Want To Learn How To Stretch Your Pec Muscles?
These pec stretches can help prevent neck and shoulder pain
Watch this video to learn how to stretch the pec muscles, and what mistakes to avoid.
Why Should You Stretch Your Pec Muscles?
The pectoral muscles, or "pec" muscles, are your chest muscles that attach to the front of your shoulders, and cover your whole chest.
When your pec muscles get stiff, they can cause:
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Numbness/tingling down your arms
- Shoulder pain when doing daily, work, and/or recreational activities
- Difficulty lifting arms overhead or outwards, working a desk job, & overhead sports/weightlifting
- Poor posture
Can Tight Pecs Cause Shoulder Pain?
Yes, having tight pec muscles can cause YOU Shoulder pain.
Having stiff pectoral, or chest muscles, can cause increased rounded-shoulder posturing due to the chest’s main purpose of pulling the shoulders forward.
Having this forward-leaning posture from stiff chest muscles prevents the neck and shoulders from having a full range-of-motion.
Having this poor posture can also compress the nerves that travel down to your arms and cause numbness/tingling throughout them. This can ultimately lead to shoulder and arm pain, decreases in the arm muscles’ function/performance, as well as mobility.
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Pec Major vs. Pec Minor - What's The Difference?
There are two types of pectoral muscles: Pectoralis major and pectoralis minor.
Besides the size of the muscles being different, with the major being the larger muscle, the muscles have different functions.
Pectoralis major attaches to your ribcage and sternum, the top of your arm bone, and the front of your shoulder blade. Its job is to bring your arm upwards/inwards, and rotate your arm inwards.
In contrast, the Pectoralis Minor attaches to the Ribcage and the front of your shoulder blade. Its action pulls the shoulder blade forward and downward.
How To Stretch Pec Minor
The way to stretch the pec minor is to tip your shoulder blades backward and move your shoulder joint away from your sternum.
You don't actually have to move your arm at all to stretch the pec minor muscle because it doesn't attach to your arm bone (humerus).
This is a good thing because you can actually stretch your pectoralis minor muscle all day long just by maintaining a good posture with your shoulders tipped backward lifting your chest up.
Many people develop stiff pec minor muscles in the first place from sitting at a desk all day long with their shoulders rounded forward. So fixing your posture alone can help stretch your pec minor and relieve neck and shoulder pain without actually having to do a pec stretch exercise per se.
However, if you're looking for actual stretch exercises, we'll show 3 pec stretches in the next section of this post.
How To Stretch Pec Major
Since your pec major muscles also attach to your sternum and ribcage, maintaining the same position mentioned above for the pec minor stretch is the start of any pec major stretch.
However, because the pec major also attaches to the arm bone (humerus) you have to move your arms in addition to your shoulder blades.
As mentioned above, the action of the pectoralis major is to bring your arm into midline toward your sternum while also twisting your arm inwards (internal rotation). Therefore, a pec major stretch needs to move the arm away from the midline of the body (horizontal abdunction) and rotate the arms outward/upward (external rotation).
How To Stretch Pec Minor and Pec Major Muscles
The stretches below stretch BOTH your pec minor and pec major.
Doorway Pec Stretch
- This first stretch that you can do is called the doorway stretch. Start by bringing your arms onto the sides of a doorframe, just below shoulder level.
- Make sure to have at least your palms placed on the front door frame, and try to get your forearms flat up-against the doorway as well.
- Also, try to maintain a neutral spine position by gently tucking your chin downwards and back, while tightening the abdominal muscles.
- Then, while keeping your arms on the doorframe, slowly move forward through the door until a gentle stretch is felt on your chest. Be careful not to lean onto your arms with your body weight though.
- Now, hold this stretched position 1-2 minutes.
Lying-Down Pec Stretch
- Another way to stretch your chest muscles is to lay down on your back with a pillow under your head, and with your knees bent.
- Next, place your arms to your side on the ground, with your elbows bent so that your arms make a 90-degree angle.
- You should feel a light stretch in your chest muscles when your arms are fully on the ground. Make sure to keep your palms facing the ceiling during the stretch.
- While maintaining this position, you can also slowly slide your arms up towards your head. This adds a stretch for the lat dorsi muscles, which can also cause shoulder pain when unstretched.
- Hold for 1-2 minutes.
Foam Roller Pec Stretch
- If you want to get a deeper stretch, you can also lay down on a foam roller, placed vertically along your spine.
- Similarly to the previous stretch, while lying on the foam roller, position your arms at 90 degree angles as described before.
- Then externally rotate your arms towards the ground until you feel a stretch in your chest muscles.
- Hold for 1-2 minutes.
Pec Stretch Standing Back To Wall
- You can also modify the previous stretches by having your back against the wall, instead of laying on the ground.
- With your back flat against the wall, move your feet several inches away from the wall, slightly bend your knees, and gently tuck your chin in towards your throat.
- Next, place your arms to your side with your elbows bent at 90 degrees again. While doing so, keep the backs of your hands rotated towards the wall, and your palms facing forward.
- Again, try to pull your arms towards the wall, until you feel a gentle stretch in your chest.
- Be more careful and slow with this stretch, as it is a more aggressive stretch than laying flat on your back.
- While maintaining these positions, you can also slowly slide your arms up, and towards your head to add a lat dorsi muscle stretch.
- Hold for 1-2 minutes.
FAQ's About Pec Stretches
How Long And How Often To Stretch Pec Muscles?
This varies from person to person, but in general holding a gentle stretch for 1-2 minutes is a good amount of time to hold a pec stretch. If it hurts to much to hold the stretch for 1-2 minutes, you're probably stretching too far.
If you have shoulder pain caused by stiff pectoral muscles, you should stretch at least once per day. However, paying attention to good posture throughout the day allows you to stretch your pec minor muscles all day long.
If you don't have shoulder pain, stretching your pectoral muscles 2-3 times per week as a part of an overall flexibility routine is probably enough.
How Do You Avoid Injury When Doing Pec Stretches?
When doing pec stretches, it's important to use correct technique in order to get the best stretch as well as avoid injury.
Only perform the above stretches to the point that you are feeling a gentle pulling sensation but no pain.
Additionally, if you have shoulder pain, you don't want to allow your elbows to go behind the plane of your body.
Doing this pushes the ball of the shoulder forward in the socket and can actually make your shoulder pain worse.
Will Stretching My Pec Muscles Help My Shoulder Pain?
While stretching your pec muscles may be part of the solution to your shoulder pain, there are probably other factors involved.
If you'd like to discover ALL of the factors contributing to your shoulder pain, and how to fix them for good, click the button below to request a Free Shoulder Pain Discovery Visit with one of our Specialists