Newsletter no. 19 – Monday 11 October, 2021
This is the web-based version of Stretch Therapy Newsletter no. 19
Opening the chest and shoulders
To facilitate the necessary full range of arm and shoulder movements, all the nerves that innervate the arms, the chest, and the upper back, must be able to move through their full range of movement too. The exercise that we are doing today may be experienced as muscular, neural, or fascial – each of these dimensions can be emphasised as desired.
Side note. It is always a good idea to stretch the muscles behind the shoulder before trying to open the chest. And it's a good idea to finish the sequence with the same exercise, to settle everything down. So, the whole sequence is stretch back of shoulder, then the chest and front arm itself, and finish with a short back of shoulder stretch.
Arm across body
In this exercise, the rear-most shoulder muscle (posterior deltoideus or ‘rear delt’), and the muscles that pull the shoulder blade in towards the spine (rhomboideus or ‘rhomboid’) are effectively stretched. Together with thoracic flexion movements, this exercise will stretch in between the shoulders, a place where many hold tension.
Standing with feet hip-width apart, extend one arm out to the side, parallel with the floor. Swing the arm at a moderate pace across the body and catch it in the crook of the elbow of the other arm (photographs 2 to 4).You will need to swing the arm to get it into this position; if you move it too slowly you may not be able to bring it close enough to hold.
Once held, use the arm, shoulder and back muscles of the catching arm to draw the arm onto the front of your neck; if you bring the arm onto the chest there may be no stretch at all. Pull the held shoulder down in the direction of the waist, using the big muscle under the arm (latissimus dorsi) to intensify the stretch, as we find that most people tend to shrug the shoulder while doing the exercise. If you can, you may hold the back of your neck as a way of holding the stretch for a while without much effort (photographs 2 and 4).
The contraction is to press the held arm straight away from you gently for a few seconds. Stop pressing, relax and breathe in deeply. On a breath out, increase the stretch by pulling the arm closer to the front of the neck and keep the shoulder held down. Hold for four or five breaths in and out and repeat for the other side.You should feel the effect at the back of the shoulder, and perhaps across the back, and you may feel a small compression sensation in the front of the joint itself.
You can move the effects around to an extent, by letting the upper back slump, or by laterally flexing the spine; to this you can try adding a small rotation of the upper body to both sides. Adding these secondary movements can change the focus of the stretch considerably, and may just find that particular place you need to stretch.
Wall front arm stretch
In this video, Olivia demonstrates a lovely variation on the wall front arm stretch. These enhancements move the effect slightly away from the neural to the fascial dimension.
One further cue (Olivia forgot to mention this in the video!) is that the outer leg (her left leg in this video) can be stretched out away from the other leg/wall AND behind you, in the same way as the left arm – this winds on the sensation across the ribs, abdominals, and front hip fascia strongly.
To enhance the neural dimension of this wonderful exercise, once in the final stretch position, and following the contractions if you are using them, and once having done the breathing and relaxing, simply lift the fingers and palm away from the wall, slowly. Adding this apparently minor wrist extension to the movement emphasises the neural dimension very powerfully. Just like dorsiflexing the ankle enhances any hamstring stretch, so too does adding wrist extension enhance the chest and neural dimension of this exercise.
A note from a student
Hayden G., Canada