How to Relieve Your Tight Chest Muscles

Your Personal PT, Rachel Tavel, is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), so she knows how to get your body back on track when it’s out of line. In this weekly series, she gives you tips on how to feel better, get stronger, and train smarter.

Whether you spend your days at a desk typing or on the move glued to your cellphone, chances are something is going to give. Our bodies aren’t meant to be in one position all day. By repeatedly putting your body in the same position, you’re bound to develop tight muscles that reflect that position and movement pattern.

Thanks to our fixation and reliance on technology, tight chest muscles are often the culprit. Most of us spend more than a decent portion of our day on our phones or laptops, which encourage the shoulders to round, the upper back to fold forward and the head to jut anteriorly. Besides the not-so-sexy “tech neck” posture, this can also contribute to tight pecs.

So what exactly is going on? The pectoralis (“pec”) major and minor are two of the largest muscles in the front of the chest. The pec major spreads from the sternum and a portion of the clavicle (collar bone) out towards the humerus (upper arm bone). The pec minor is below the pec major and spreads from three of your ribs up towards the coracoid process of the scapula (the anterior portion of the shoulder blade). Stretching the pecs is one of the best ways to combat tight chest muscles and open up the shoulders.

Your move: You’ll want to do two things regularly: One, stretch the pecs, and two, strengthen the muscles between your shoulder blades, like the rhomboids and middle traps. This one-two punch of stretching and strengthening will help open up the front of your chest while strengthening the muscles of the shoulder girdle that help maintain this more open position.

Begin with a pec stretch on a foam roller if you have one. If you don’t, you can check out this option from TriggerPoint.

Lie flat on your back with the foam roller under your spine, knees bent, head and pelvis supported. Start with your arms in front of you then slowly let them open up at your sides forming the letter “T” with palms facing up towards the ceiling. If you’re stretching sans roller, try a doorway stretch, lining up both forearms against the side of a standard doorway and slowly pressing your body through the space. Take several deep breaths in either of these positions, staying in the stretch for at least 30 to 60 seconds. Complement a pec stretch with 2 to 3 sets of resisted rows at moderate resistance and a healthy dose of postural awareness. The result: stronger shoulders and more open pecs.

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