Stretching - The Chest

Stability Stretching Series™: For Runners

The Stability Strategy to Improve Running Efficiency-

The Chest

Purpose:
Lengthen the chest muscles while maintaining neutral alignment of the shoulder and upper back

Common mistake:
Over-stretching the front of the shoulder rather than actually lengthening the chest muscles (image 1). 

Why is this important?
Generally, the muscle that really contributes to pulling the shoulder forward is the pectoralis minor. The pectoralis minor is a short, deep muscle that attaches from the front of your shoulder blade and into the upper ribs. The  ligaments and fascia on the front of the shoulder tends to be more flexible than pectoralis minor. Therefore when most runners attempt to stretch their chest they are usually over-stretching the ligaments and fascia of the shoulder. Over time this creates instability of the shoulder, which inhibits or weakens the ability to stabilize their shoulder. To compensate for this weakness, the nervous system will try to protect itself from injury by reflexively tightening  the shoulder muscles – usually with the pectoralis minor. The pectoralis minor contributes to pulling the shoulder forward. In essence, stretching in this manner contributes to and perpetuates the very problem you are trying to correct. 

Stability Stretching Strategy™

  1. Stand in a doorway and place your forearms flat against the doorframe and just slightly higher than shoulder height (image 2). Maintain alignment of your head, trunk, and spine throughout the stretching sequence and avoid over-arching your back (arrows in image 2).
  2. Take a deep breath and push your forearm gently into the doorframe with about 25% of your max effort.  You will be pushing slightly down with your contraction however maintain your initial set up position. As you let your breath go slowly lean forward without losing your initial arm or rib cage position. You should feel a gentle stretch in front of your chest. Repeat for 3-5 reps per side. 
  3. Keep your rib cage down in the front (vertical arrow) as you lean forward . Don’t let it rise up by over-arching your back because you are trying to over-stretch or experience a greater stretch in your chest (image 3).

Remember: *Don’t confuse sensation with effectiveness!*
Don’t try to force this stretch in order to ‘feel’ a stronger stretch in your chest. Just because you ‘feel’ a deeper stretch by forcing it doesn't mean it is better for you.Your nervous system will lengthen your chest as much as it needs to when you respect the proper alignment and control of your core. Remember that optimal stability will improve your posture and running more significantly than will having great flexibility without the requisite stability.