Pec stretching is something we all need to do and/or if you are a practitioner or personal trainer it is something that you are probably prescribing daily to your patients and clients. I came across a great article on T-Nation that reviews how to stretch your pecs effectively without irritating your shoulders or exacerbating existing pain. Shoulders are tricky joints that require extra attention and care so make sure you are nice to them! Anyone who has undergone any sort of shoulder injury knows how debilitating loss of shoulder function can be.
The Right Way To Stretch your Pecs, by Eric Cressey (I have been reading a lot of his stuff lately!) is the name of the article and you can access it HERE.
I have highlighted a few key points below:
1. The shoulder joint is more than just bone and muscle! When performing shoulder stretches you must consider the integrity of the joint capsule. The shoulder capsule can be thought of kind of like a sleeve as it surrounds the shoulder joint and provides stability both actively (proprioceptive) and passively (limits movement). The shoulder capsule can be easily injured, which can lead to laxity, constriction, and/or adhesion to the surrounding structures. Eric talks about how tightness in the shoulder capsule can affect the positioning of your shoulder joint, specifically how the head of humerus behaves.
2. One can’t assume that their shoulders or more specifically their scapulae are in a neutral position during in a relaxed state. I touched briefly on this in my Thoracic mobility post. Point being, if you are going to do a door way pec stretch make sure to set you shoulder blades first.
3. Don’t forget about the minor. As Eric mentions the pec minor can be an evil culprit to shoulder dysfunction. I also like how he points out that you won’t feel a crazy stretch as you would with larger muscles. This is important because people often don’t think that they are doing something beneficial unless they can really “feel” it. You cannot reef on tight muscles and expect for them to relax and lengthen. If you force a muscle beyond a comfortable length your muscle will contract to protect itself via muscle spindles. Relax into your stretches and focus on your breathing.
4. Coaching for push-ups and bench press. I always tell people to “pull yourself or the bar down and push away”. When doing bench press or push-ups people often forget that they are working in the eccentric phase of the movement, which means you are not fully benefiting from the exercise! Following this cue will not only protect your shoulder joint by helping bring it to a neutral position but it will also help build recruitment to your scapular stabilizing muscles during your horizontal pressing movements.
Be aware and present with all aspects of your training. I know its tempting to want to shut your brain off and do monotonous exercises for 1 hour and still feel good about yourself because ” you went to the gym”, but doing so is a waste of time. Find a way to challenge yourself and make the most of all movements you perform from your stretches to your lifts. You may surprise your self to what you can achieve!
Thank you to everyone who has shared their comments. I love hearing your feedback and would love to answer any questions so feel free to post them below!