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October 07, 2022 12 min read

Whether you’re a bodybuilder, gym enthusiast, or simply someone who works in front of a computer screen from nine to five each day, tension and tightness in your chest muscles could be a problem.

Therefore, getting familiar with chest stretches that can soothe tension and avoid injury can benefit you significantly. You’d be surprised how much better a few simple stretches can make you feel, many of which are yoga poses.

Driving, swimming, office work, and lifting weights or other heavy objects all require your chest and arm muscles to help you get the job done.

Life’s tasks and activities mostly occur in front of us, and it is not surprising that our chest muscles could easily become overworked and tight, increasing the risk of injuries.

 

Most strength trainers and bodybuilders work hard to increase the size of their chests, and the harder those muscles, the stronger and bigger their chests.

Therefore, it is crucial to ensure they maintain flexible chest muscles so their shoulder joints and scapulae can move through the full range of motion.

Here, we will discuss the best chest stretches for soothing chest tightness, and help you identify the cause of the discomfort. We will look at the anatomy of the chest muscles, the benefits of stretching the chest muscles, and 10 of the best chest stretches for tight chest muscles.  

We aim to help you move better, feel better, and look better.

The anatomy of the chest muscles

Your chest muscles, or pectoral muscles, are located in the part of your body located between your neck and your upper abdomen. It contains two primary muscles, the pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor.

Chest muscles – Image from Shutterstock

The pectoralis major

The primary chest muscle is the large superficial pectoralis major muscle. It runs at different angles across the chest area.

The pec major is attached at two primary points. The first is in the upper chest, called the clavicular head because its origin is at the anterior surface of the collar bone, or clavicle’s medial half.

The lower chest houses the sternal head, which originates at the anterior surface of the sternum. Both these attachments insert on the humerus and control most of the upper body pushing movements, and they also stabilize pulling movements.

The pectoralis minor

The pec minor is located underneath the pec major. Its function is to help control and stabilize your shoulder blades (scapulae). 

If either of these pec muscles is tensed or tight, it could reduce the range of motion, causing poor strength and movement and increasing injury risks.

CHEST MUSCLE MOVEMENTS

Tight chest muscles affect the range of motion of the shoulders and arms.

The following movements could be compromised: 

  • Shoulder Flexion movements like front raises
  • Shoulder Extension/Adduction movements like chin-ups and pull-ups
  • Horizontal Adduction movements like bench presses
  • Internal Rotation movements like cable internal rotation

Often called the hugging muscles, for obvious reasons, the chest muscles are used for horizontal adduction. Furthermore, for movements like pushing yourself off the ground, tackling an opponent, and throwing or hitting with power, you need a full range of motion and a strong, flexible chest.

Importantly, overly tight pec muscles can even influence one’s everyday activities and cause a slouched posture, which could give rise to a host of other problems.

How can you benefit from stretching your chest muscles?

Although everybody can benefit from stretching their chest muscles, we’ll look at this from the point of lifters who wish to build muscular chests. It is not uncommon for lifters to disregard the need for stretches, saying it is too time-consuming.

However, it is not wise to overlook the importance of spending a few minutes doing stretches.

Here are four of the most significant benefits:

  1. Performance: Similar to any other tight muscle, a tight pec muscle will be unable to perform at its fullest range of motion. Tight chest muscles cause poor shoulder mobility, often decreasing the performance of athletes on sports fields, and jeopardizing muscle gains in the gym.
  2. Breathing: The chest muscles are attached to the rib cage and play a significant role in the expansion and contraction of the rib cage to accommodate the lungs in the breathing process. Tight chest muscles will undoubtedly compromise your ability to breathe deeply during high-intensity exercises.
  3. Blood circulation: Stretching increases blood flow, boosts oxygen levels and helps deliver nutrients to your muscles, benefiting overall wellness.
  4. Posture: Neglecting chest muscle stretches can cause an ape-like posture with rounded shoulders and an overtrained chest with tight muscles. Such a slouched posture can be avoided by ensuring the chest muscles are stretched to their optimal length.
  5. Recovery and injury prevention: The purpose of stretching chest muscles after a workout is to help muscles return to their resting length soon enough to prevent or reduce soreness. Most importantly, proper stretching can ensure a good range of motion and posture, both of which  reduce injury risks.

It is always best to check with your physician or physical therapist if you experience discomfort or pain before continuing with stretching exercises or other routines. In some cases, it is best to undergo physical therapy to recover from extreme muscle tension.

Types of stretches and when to do them

Muscles and their net-like surrounding fascia stretch easily when they are warm, but they are hard to stretch when they are cold. Think of it as candle wax, which is soft and pliable when warm, but hard and solid when cold. There are two types of stretches, static and dynamic, and here’s an explanation of which type to use and when.

Dynamic Stretches

Dynamic stretches are those you do through a range of motion, which warms cold muscles as the controlled movements progress. Muscular tension is released, preparing the muscles for the work ahead.

Therefore,  dynamic stretches are best done before the workout.

 

For example,  standing arm circles  are stretches that serve as a warm-up before upper-body training. They are typically performed as reps rather than held for a period of time.

Static Stretches

Static stretching is done when you lie, stand, or sit still, doing a stretch and holding it for an extended period of time at the end of the movement.  

Static stretches are best done after a workout when your muscles are warm, and need stretching to return to their resting length.

For example,  a chest doorway stretch held for one minute. Unlike dynamic stretches, static stretches are when the muscles are warm, and they are not done in reps but are held for extended periods of time instead.

10 Best static and dynamic chest stretches

Some stretches can be done as dynamic or static stretches, others are limited to one type. Below are two static-only stretches, five dual-purpose, and three dynamic-only stretches.

1. STANDING WALL BAR CHEST STRETCH

This stretch is versatile, allowing you to control the intensity according to what is comfortable. It will open up your chest as much as you allow it to. You can manage the intensity of the stretch by lowering or raising your arms, based on your mobility.

Along with your chest muscles, this will also stretch your biceps and anterior shoulder muscles. Remember, let comfort and discomfort be your guide here.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Although wall bars are great for this stretch, anything solid that will allow you to hold on and keep your wrists neutral will work.
  • Stand up straight with your back to the wall bar — an arm’s length away from it.
  • Reach behind you and reach your hands behind you and take a shoulder-width grip on the bar as high as is comfortable for you.
  • To feel the stretch more, you can puff out your chest. Puff your chest out to feel the stretch more.

For this static stretch:  Hold for between 30 seconds and 2 minutes.

 

2. SEATED SHOULDER EXTENSION STRETCH

You will have the most stability and ability to maximize a stretch of your chest muscles and also your anterior deltoid if you are seated on the floor. This position is great for your posture because you get the most out of this exercise if you sit up straight.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Sit on the floor with 90-degree bent knees bent and your heels or feet on the ground.
  • Lean back, place your hands on the floor behind you and push your chest up while pushing your shoulders down.
  • The areas where you should feel the muscles stretching are your chest, biceps, and anterior shoulder.

For this static stretch: Hold for between 1 and 2 minutes.

 

3. KNEELING CHEST OPENER STRETCH

This stretch can be done as a static or dynamic stretch. With your arms stretching overhead, your lats will be activated along with your chest and shoulder muscles. Mind your lower back though, if you overarch it to achieve a bigger stretch you risk injury.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Start with a bench or chair an arm’s length away, about hip height.
  • Kneel down with your knees and your toes on the floor.
  • Rest your arms on the chair and place your head between your arms.
  • Lower your head down slightly.
  • Actively reach forward to intensify the stretch
.

For a static stretch:  Hold the position for 30 seconds to two minutes

For a dynamic stretch:  Move in and out of the stretch for 8-10 reps with short holds at the end of each rep.

 

4. STANDING ARMS BACKWARD CHEST STRETCH

There’s no excuse for skipping this stretch. It is probably one of the easiest, but most effective, chest stretches — both static and dynamic. In fact, it is effective for the entire upper body because it also stretches the biceps and the anterior shoulder muscles. Let pain be your guide here because putting your arm behind your back could be painful.

Arms backward chest stretch – Image from Shutterstock

Here’s how to do it:

  • Stand up straight with your chest up and your shoulders down.
  • Reach behind your back with both arms with your hands held together.
  • Puff your chest out and straighten your elbows to feel the stretch.
  • To intensify the stretch, raise your arms up behind your back.

For a static stretch:  Hold the position for 30 seconds to one minute.

For a dynamic stretch:  Hold for 10 seconds, release, and repeat for 3 to 5 reps.

 

5. STANDING BENT ARM DOOR CHEST STRETCH

Likely the best-known chest stretch of all for warming up or cooling down. The classic doorway stretch will open up your chest muscles and anterior shoulder for better shoulder mobility and posture. However, your shoulder is in a vulnerable position during this range of motion. Take care not to overstretch and cause injury to your shoulder joint.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Stand tall in a doorway and lift one arm sideways up to shoulder height and bend your elbow 90 degrees.
  • Place your forearm and open hand against the door frame and apply firm pressure with your elbow and hand.
  • Lean into the stance to feel the stretch. Note that at no time should you feel uncomfortable stretching in your shoulder joint.
  • Hold your forearm in place and take a slow step forward through the doorway to stretch your pec muscles, biceps, and anterior shoulder muscles.
  • If your right arm is the one used for this stretch, then use your right leg to step forward.
  • Take care not to arch your back when doing this.
  • If you twist your torso slightly away from the arm you’re stretching, you could include your lats in the stretch — but again, only if you can do this without putting excessive force on the shoulder.
  • Hold the stance for 30 to 60 seconds and turn around to face the opposite way and repeat the range of motion with the other arm.
  • You can move your arm hold slightly higher to focus on the pec minor and lower to work the pec major.

For a static stretch:  Hold the position for 30 seconds to one minute.

For a dynamic stretch:  Hold for 5 to10 seconds, release, and repeat for several reps on each side.

 

6. STANDING STRAIGHT ARM CHEST STRETCH

Stretching your chest muscles one side at a time will help if you have flexibility or mobility between your left and right sides. This will stretch the biceps and shoulder muscles along with your pecs, and you can vary your intensity by how far you will reach back with your hand. Again, take care not to put excessive force on your shoulder.

Straight arm chest stretch – Image from Shutterstock

 

Here’s how to do it:

  • Stand sideways at arm’s length to a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Lift your arm to form a 90-degree angle with your body and place your open hand shoulder height against the wall with your fingers facing back.
  • Slowly slide your hand back until you feel a stretch in your chest without harming your shoulder.
Turn around and repeat, using the other arm to stretch the opposite side.

    For a static stretch:  Hold the position for 30 seconds to one minute.

    For a dynamic stretch:  Hold for 5 to10 seconds, release, and repeat for several reps on each side.

     

    7. CHEST OPENER & THORACIC EXTENSION STRETCH

    This stretch is similar to the kneeling chest opener stretch at number 3, except, here you are standing and stretching a larger range of muscles.

    The modified hinge position also stretches your lower back muscles, glutes, and hamstrings.

    Therefore, if you’re suffering from shoulder pain or back pain you should take extra care and let pain be your guide. Never let stretching do more harm than good.

    Here’s how to do it:

    • Stand at arm’s length from a hip-high solid object like a weight bench, facing it.
    • Bend forward, hinge at your hips, and keep your back straight.
    • Reach forward and hold on to the weight bench with straight arms.
    • Place your head between your arms and look at the floor.
    • Feel the stretch in your chest, lats, hamstrings, and upper back.

    For a static stretch:  Hold for 30 seconds to two minutes

    For a dynamic stretch:  Move in and out of the stretch for 8 to10 reps with short holds of each rep.

     

    8. DYNAMIC OPEN ARM CHEST STRETCH

    This dynamic stretch is ideal to start your stretch routine in preparation for the work to come. It is easy to do and opens up a tense chest while also activating the anterior shoulder muscles.

    Open arm chest stretches – Image from Shutterstock

    Here’s how to do it:

    • Stand up straight and raise your arms in front of you to shoulder height and place your palms together.
    • Open your arms and move them apart horizontally to form a T with your body.
    • Push your chest out to feel the stretch before returning to the starting position.

    For this dynamic stretch:  Do between 10 and 20 reps.

     

    9. DYNAMIC CHEST AND FRONT OF SHOULDER STRETCH

    This dynamic chest and shoulder stretch can be done while standing or lying on your back. You’ll need a PVC pipe, towel, rope, or resistance band. This stretch helps open up your chest and anterior shoulder muscle groups to prepare them for the work ahead. Be careful not to overarch your back to get an extra range of motion. Use your shoulder mobility to guide you.

    Here’s how to do it:

    • Hold the PVC pipe, rope, or chosen object with your hands shoulder-width apart.
    • Stand up straight, and bend your elbows.
    • Pull the bar up to your chin with your arms bent at the elbows.
    • Externally rotate your shoulders to slowly raise your hands holding the bar overhead with straight arms and then lower the bar to behind your head.
    • Feel the stretch in your chest, hold the position for a second, and return the arms slowly to the starting position.

    You can replicate this stretch while lying on your back, except you will keep your arms straight throughout the range of motion, holding the bar with your arms lying by your sides and slowly moving them to be stretched out above your head and back in slow repetitions.

    For this dynamic stretch:  Repeat for 6 to12 reps.

     

    10. DYNAMIC ARM CROSSOVER

    This dynamic stretch is similar to the open arm chest stretch at number 8, except here, you’re crossing over your arms basically hugging yourself. While stretching the chest muscles at the start of the range of motion, you will stretch the upper back and biceps when you hug yourself.

    Here’s how to do it:

    • Start with your arms out to the side, shoulder height with your hands facing the floor.
    • Move your arms across your chest, bending them at the elbows to allow you to bring them around your torso in a hugging motion.
    • Return your arms to the starting position and repeat, alternating having the left hand and right hand on top. 

    For this dynamic stretch: 10 to 20 reps work well

     

    In a nutshell

    Avoid stretching cold muscles. Use dynamic stretch routines to prepare cold muscles and static stretches to release tension from warm muscles after working out.

    Use proper breathing techniques while doing your stretching routine — Take deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth.

    Never use sudden or jerky movements when you do stretches. The best stretches are those done in a slow and controlled manner.

    Do not rush into new stretch routines. Allow yourself to ease into the routine, building on it each day.

    You need not do the entire stretch routine each day, alternating them is just fine.

    Do two or three per day and switch them around on other days. This way you can avoid boredom, which might tempt you to skip your stretch routine, increasing your risk of injuries.

    Each time you exercise, you create small tears in your muscle fibers. As your body rebuilds muscle tissue, your muscles grow stronger and larger. You can help your body by taking muscle recovery supplements.

    WHAT ARE MUSCLE RECOVERY SUPPLEMENTS?

    They are supplements designed to help your muscles recover and refuel from damage done during workouts.

    There are many types of  recovery supplements  from those that help you get better sleep to those that feed your muscles the nutrients necessary for continued growth.