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3 Yoga Poses for Tight, Rounded Shoulders

A how-to guide for 3 of the best yoga poses to unlock tight shoulders and chests.

Unlocking tight shoulders and chests are something that I focus on constantly with my yoga students, CrossFitters and training clients. Rounded shoulders and tight chest muscles have become the norm in our society as we are constantly hunched over desks and steering wheels and carrying heavy bags or children on one side of our bodies. One of the first things I do with new training clients is a postural analysis to check for forward head tilt and rounding of the shoulders.

There are two ways to address shoulder rounding. First, stretch the overdeveloped and tight muscles. This includes the shoulders, chest and usually the lats for most people. Second, strengthen the upper back to help you pull the shoulders back and hold them in place. Many people are constantly performing pushing motions (pushing open doors, pushing strollers, push ups, bench press, lifting things overhead) but rarely performing pulling motions. It’s really important to equalize these movements (especially in your workouts!) so that you don’t have an overdeveloped front or back side body. This is why my workouts always include things like push ups/pull ups, push press/bent over row, squats/deadlifts, etc.

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Today I’m going to address the stretching element of correcting rounded shoulders. I’ll write a separate post on the strengthening piece of the equation. I’m going to share with you three of my favorite simple yoga poses for stretching the shoulders and chest. I use these with everyone I work with from yogis to CrossFitters.

Shoulder Opener 

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To get into this shoulder opener begin by lying flat on your stomach. Bring one arm straight out beside you in a T-shape with the palm placed on the floor. Begin to roll your bodyweight towards the extended arm so that your chest is lifted towards the other side of the room. You can gently press into your opposite palm to help you get deeper. The head can either rest on the floor or on a block if it’s more comfortable for your neck. The most common mistake I see here is students placing the extended arm up closer to the ear instead of straight out from the shoulder. Make sure there is a straight line from shoulder to wrist. Hold for about a minute or as long as you’d like to stay in it.

Chest Opener

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This is a variation of the shoulder opener that gets deeper into the chest muscles. Everything is the same as the shoulder opener but the elbow is bent at a 90-degree angle with palm pressing into the floor. Hold for about a minute or as long as you’d like to stay in it.

Dragonfly

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This pose stretches the front of the shoulders and also unlocks the upper back. To get into it lie facedown on your stomach. Thread one arm underneath the other, trying to bring both arms out in a T-shape with palms down. Come high onto the tips of your toes and shift weight forward and relax into the pose again to help you get your shoulders over your elbows. Rest your chin in the space between the elbows. As you breathe here, think about drawing the front of the shoulders down towards the mat as you pull the shoulder blades apart. Hold for about a minute or as long as you’d like to stay in it.

There are many, many more yoga poses that stretch the shoulders and chest but these three are my go to. Try them and let me know how you feel! As always, let me know if you have questions or feedback.

{ 59 comments… add one }
  • 1
    Liz F. March 28, 2014, 11:43 am

    This is such an awesome post, especially since it’s exactly what I need right now! Thanks so much! Will def start with these poses and adding pulling to my offset my pushing!

    • 2
      Jen March 29, 2014, 2:14 pm

      thanks for the great feedback!

  • 3
    Susie March 28, 2014, 11:48 am

    No joke I have woken up (from a nights sleep) in the dragonfly pose (glad to know it has a name, rather than me just being “special”). Both of my arms were dead asleep. If you have ever fallen asleep on your arm and woken up to it being dead, you know you basically have to throw yourself around to fix the issue. Imagine trying to do that with no arms.
    I have talent.

    • 4
      Jen March 29, 2014, 2:13 pm

      isn’t that the worst feeling!?!?

  • 5
    Kim March 28, 2014, 12:12 pm

    This is perfectly timed for the last workout of the Crossfit Open. 84 thrusters = holy shoulder work! Thanks, Jen!

    • 6
      Jen March 29, 2014, 2:13 pm

      uh yeah, that workout just sounds like misery. i don’t know if i’m going to even attempt it!

  • 7
    Jojo @ RunFastEatLots March 28, 2014, 12:32 pm

    Ah thanks for these! I’ve been having some tight shoulders lately, so these are perfect.

  • 8
    Julie @ Running in a Skirt March 28, 2014, 12:42 pm

    What a great post! Your pictures and explanations are perfect! I’d love to see more of this.

    • 9
      Jen March 29, 2014, 2:12 pm

      it’s been such a hit that i think i’ll make it a weekly(ish) thing!

  • 10
    Kim @ FITsique March 28, 2014, 12:42 pm

    This is awesome. I unfortunately have maybe the tightest chest/shoulders EVER. When I get massages that is always the thing they comment on and tell me to work on. I spend most of my time lifting weights and constantly say “I need to do yoga” but just never get around to it. I will try to incorporate these into my gym routine! I believe that not only do my tight shoulders affect my headaches, but also cause a great deal of lower back tightness as well.

    • 11
      Jen March 29, 2014, 2:12 pm

      these stretches are a great way to relax and open the shoulders without having to commit to an hour long class. and yes, i think they’ll help tons with headaches and tightness!

    • 12
      tara March 31, 2014, 12:50 pm

      Its so funny you post this. Not that long ago i went to an osteopath doctor about low back pain i cant get rid of no matter what i do. he started talking about all these upper back excercises i could do and i was thinking – did he not hear me when i said low back ? well he said the same thing you are saying tight shoulders/underdeveloped small upper back muscles was cuasing my pain. i thought he was nuts but figured what is there to lose. he gave me these basic exercises to do while laying down with tiny little 2-3 lb weights and i thougth – how hard can this be. well….HARD. i realized how weak my small muscles were and low and behold ~ 4 weeks later….way less low back pain ! so its a bit funny to see my grunting in the gym with my 2lb weights laying on a bench and lefting them but it has worked for sure ! Isnt it odd that the source of pain is ususally somewhere totally different ???

  • 13
    Caitlin F. March 28, 2014, 12:46 pm

    Love this! I’ve always been self-conscious about my rounded shoulders, but never knew what to do to correct them. Looking forward to reading the strength post. Thanks!

  • 14
    Amanda Bee March 28, 2014, 1:11 pm

    Great post – I really need to remember to do these more often!

  • 15
    A. March 28, 2014, 1:18 pm

    Thanks, very usefull. I’ll do this today!

  • 16
    Sara @ LovingOnTheRun March 28, 2014, 3:47 pm

    Wow this is awesome! I will be using these for sure – thank you!

  • 17
    Kim March 28, 2014, 3:48 pm

    So excited to see this post today! My trainer had me do band assisted pull-ups (for the first time, yowza!) and bench press among other things yesterday and my chest and shoulders are stiff today. I can’t wait to get home tonight and try these out. I look forward to reading the follow up post on how to strengthen the back.

    On another note, when my husband asked what I wanted for my birthday I suggested the Luxe Box from Erin McDermott. I just received my third box in the mail yesterday. I immediately put in the beautiful earrings paying no mind to the fact that it was 9pm and I was on the couch in my PJs! Thanks so much for sharing this great gift idea!!

    • 18
      Jen March 29, 2014, 2:11 pm

      hey kim – yes, these are great stretches for you given your workout this week. i love what your trainer had you do! 🙂

      i love erin so much and i’m glad you are enjoying her luxe box. it’s one of my favorite days of the month!

  • 19
    Rebekah {aCricketSang} March 28, 2014, 3:51 pm

    These are greatly appreciated by my shoulders right now!

  • 21
    Teri {a foodie stays fit} March 28, 2014, 4:00 pm

    I love that shoulder opener! I feels soooo good, especially when you prop you legs under you like preparing for bridge. Ahhhhh

    • 22
      Jen March 29, 2014, 2:09 pm

      yes! that variation is great for bendy people. you can also try to reach back and interlace the hands behind you if you’re more open.

  • 23
    Lisa @ Running out of Wine March 28, 2014, 6:23 pm

    Thanks for sharing! My chest and shoulders are always really tight, and I think it causes my posture to fall apart when I am running.

  • 24
    Jennifer March 28, 2014, 6:52 pm

    What perfect timing, after a long week of commuting and desk work! My shoulders are really, really tight and I previously only knew poses like Eagle and Cow Face (did I get that right?) that are actually too much some days. These are perfect, thanks!

    • 25
      Jen March 29, 2014, 2:08 pm

      these will be very relaxing and good for you to add to your routine! enjoy!

  • 26
    Lesley March 28, 2014, 6:56 pm

    Thank you!!! It’s like you wrote this post for me…I will definitely try this.

  • 27
    elizabeth March 28, 2014, 8:20 pm

    I meant to ask you, after reading about your eats, how you make your pressed wraps?

    • 28
      Jen March 29, 2014, 2:08 pm

      i usually heat the tortilla for about 20 seconds in the microwave (because i store them in the refrigerator) with a damp paper towel to soften them up and make them easier to wrap. then i put all my sandwich stuff in it, wrap it up and press it on both sides in a skillet with a grill press on top to weigh it down.

      i’ll do a little tutorial soon!

      • 29
        elizabeth March 29, 2014, 5:47 pm

        Look forward to the tutorial. I’ll give it a try tonight. I’ve seen those cast iron grill pans with a press, but haven’t bought one, is that what you have? I’ll just use two skillets.
        I can’t remember if you ever add tomato, or is it too juicy?

        • 30
          Jen March 29, 2014, 5:52 pm

          so i don’t even use a grill pan, i just use a cast iron skillet and then put something heavy on top of the wrap like a weighted grill press or even just another pot. use what you have!

          re: tomato. i haven’t been using them because i can’t get any decent tasting ones yet. it would be very juicy, especially when heated but you could try it! like adding tomato to grilled cheese.

  • 31
    Cat March 29, 2014, 3:24 am

    SO what I needed this morning! A week sat at a desk has been a change for me and now I’m feeling it – I feel like Quasimodo! These are yummy, if that’s a way to describe a stretch…

    • 32
      Jen March 29, 2014, 2:06 pm

      YAY! glad to hear it felt good!

  • 33
    Amanda March 29, 2014, 6:42 am

    This is so helpful! My shoulders are always tight – my posture is terrible :-/

    I was wondering if you have any stretches/moves for tight calves? I’m currently receiving a round of Graston treatments to try to work it out, but any little bit helps. For whatever reason, my calves hate running in the evening, after work – they tighten and cramp up to the point where I just have to throw in the towel. I have a half marathon in 6 ish weeks and I’m worried about making it to the start line. Thanks!

    • 34
      Jen March 29, 2014, 2:06 pm

      first question, do you wear high heels to work? if so, stop wearing them! they shorten your calf and achilles. check out this post i wrote: http://www.peanutbutterrunner.com/why-i-dont-wear-high-heels-anymore/. second, do you stand all day? if so, you need to get your feet up at the end of the day to get all the excess fluid out of your legs. another question, do you wear compression socks or sleeves? these have been a LIFE SAVER for me with calf soreness and tightness.

      regarding stretching, down dog is a great one for the calves. i also promote using a foam roller or lacrosse balls to break up soreness/tightness.

      • 35
        Amanda March 30, 2014, 6:39 am

        Thank you so much for taking the time to reply!
        I rarely wear high heels anymore ( maybe once a week, if that), and sit pretty much all day. I have been living in compression sleeves for the last three weeks – RICE-ing like it’s my job 🙂 !

        I will give down dog a shot!

  • 36
    kate March 29, 2014, 9:12 am

    Shoulder roll {what I call shoulder opener} is my go-to for everyone – there isn’t a person who doesn’t need this pose! Shoulder postures are generally under-sequenced in the yoga world, so glad to see them here!

    • 37
      Jen March 29, 2014, 2:03 pm

      i totally agree! i include these poses in almost every class i teach!

  • 38
    kristy March 29, 2014, 10:01 am

    love this – thank you! during pregnancy i noticed more rounding due to the added weight and now that the weight is gone, the rounding is still there because i’m always hunched over taking care of the baby! i’ve been working on my back more but always neglect to stretch my chest area.

  • 39
    Kelly March 29, 2014, 11:23 am

    Oh wow this looks like just what I need right now!

    Quick question, I have extremely weak wrists (super scientific description, I know) to the point that most excercise routines that require me to put weight on them are extremely uncomfortable. Do you have experience in teaching others how to “build up” resistance in the wrists or anything of that nature?

    • 40
      Jen March 29, 2014, 2:02 pm

      hey kelly, i hear the weak wrist thing with women regularly. first, i recommend giving it time doing the things that bother you. for example, if push ups or down dog are hard because of your wrists, slowly increase the amount of reps or time spent doing them. they will get stronger over time. second, strengthen them by doing wrist curls with really light dumbbells (like 3 lbs) or soup cans. third, stretch them. i usually have people get on all fours and turn their fingertips back towards their knees with palms down and then flip over the hands so palms are up like gorilla hands.

      good luck!

  • 41
    Terry March 29, 2014, 3:07 pm

    Wonderful. Found this on Zite. I get tension headaches and pretty sure tight neck and shoulders contribute. Interesting how differently my two shoulders reacted to these stretches. Right side so much tighter. Anyway, these were just what my body needed. Thanks! I’m 55. Used to be very fit but neck injuries and migraines got me away from regular exercise. Trying to get back. Like your blog. 🙂

    • 42
      Jen March 29, 2014, 3:28 pm

      terry – thank you so much for reading my post and i do hope you find these stretches helpful!

  • 43
    Caitlin March 29, 2014, 7:29 pm

    Thank you SO much for this post. I struggle with chronic tension headaches and occasional migraines and know that some of it has to do with my less than stellar posture and 9 hour days at my computer at work. I have really been thinking about taking up yoga to try and help with the posture/headaches/tightness, so this post was perfect! Thank you 🙂

  • 44
    Lauren March 30, 2014, 8:15 pm

    THANK YOU so much! I carry all my tension and stress in my shoulders so they are constantly tight and sore. Also since doing crossfit they also get super tight. I need this routine in my life STAT!

    http://www.breathedeeplyandsmile.com

  • 45
    Jessica March 31, 2014, 10:36 am

    I’m so glad you posted this. I have major tightness on one side that I see the chiro for. Hopefully this will help so I don’t have to go so often 🙂

  • 46
    Anita April 5, 2014, 11:06 pm

    Thank you for this post and I look forward to part II, the strengthening post. I started crossfit with my husband and recently had a rotator cuff strain and it was because of my posture , tight shoulders and pec, and weak back muscle. I really need to fit yoga back in my schedule.

  • 47
    Brian April 23, 2014, 3:35 pm

    Thank you Jen! I have horrible posture and these poses have helped reduce pain while increasing my range of motion. Thank you thank you thank you!!!

    Brian

    • 48
      Jen April 23, 2014, 3:37 pm

      you’re so welcome. thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • 49
    Amanda December 31, 2014, 11:12 am

    So glad you linked this in your review of 2014 post since I missed it the first time around. I think these poses will help me out a lot. I’m at a desk all day and have had a lot of shoulder and upper back trouble recently. The chiropractor can’t seem to get it to go away and I’m beginning to wonder if it’s more muscular than bone.

  • 50
    john July 15, 2015, 1:15 am

    Hi, i did your exercise and it helped relieved my tight shoulder i’ve had in years.I was wondering if you have any stretches for deltoid and rotator cuff preferably anyone i can do on the floor.Thanks

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