Stretching Exercise for the Pec Minor Muscle - and Your Posture

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Stretching Exercise for the Chest

Line drawing of man doing corner stretch, plus tips.
Stretching exercises should include something for the pecs.

Stretching Exercise for the Pecs and Chest

Experts say those of us working at our desk for long periods of time should take mini-breaks to save our hands and back. In the pages that follow are step-by-step instructions for a great upper body posture stretching exercise.

I love this chest stretch because it "gets" a really important posture muscle called the pectoralis minor. (More about this below.)

In fact, a 2006 study published in the Journal of Elbow and Shoulder Surgery found the way of stretching the pectoralis minor muscle you'll learn in this article resulted in more muscle lengthening (which is what you want to achieve in order to achieve good upper body posture and the benefits that go with it) than two types of manual stretching (generally given by physical and/or massage therapists.)

A tight pectoralis minor muscle is implicated in a very common (especially among office workers) posture condition called kyphosis.  You may be more familiar with kyphosis by its slang phrase "hunch back."  

Either way, when the pec minor muscle gets tight, it pulls the front of the shoulders forward, which in turn either rounds your back into a kyphosis or increases the rounding that's already there.  So one way you can address a "hunch back" is to stretch this all-important muscle.

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Pec Stretch - Start Position

A woman stands in the yoga tadasna or mountain pose.
The start position for the stretching exercise for pecs at the corner is standing with good posture and gaze forward. fizkes

Pec Stretch Start Position

  1. Stand facing a corner with a relaxed, upright posture.  Place your feet so they are parallel with one another, and bend your knees slightly.  This should help you stay as relaxed as possible during the movement, and protect your joints, as well.
  2. Keep your gaze forward, and your chin slightly tucked toward your neck (but don't jam the chin down.)
  3. Inhale, then exhale and gently pull your stomach toward your spine. 

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Corner Pec Stretch - Instructions

A line drawing of a man stretching at a corner, plus text tips.
Stretching exercises for the upper body should include one for the pec minor.

A corner pec stretch is much like a push-up at the wall, except that the emphasis is placed on staying in the position that causes your chest muscles to lengthen. Here are the basic moves.

  1. Place your forearms and palms on either side of the wall at approximately shoulder level.
  2. Inhale.
  3. Exhale, and pulling your lower abdominal muscles into your spine, lean toward the wall. You only need to go to the point where it feels challenging, but causes no pain or discomfort. It's more important to move your whole body as a unit, and not bend anywhere along the chain.  
  4. Hold the position for between 5-30 seconds, then come back to start.

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Chest Stretch - Safety and Effectiveness Tweaks

A man supports his body weight with his hands on a wall.
For stretching exercises for the pecs done at a corner or a wall, distance is key to the intensity of the stretch. Cultura RM/Wonwoo Lee/Getty Images

You should definitely feel the stretch in your upper chest area, but don't over do it.  Control the level of challenge by altering your distance from the wall. You can experiment until you find a distance that allows you to maintain an upright, relaxed posture, but still challenges  your abs in getting you there as one spinal unit.

When you do this exercise, you will benefit from monitoring the posture of your entire body as you go. This is especially true of the hips. The hips should remain straight -- they should not flex or bend to help you accomplish the movement. If you need help, just walk your feet in toward the wall a little, instead.

By the way, another one of my favorite muscles to stretch is the quadriceps.  Tight quads get in the way of good posture.  There are a few ways a beginner or ultra tight person can go about this.  Choose one and go with it.  3 Ways to Get a Good Quad Stretch offers a few.

Sources:

Borstad, J., Ludewig, P. Comparison of three stretches for the pectoralis minor muscle.J Shoulder Elbow Surg. May-June 2006. Accessed: June 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16679233

Bibliography Moffat, Marilyn, P.T. Ph.D. and Vickery, Steve. The American Physical Therapy Association Book of Body Maintenance and Repair. Owl Books. Henry Holt and Company, LLC. New York, New York, 1999. Stretch and Reach p.236

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