Stretching feels oh-so-soothing post-workout or even after sitting on your butt all day. Finding the perfect pose that seems to ease just the right tight spot can instantly calm the mind and offer a deep sigh of physical relief. That’s especially true when you score a sweet upper-body stretch that opens the chest and counteracts our typically hunched-over stance.
While research goes back and forth as to whether stretching can prevent injury and some science says holding static poses can actually hinder workout performance when done pre-sweat, that doesn’t mean you need to skip the ah-mazing release — flexibility is still an important piece of the fitness puzzle.
“When we talk about fitness, we often talk about cardio or aerobic training, strength, and balance. Another key component to fitness is being flexible — flexibility allows you to move,” says Laura Perry, a physical therapist at Impact Physical Therapy in Hillsboro, Oreg. “Flexibility is just as important as strength, stability, and balance, when looking at overall wellness and fitness.”
What’s more: “Stretching is super important for alignment and it helps improve range of motion at a joint,” says Rachel Tavel, a physical therapist at Shift Integrative Medicine. “If you don’t have the range of motion, you might not have the full mobility you need to perform activity.” If the chest is super tight and you don’t have mobility in the spine, it’s difficult to stand up straight or even lift your arms overhead — and that’s where stretching comes in handy.
To help you hit the money spot when it comes to adding mobility to typically unmalleable muscles, here are 12 arm stretches trainers and physical therapists swear by. The gold standard in holding each pose is 30 seconds so aim to settle into each stretch, breathing into the areas of the body that feel tightest. (Perry suggests that for every 30 minutes you’re sitting, standing, or staying in any one position all day, you take 30 seconds to move or bend.)
If you experience pain, though, stop. Don’t try to push through unbearable discomfort (totally not worth the risk of overdoing it)
1. Foam Roller Double Arm Lift
How to: Lie lengthwise on your back on a foam roller, knees bent and head supported. Engage your core muscles to keep the low back flat. Slightly tuck your chin to a neutral position and maintain that position throughout. Slowly and with control, lift both arms up over your head and hold for 30 seconds.
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2. Foam Roller Mid-Back Mobility
How to: Lie lengthwise on your back on a foam roller, knees bent, core engaged, and neck neutral. Reach both arms straight up. Slowly drop arms out to the sides, opening up through the front of the shoulders and chest to feel a stretch. Hold here for 30 seconds.
3. Child’s Pose
How to: Sit so butt rests on your heels. Take your knees as wide as you need to maintain a comfortable position. Reach forward with your hands and hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
4. Thread the Needle
How to: Start on all fours, with your hands directly under the shoulders and the knees under the hips. Keep your chin in, back straight and shoulders back. With one arm, reach under the other as far as possible, rotating and rounding your upper back. Look at your moving hand at all times. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
5. Thoracic Rotation
How to: Lie on your side with the hips and knees bent 90 degrees in front of you. Place both hands together in front of your chest. Keep the bottom arm on the floor, and lift the top arm, reaching it to the opposite side like you’re opening a book. Turn your head toward your top arm. Hold the T shape for 30 seconds.
6. Prayer Stretch
How to: Kneel in front of short step or chair, making sure you’re far enough away so you can bend forward at the waist and place your elbows on it, arms bent, palms touching. Hold here with your chest falling toward the floor for 30 seconds.
7. Lunge with Overhead Reach
How to: Start kneeling, bending both knees 90 degrees. Reach both arms up overhead and hold for 30 seconds.
8. Wrist Flexors and Extensors
How to: Extend one arm straight out in front of you, fingers pointing down. With your other hand, press against the palm so you feel the stretch in the forearm and wrist flexors. Hold here for 30 seconds. Then, flip the fingers to face upward and use your opposite hand to gently apply pressure to the fingers and palm. Hold for 30 seconds. Then switch hands.
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9. Stability Ball Child’s Pose
How to: Sit in front of stability ball with knees wide and butt on heels. Slowly roll ball forwarding, lowering torso until head is between arms. Hold for 30 seconds.
How to: Kneel on mat with knees together and butt on heels. Holding a towel in both hands, extend arms forward at shoulder height. Slowly alternate between squeezing shoulder blades together on back and spreading them wide. Continue for 30 seconds.
11. Shoulder CARs (Controlled Articular Rotations)
How to: Kneel on mat with knees together and butt on heels. Extend arms forward at shoulder height, hands in fists. Begin to draw circles with shoulders, moving in one direction for 30 seconds and then the other.
12. Banded Chest Opener
How to: Grab a resistance band with both hands and stand with feet under hips. Extend arms to side and slowly rotate backward to bring resistance band behind you, then reverse. Continue bringing band back and forth for 30 seconds.