sky to come into cat pose. Draw your navel up and in towards your spine while tucking your chin to your chest and gazing at your belly. Press the ground away and feel a stretch through your mid and upper back.
  4. Continue flowing between your cow and cat pose for 8 rounds of breath.

Thread The Needle | 8 breaths per side

This pose helps to relieve tension in the rhomboids, trapezius, and shoulders.

  1. Start in a tabletop position with your wrists stacked under your shoulders.
  2. Inhale as you lift your right arm up off the mat and twist it towards the sky.
  3. Exhale and thread your right arm under your left arm. Bring your right shoulder and temple to rest on the mat.
  4. Walk your left fingers towards the top of your mat and feel a stretch on the inside of your right shoulder blade.
  5. Hold for 8 slow breaths, then come back to your tabletop and switch sides.

Double V Pose | 8 breaths per side

This pose relieves tension in the rhomboids, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, shoulders, and neck.

  1. Place a block at the top of your mat and lie down on your belly.
  2. Prop yourself up onto your forearms and engage your abs.
  3. Turn your right forearm across your mat so that your fingers point to the left side of your mat.
  4. Turn your left forearm in front of your right forearm and point your left fingers towards the right side of your mat. Shift your chest so that it is directly above your forearms.
  5. Walk your fingers towards the edges of your mat so that your arms are crossed directly underneath your chest.
  6. Bring your forehead to rest down on the block and close your eyes. Hold for 8 breaths, then switch sides.

Child’s Pose with Side Stretch | 8 breaths per side

This pose stretches the muscles between the ribs and helps release tension in the lats.

  1. Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position.
  2. Bring your feet together and take your knees out wide towards the edges of your mat.
  3. Sit your hips back onto your heels and then walk your hands towards the top of the mat, lowering your chest towards the floor. Let your forehead rest on the mat.
  4. Walk your hands over to the right edge of your mat and gently press your hips towards the left to feel a stretch through your left side.
  5. Hold for 8 breaths, then switch sides.

Eagle Arms | 8 breaths

This binding pose relieves tension in the space between the rhomboids, traps, and the rear delts.

  1. Kneel on your mat with your legs together and your hips resting on your heels. Engage your abs.
  2. Wrap your right arm under your left, then wrap your forearms to bring your palms to touch. If this isn’t possible, place each hand on the opposite shoulder.
  3. Lift your elbows up in line with your shoulders and press your forearms forwards. You should feel a stretch through the upper back and shoulders.
  4. Hold for 8 breaths.

Puppy Pose | 8 breaths

This pose releases tightness in the trapezius, lats, serratus anterior, chest, and shoulders.

  1. Start in a tabletop position with your hips stacked over your knees.
  2. Keeping your hips stacked, walk your hands towards the top of your mat to lower your chest towards the floor. Bring your forehead to rest on the mat.
  3. Feel a stretch through your lats, shoulders, and chest. Hold for 8 breaths.

Rabbit Pose | 8 breaths

This pose relieves tension throughout the entire back and shoulders.

  1. Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position.
  2. Bring your legs all the way together and sit your hips back on your heels. Then, walk your hands towards the top of the mat, lowering your chest onto your thighs to come into embryo’s pose.
  3. Reach your arms back towards your feet and turn your palms down to grab onto your heels. Draw your chin in towards your chest and bring the crown of your head to gently rest on your mat.
  4. Keeping ahold of your heels, inhale to lift your hips up towards the sky. Make sure to keep your chin tucked and to avoid putting any weight on your head. You should feel a stretch along the entire spine.
  5. Hold for 8 breaths, then gently release back to your embryo’s pose.

Supine Twist | 8 breaths per side

This pose relieves tension along the spine and in the chest and shoulders.

  1. Lie down on your back and hug your right knee into your chest.
  2. Reach your right arm out to the side with your palm facing down.
  3. Use your left hand to guide your right leg across your body to come into your supine twist. Make sure to keep your right shoulder on the ground. Gaze to the right or straight up at the ceiling.
  4. Hold for 8 breaths, then switch sides.

Supported Fish Pose | Relax 2-5 minutes

This restorative yoga pose is great for reversing the effects of driving, sitting, and looking at your phone by opening up the chest and shoulders.

  1. Begin by placing a yoga block on the lowest or medium height across the top of your mat. Then place another block underneath it on the same height so that it is going vertically down your mat. The blocks should be a few inches apart.
  2. Sit in front of the bottom block about a foot and a half. Then, use your hands to lower yourself down onto the blocks. The bottom block should rest between your shoulder blades, and the top block supports your head.
  3. Bring your arms to rest down alongside your body with your palms facing up. Straighten your legs long down your mat. Close your eyes and relax for 2-5 minutes.

(Your Next Workout: 11 Ways To Use A Tennis Ball to Fix Back Pain)

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9 Yoga Poses to Help Relieve Neck and Shoulder Pain

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When you’re under stress, it’s common to experience neck and shoulder pain. And that means getting through the day without wincing can be challenging — you may even convince yourself to skip your workout because of it.

I’m a certified yoga instructor, and I’d like to share nine of my favorite yoga moves for neck pain and shoulder pain — so you can get back to doing everything you want to be doing.

(If your pain is related to an injury, talk to your doctor or physical therapist — these stretches are meant to help with everyday tightness and sore muscles.)

Get a full yoga workout with Openfit’s Yoga 52 program. Try it for free today!

9 Yoga Poses for Neck and Shoulder Pain

Whether you slept funny, you’re stressed from a long day at the office, or you overdid it in your last exercise session, these nine stretches can help relieve your neck and shoulder pain.

1. Arm Across Chest

This pose will stretch the neck and back of the shoulders.

• Sit comfortably on the floor or on a chair with your spine straight, neck elongated, and shoulders in a relaxed position.

• Reach the right arm out so it is at shoulder height and bring it across the chest toward the left side of your body.

• Turn your gaze to look over your right shoulder.

• Hold for approximately eight to 10 breaths, then switch sides.

2. Thread the Needle

• Begin in a tabletop position, with your knees aligned with your hips.

• Walk the left hand forward as far as you can and thread the right arm under it.

• Rest your right shoulder and your right cheek on the mat.

• Close your eyes and relax into the pose as it gently stretches the shoulders, arms, upper back, and neck.

• Hold this pose for approximately eight to 10 breaths.

• Switch sides and repeat.

3. Eagle Arms

This pose stretches the muscles in your arms, shoulders, upper back, and neck.

• Stand or sit comfortably with your spine straight and your neck comfortably elongated.

• Reach out both arms so they’re at shoulder width and height.

• Bend the right arm up towards the head and sweep the left arm under the right. Bend and wrap the left arm around the right one. The eventual goal is to have the palms touch. Gaining that flexibility may take time, so if the palms don’t reach, grasp the wrist of the right arm with your left hand.

• Breathe deeply.

• Lower your shoulders away from your ears, gently pull the hands away from the face, • and slowly turn your gaze over the left shoulder.

• Hold the pose for at least five breaths and work up to 10 breaths.

•Switch sides and repeat.

4. Ear To Shoulder/Neck Rolls

This stretch works the neck and shoulder muscles.

• Sit comfortably on the floor or on a chair with your spine straight and shoulders relaxed.

• Draw your chin toward your chest and gently roll your right ear toward your right shoulder.

• Place the fingertips of your left hand on top of the left shoulder and your right fingertips above the left ear. The pressure you put on each of the two touch points determines how deep the stretch is.

• After approximately five breaths, switch sides and repeat.

• Then roll your head side to side for approximately five breaths.

5. Shoulder Rolls

Stand or sit comfortably with a straight spine.

• Place your fingertips on top of your shoulders. As you proceed through the following movements, hold each one for several breaths.

• Pull your elbows toward each other in the front of the body to stretch out the shoulder blades and upper back.

• Pull them up to stretch the triceps.

• Fan them to the side to stretch out the chest and front of the shoulders.

• Pull them towards each other in the back of the body for a deep shoulder and chest stretch.

6. Cat/Cow Stretch

You’ll feel the combination of these two stretches in the neck, chest, shoulders, spinal column, and lower back.

• Begin in a tabletop position, with your wrists aligned with your shoulders and knees aligned with your hips.

• With each inhale, arch your back and look towards the ceiling (this is the cow).

• With each exhale, tuck your chin into your chest, pull your tailbone under, and round your back and shoulders (this is the cat).

• Switch between the two for eight to 10 breaths.

7. Hand to Elbow

This pose stretches the front of the shoulders, triceps, and the back of the neck.

• Begin by sitting or standing comfortably with a straight spine.

• Reach the right arm up, bend the elbow, and drop your right hand between the shoulder blades.

• Place your left hand on the right elbow and press gently to intensify the stretch.

• Hold the pose for eight to 10 breaths.

• Switch sides and repeat.

8. Backward Hand Clasp

• Stand with your feet hip width apart.

• Interlace your fingers behind you and press your palms together.

• Lift the arms as high as you can until you feel the stretch in the front of your shoulders.

• Hold the pose for eight to 10 breaths.

9. Supported Fish Pose

This pose will stretch the chest, the front of the shoulders, and neck.

• Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you, or with your knees bent and your feet resting on the floor.

• Place a small stack of blankets or two yoga blocks behind you so that when you lean back, one will rest between your shoulder blades and one will support your head.

• Lean back onto the blocks and relax your arms on other side of your body.

• Relax in this pose for eight to 10 breaths.

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5 Chest Stretch Variations

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.

9 Yoga Poses to Open Your Shoulders

Who doesn’t have a cranky neck, back, or set of shoulders? Whether it’s from an injury, all of the slumping we do all day at a desk, or even walking down the street, hunching is the body’s natural way of protecting itself from outsiders by physically closing off access to the vital organs. Any time you notice that you are slouching forward, try to take a moment to roll your shoulders back and take a deep breath. Pick any three (or more if you have time) of these yoga moves, and your shoulders will drop, your chest will open, and your breath will start to come deeper and more easily.

Forward Fold with Clasp: Stand, clasp hands behind back, and take a big inhale to open chest. On exhale, soften knees and fold forward, letting head fall toward the ground and gently releasing neck. If you feel comfortable, bend one knee and then the other, getting more into your shoulders. Stay here for 5 deep breaths.

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Dolphin: Begin on hands and knees. Hold opposite elbows to get shoulder’s distance, then place forearms parallel to one another. Drop head and reach chest back through arms in the direction of your feet to enhance shoulder opening. Stay here for 5 deep breaths.

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Reverse Prayer: Sit comfortably, float arms down to either side of body and, bending elbows, reach arms behind back. Press palms together in a prayer position on spine and reach hands as high up spine as feels good. Stay here for 5 deep breaths.

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Eagle: From standing, hug left knee to chest. Bend right knee and cross left leg around right leg, hooking left foot on either side of right leg. Wrap right arm under right arm. Sit down as low as you can and lift up through arms to stay balanced, reaching elbows and fingertips up and away from face. Stay here for 5 long, deep breaths. Unwind and repeat on other side. (If preferred, you can do the same arms pose without the legs in a seated position.)

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Bow: Lie facedown, bend knees, and grab ankles. Press feet into hands, keeping knees hip-width apart, and lift chest off the ground. Stay here for 5 deep breaths.

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Cow Face: Kneel and reach right arm to the ceiling. Bend right elbow and allow right hand to fall between shoulder blades. Take left hand to right elbow and allow weight of hand to deepen the shoulder opening (no pushing!). If this is easy for you, bring left arm down, bend the elbow, and reach left hand up the center of your back, taking hold of right hand. Lean back slightly into arms, taking care that right arm isn’t putting any pressure on neck. Stay here for 5 deep breaths.

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Thread the Needle: Begin on all fours. Reach right arm underneath body, allowing right shoulder and temple to release to the ground. Allow left hand to stay where it is, or crawl it a bit to the right over to your head. Stay here for 5 deep breaths. Repeat on other side.

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Criss-Cross: Lie facedown on stomach. Lift torso and thread right arm underneath left at shoulder height, about a 90-degree angle away from body. Reach left arm the opposite direction (again, about 90-degree angle away from torso). Hook chin over shoulders. Walk fingers away from one another to lengthen arms and breathe here for 5 deep breaths. Repeat on other side.

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8-Point: Lie facedown on stomach. Reach left arm out at a 90-degree angle from body with palm facing up. Use right hand under right shoulder to start to press away, bending right knee. If comfortable, reach left toes behind left knee as you rotate body. Reach right arm to ceiling, flex palm, and allow hand to fall toward the ground with gravity. Stay there for as long as you like. If there’s enough space, allow right hand to meet the left in a clasp and breathe there for as long as feels good. (Warning: This is a deep one, come out of the pose as slowly and mindfully as you came in!)

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  • By Heidi Kristoffer @heidikristoffer

There are plenty of good reasons to complete your weekly allotment of chest exercises, only some of which relate to your aspirations of being a Multi-Plate Bench Press Guy: The chest is composed of some of the largest muscles in your body, and even when you’re not in the gym, you use them all the time. Pushing open a door? Picking up your dry cleaning? Washing your hair (or what’s left of it)? Yes, yes, and yes.

The sheer volume of exercises. though—and the sanctity with which every gym rat learns to treat their chest day—can make it tough to know what, exactly, to do, or if you’re doing those things right. For help, we asked a few top trainers to share what they think are the best bets for building bulk and perking pecs. As is the case with most group-specific training, you can work your chest on up to three non-consecutive days each week, if you so choose. You’ll be stacking those plates in no time.

Arnold chest press

Equipment: Heavy set of dumbbells

Do it: Start by lying flat on a bench holding a dumbbell in each hand, pressed directly overhead with your palms facing towards your feet. Lower the weights down towards the chest while rotating your wrists clockwise, so that the palms face your face at the bottom of the movement. Slowly return to the starting position for one rep. Do three sets of six reps.

Trainer tip: “Really slow down the chest press in the eccentric phase—as the weights are being lowered,” suggests Lindsey Clayton, a trainer at Barry’s Bootcamp and co-founder of Brave Body Project. “It helps to focus on the muscles as they lengthen, instead of as they contract, which results in a stronger and more powerful chest.”

Svend press

Equipment: Two five-pound plates

Improve Posture and Chest Flexibility with this Easy Corner Wall Stretch

Here’s an easy exercise for a heart opening chest stretch. Improve flexibility for the chest, arms, & shoulders. Enhance posture for Pilates, fitness, & daily life.

When we think about improving posture and avoiding that hunched over Quasimodo look. It’s important to balance out the upper body by increasing upper back strength (to help hold us vertical,) and stretching the front of the body to open the chest so we can stand up tall. In order to get the best benefits to balance this relationship between the upper back and front of the body, we’ve got to start by opening the chest.

Since 98% of what we do in life is in front of us, our chest muscles are naturally stronger. Lifting and carrying groceries, boxes, children, almost anything, and we’re using the front of our arms and chest. This repetitive action to the front causes our muscles to get stronger and tighter, which over time may start restricting our chest and arm flexibility. Then all of a sudden, you’re thinking about standing tall and to get there you might be just pinching your shoulder blades together, thinking that you’re standing taller, when in reality your chest didn’t really lift or open much at all.

If you sit in front of a computer all day, swim, lift weights, run with your arms held in tight to your body, or do any type of physical lifting heavy or light, this stretch is for you!

  • Find a corner in your room where 2 walls come together. Be sure it’s clear of furniture and pictures hanging on the walls.
  • Stand facing the corner and put your arms up on the walls at a ninety degree angle, elbows just a little lower than your shoulders. Palms of your hands and forearms on the wall.

There are a lot of different things I focus on and cue for my clients in this position for arm and shoulder strength and flexibility. Today I want you to really think about maintaining tall (or taller) posture with good lower abdominal support the whole time.

  • Inhale and gently pull your shoulders down while pressing your forearms firmly against the wall. This should begin to reach the bottom of your shoulder blades towards your elbows, and elbows more firmly against the wall.
  • Exhale and take a step forward with your right foot to lunge in towards the corner.
  • Lift your chest and eye focus up a little higher as you bring your body forward through your arms.
  • Stay here and breathe, Inhale shoulders down and wide, exhale lift your chest and reach it in towards the corner. Take 3-5 breaths, then step back and release.
  • Repeat again, this time stepping forward with the left foot.

What To Watch For:

As you start to step forward, if you notice your shoulders elevate, your chest will not open. At this point the thing that’s probably leading to move you forward is your lower back and a relaxed belly. Be sure to keep your abdominals lifted and shoulders down so as you move forward into the corner you feel your breastbone sliding up while the upper back moves forward between your shoulders and arms, leading the way to a bigger chest stretch.

How Many Repetitions?

Sometimes, I’ll just do this once stepping in on the right, and once on the left. If you know you need it… Repeat another 2 times on each side to help improve your flexibility and open the chest.

A Helpful Hint…

Never force yourself into any position. Go along with your breath. If your chest muscles relax, they will allow you to move forward into a deeper stretch. If your chest muscles are really tight and fighting against you, hold the position you’re in and just keep breathing until you feel things start to let go and relax. Then if you want a little more stretch you can ride the exhale and release to move forward. This Corner Wall Stretch will really help to improve the flexibility of your chest, arms, and shoulders.

When To Stretch

Use this Corner Wall Chest Opening Stretch during or after your workouts, at the end of your day, or anytime you’re feeling the need to sit and stand taller with less muscle stress. If you watch your animals, cats and dogs stretch every time they get up. How often are you stretching? Take just a moment every now and then throughout your day to stretch and it will go a long way to keeping your body flexible and fit!

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Looking for more Pilates, Health, & Fitness Tips? Check out ALL the video’s I’ve got posted on my YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/centerworks

Posted by Aliesa George in Exercise and Fitness, Pilates, Videos and tagged chest muscle stretch, chest opening exercises, chest stretch, Exercise Tips, fitness corner stretch, improve posture, pilates posture, Posture, shoulder stretch, upper body stretching.

Copyright: If you reprint a post on this site or re-post it on your own blog or website, you must include the following attribution: © MMVIII-MMXIII, Aliesa George and Centerworks©. Used by Permission. Originally posted on Centerworks.com.

These Chest Exercises Will Totally Transform Your Upper Body in 21 Days

Alex Sandoval

Working out your chest probably isn’t the first thing on your to-do list in the gym—but maybe it should be. Your chest muscles (a.k.a., pectoral muscles or “pecs,” which are some of the largest in your body), are responsible for your upper body’s stability, helping you to maintain proper posture, and even play a part in your ability to breathe deeply. Plus, they help you tackle everyday functional tasks like pushing open doors or picking up groceries.

Over the next 21 days, expect to tone those chest muscles, increase flexibility, and possibly even give your breasts a lift (breast tissue sits on top of the pectoral muscles, FYI) with these 17 strengthening and stretching moves. Get started and put your best chest forward.

Image zoom Emma Darvick

RELATED: This 30-Day Arms Challenge Will Transform Your Upper Body In Just 4 Weeks

Isometric Chest Squeeze

Image zoom Alex Sandoval

Stand tall with one foot slightly in front of the other and a dumbbell in each hand. Bend elbows, bringing weights in front of chest. Lift dumbbells so your elbows are slightly above your shoulders, squeeze weights together and hold.

Standing Press

Image zoom Alex Sandoval

Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand. Bend your elbows, brining arms out to sides to form two 90-degree angles. Maintaining this position, bring arms/weights in to touch. Return to start. This is one rep.

Standing Hands Above Head Stretch

Image zoom Alex Sandoval

Stand tall and place hands lightly on the back of your head, fingers interlocked. Gently squeeze shoulder blades together as you pull your elbows and hands back, and hold.

RELATED: Exercises To Get A Bigger Butt

Lying Dumbbell Chest Press

Image zoom Alex Sandoval

Lie faceup with knees bent and feet flat on the ground. With a dumbbell in each hand, extend arms straight up, palms facing out. Slowly bend arms, lowering them to your side until your elbows nearly touch the ground. Reverse movement to return to start. This is one rep. Note: For Day 8, legs will be in table top position.

Lying Dumbbell Chest Fly

Image zoom Alex Sandoval

Lie faceup with knees bent and feet flat on the ground. With a dumbbell in each hand, extend arms straight up, palms facing in. Keeping a slight bend in elbows, lower your arms out to the sides of your body until your hands are about six inches off the ground. Slowly reverse the movement to return to start. This is one rep. Note: For Day 8, legs will be in table top position.

Sphinx Pose

Image zoom Alex Sandoval

Lie facedown with legs hip-width distance apart and forearms on the ground. Press into forearms and lift head and chest off of floor as you squeeze thighs and butt, and press the pubic bone into the ground; hold.

RELATED: This 30-Day Bodyweight Challenge Will Tone and Tighten Your Entire Body

Hand-Release Pushup

Image zoom Alex Sandoval

Get into a straight-arm plank with hands under shoulders, feet hip-width apart, and core tight. Lower body until your chest touches the floor. Retract your shoulder blades and lift both hands off the floor. Place hands back on floor, and then push back up to start. This is one rep.

Wide-Grip Pushup

Image zoom Alex Sandoval

Get into a straight-arm plank with hands slightly wider than shoulders, feet hip-width apart, and core tight. Bend elbows, lowering body until your chest nearly touches the floor. Push back up to start. This is one rep.

Sitting Chest Stretch

Image zoom Alex Sandoval

Stand tall, with fingers interlaced behind your back and near your butt. Keeping your back straight and shoulder blades together, push your arms up until you feel the stretch.

Lateral Lunge to Chest Press

Image zoom Alex Sandoval

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed forward, and a medicine ball in hands at chest level. Take a large step out to the right with your right foot as you drop your hips down and back while keeping the left leg straight. Simultaneously press the medicine ball straight out in front of you. Press into your left heel to rise back up to standing position as you simultaneously pull the medicine ball back in to chest. Repeat move on the other side. This is one rep.

RELATED: Jessamyn Stanley’s 5-Minute Yoga for Beginners

Medicine Ball Chest Throw

Image zoom Alex Sandoval

Stand facing a wall about six feet away with a medicine ball in hands at chest level. Explosively pass the ball from your chest to the wall as hard as you can. Catch the ball on the rebound. This is one rep.

Wall Stretch

Image zoom Alex Sandoval

Start in a split stance with left leg in front of right at the end of a wall. Bring the right arm up to shoulder height and place the palm and inside of the arm on the wall. Gently press the chest through the open space to feel the stretch and hold. Repeat the move on the other side.

Lying Dumbbell Chest Press Variation

Image zoom Alex Sandoval

Lie faceup with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing forward, and feet flat on ground. Lift arms straight up so the dumbbells are in line with shoulders. Keeping left arm lifted, lower your right arm down until your elbow is even with your shoulder. Lift the right arm back up to start and then lower the left arm while keeping the right arm straight up. Lift the left arm back up to start. Lower both arms, and then press back up to start. This is one rep.

Inchworm to Pushup

Image zoom Alex Sandoval

Start standing with feet hip-width apart. Hinge forward at your hips and place your palms on the ground. Walk your hands forward to come into a straight-arm plank. Bend elbow and lower chest down to perform on pushup. Push back up to high-plank and then walk hands back in toward feet and stand up. This is one rep.

Dumbbell Pullover

Image zoom Alex Sandoval

Lie faceup, holding one dumbbell overhead with both hands. Press the weight over your chest, then slowly reach back over your head, continuing until you feel a stretch in your lats. Next, slowly pull the dumbbell back over your chest. This is one rep.

Kneeling Medicine Ball Throw

Image zoom Alex Sandoval

Kneel facing a wall about six feet away with a medicine ball in hands at chest level. Explosively pass the ball from your chest to the wall as hard as you can. Catch the ball on the rebound. This is one rep.

Lying Pec Stretch

Image zoom Alex Sandoval

Lie facedown with arms out to sides so your body forms a “T.” Pushing off the ground with your left hand, slowly roll your weight onto your right side. Lift your left leg, bend the knee, and place the left foot behind you on the floor for stability; hold. Return back to start and repeat the move on the other side.

RELATED: Hit All Your Major Muscles With This 6-Move Kettlebell Workout

Welcome to the Journey

Let me start this yoga sequence post with a declaration of sorts…..

Every single person on the planet needs to do this type of work. Period. Drop the mic. And that includes you.

Like the title of this post states, today’s sequence has a two part goal.

Stretch the Chest.

Open the Shoulders.

Okay cool Allie, I can read, but why does every person need it. And what if I feel pretty damn open in my chest + shoulders, do I still need it?

Yes, you still need it and here’s why.

Our ENTIRE LIFE is one of forward movement. Let’s take a moment to think about how we live, how we maneuver through everyday tasks, and become more aware of our body’s shape + actions.

Most of us drive a vehicle, which involves a steering wheel + your hands on it, which equals a rounding of the shoulders, closing off of the chest, and a general forward motion of the body.

Most of us wash dishes, do laundry, cook our meals and eat our meals. Envision your body in this shape, what do your shoulders look like, how closed off is your chest in these moments.

Most of us use a smartphone, a computer, or a tablet to communicate, entertain and do work. What shape is your body mimicking in these moments.

And lastly – we sleep.

Most of us don’t sleep directly on our backs, face up, shoulders rolling back and chest spreading + opening. Most of us roll to our sides, sleep on our bellies, or make a shape somewhere in-between.

……are you starting to catch my drift as to why EVERY SINGLE HUMAN BEING needs to work on opening + stretching the

Chest + Shoulders.

I think we’re now all in agreement – yeah?

Related: Yoga Practice to Combat Sitting – Open Your Chest, Stretch Your Shoulders, Improve Your Posture, Energize Your Body

Today’s simple sequence is comprised of beautiful yoga postures to start the conversation of opening + stretching. We want to encourage the shoulders to open and soften, while the chest expands and stretches.

These postures can be done together, alone or weaved into a personal yoga practice/teaching. I offer these to you as a simple way to begin your journey.

I will be using two yoga props for this sequence, a block + a strap. If you don’t have these epic yoga tools, get yourself some by clicking the links below.

  • yoga blocks
  • yoga strap

And now let’s stop the chatting and start the opening + stretching!

Strap Work

  • Hold a strap wider than shoulder-width distance & start with the strap resting atop your thighs
  • Inhale breath brings your strap up towards the sky
  • Exhale breath brings the strap overhead and down towards the ground
  • Do this 5-10x to awaken the shoulders + expand the chest
  • This exercise is a wonderful tool to do daily or add into your yoga/exercise practice

Puppy Pose

  • Do this posture after warming up the body or do it at 50% if the body is not warm yet
  • Choose forehead to floor/block or chin to the floor (this will deepen the posture)
  • Take childs pose + prop elbows onto blocks (bend arms + send thumbs towards neck) if the posture is too intense
  • Do focus on keeping hips over knees
  • and always breathe…..

Shoulder Floor Opener

  • The extended arm MUST be in alignment with the shoulder socket
  • Do keep the head relaxing towards the ground or prop onto a block to relax
  • Choose to keep the back leg bent (like shown), straight or stacked atop the other leg
  • Stay incredibly aware if you’ve gone too deep & simply back off
  • Use this posture to find a deep, but therapeutic stretch

Related: Yoga Class to Relax Your Neck + Shoulders

Bow Pose

  • Do this posture after warming up the body – strengthening + opening
  • Start with knees together + feet together
  • Always breathe here & recognize if you lose the breath (if so, back out and move slower)
  • Choose to do this posture at 30% or 110% – do what feels good here, focus on the stretch + strength, not the shape

Related: Bow Pose Video Tutorial

Wheel Pose

  • Do this posture towards the end of your practice
  • Modify by doing bridge pose or place a block between your thighs for added alignment + engagement
  • Just like bow pose, always breathe here, notice if you lose the breath and choose to back out or take a modified version

Related: Wheel Pose Video Tutorial

Supported Fish Pose

  • Use two blocks to prop your body up – one at the second height & one at the tallest height to start
  • The middle block’s position will align with your would-be bra strap
  • Do this posture to ground yourself at the beginning of your yoga practice or to seal your yoga practice
  • Weave this posture into yin/restorative sequences
  • Do this every damn day to combat your forward moving lifestyle

Related: Open Your Heart + Hips Video

Stretch Your Chest + Open Your Shoulders Yoga Sequence – Pin now, start stretching + opening your body now!

5 Yoga Poses for Strong Shoulders

Did you know that exercisers who regularly lift weights injure their shoulders more often than any other part of the body?

The complicated nature of the shoulder joint makes injuries in the area difficult to diagnose and treat. But the good news is that aside from following proper training techniques, you can use yoga to practice injury-prevention and decrease your risk for a shoulder injury.

And if the injury prevention aspect isn’t reason enough to supplement your exercise routine with yoga (especially these poses for your shoulders), then maybe the fact that yoga also provides a long list of other health and fitness benefits will help to further convince you.

For instance, if you have weight loss goals, yoga is a great way not only to burn calories, but it can also help you to curb food cravings by strengthening your mind-body connection. Plus, yoga has the ability to reduced your cortisol levels (a hormone that is associated with stress and immune system suppression), improve your cognitive functions and lower your stress levels.

Whatever your fitness goals may be, you can use the following shoulder-strengthening yoga exercises to help build strength and stability around the joint.

-Yoga Poses for Strong Shoulders-

1. Downward Facing Dog to High Plank
Start in downward facing dog. Keep your core tight and your hands and feet in place as you slowly roll forward through your shoulders to high plank position. Hold the plank for two to three breaths before reversing the movement and returning to down dog. Repeat for 10 to 15 reps.

High Plank Position

2. Alternating Side Planks
Start in high plank position. Keep your core tight as you slowly roll over to your right side, using your right arm for support. Hold the side plank for two to three breaths before returning to the high plank position and repeating the movement on your left side. Alternate between a right and left side plank for 10 to 15 reps.

Side Plank Position

3. Plank Walk-Ups
Start in high plank position. Keep your core tight and your spine neutral as you slowly lower down onto your right forearm and then your left. Hold the forearm plank for one or two breaths before using your arms to “walk” back up to the high plank position, leading with your right arm. Repeat this sequence for 10 to 15 reps, alternating between leading with your right and left arm.

4. Downward Facing Dog to Forearm Downward Facing Dog
Start in downward facing dog. Hold for two to three breaths before slowly lowering down to your forearms (see photo at top of this page). Hold here for two to three breaths before lifting back up to your palms for full downward facing dog. Repeat for 10 to 15 reps.

5. Alternating Forearm Side Planks
Start in a forearm plank. Keep your core tight and your right forearm planted firmly on the ground as you slowly roll over to your right side, using your right arm for support. Hold the forearm side plank for two to three breaths before returning to the starting position and repeating the movement on your left side. Alternate between right and left forearm side planks for 10 to 15 reps.

5 Yoga Poses to Strengthen the Shoulders

Shoulders are a tricky part of the body, anatomically speaking. They are a naturally mobile joint, with many connecting muscles and ligaments that are prone to injury. Pain in the shoulder can be associated with strains, tears and strength imbalances. Fortunately, a few key yoga poses can help build strength and relieve tension in the shoulder muscles, which can add to overall stability and help prevent injury. If the shoulder is already injured (a rotary cuff tear, for example), consult your physician before attempting any yoga postures.

1. Plank

Not only is plank a core strengthening powerhouse, but it also works the shoulders and provides an opportunity to stabilize the shoulder girdle.

Starting from hands and knees, bring your hands directly underneath your shoulders, fingers spread wide. Extend your legs to lift your knees off the ground and engage your core. Draw your shoulder blades down your back, and try to press your chest slightly forward to broaden your upper back. You should feel as if you are pushing the floor away and hugging muscles to bones.

  • Option – Side Plank

For an increased shoulder-strengthening move, take plank into side plank by turning to one side and lifting one arm to the sky. Feet can stack, stagger, or you can bring the bottom knee to the ground for support. Continue to press the floor away and work to separate your shoulders.

2. Dolphin

From plank, lower yourself onto your forearms and walk your feet in to lift your hips high (so the body is in an upside down “V” shape). Press firmly into your forearms and send your shoulder blades toward your hips.

  • Option – Forearm Plank

From dolphin, walk your feet back out until you are in forearm plank, with your body in one straight line. Use your core to keep you solid, while drawing your shoulders down your back and keeping your elbows stacked under your shoulders.

  • Option – Dolphin Pushups

Flow between dolphin and forearm plank, moving slowly, smoothly and with the breath.

3. Warrior 2

From downward facing dog, step your left foot between your hands, spin your right foot down to a 45-degree angle. Bring your arms into a “T” shape so your fingers are in the same line as your feet. Bend into your left knee, ensuring that the left knee is aligned over the left heel. Stretch through your chest, shoulders and arms. Switch sides.

  • Option – Upturned Arms

For a nice shoulder release, flip your palms to face the ceiling, keeping your arms outstretched. Relax your shoulders down and back.

  • Option – Chest Opener

Reach your arms behind your back to interlace your fingers and press your palms together. Use a strap if your hands don’t touch. Lift your chest and lengthen your spine as you draw your shoulders down your back, pushing your hands toward the wall behind you. For more intensity, hinge forward, keeping the same arm position.

4. Warrior 1 with Eagle Arms

Adding eagle arms to Warrior 1 allows for a nice upper back and shoulder stretch. Come into Warrior 1 with your hips and shoulders squaring toward the front of your mat, bring your left arm under your right so your elbows are stacked and your forearms wrap around each other and palms meet. Float your elbows up and down, moving with your inhales and exhales to work deeper into the shoulders. Switch sides.

  • Option – For less intensity, bring opposite hands to shoulders instead of joining palms.

5. Lunge with Cow Face Arms

Cow face arms is another upper body position you can add on to other poses to get a good stretch in the rotator cuffs. Standing in a high lunge, bring the left arm up and over the back, so your elbow is facing the ceiling and your hand reaches between your shoulder blades. Reach your right arm around your back so your right hand grasps your left hand. Work to straighten your spine and draw the elbows away from each other. Switch sides.

  • Option – Modify by using a strap if your hands do not meet.

You can add this sequence into any yoga or exercise routine to help stretch and strengthen your shoulders. If there is pain during any of the poses, gently come out of them and talk to your doctor before attempting again.

Yoga poses for shoulders

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