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.
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.
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.
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.
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.