You need to stretch before working out. It’s something you’ve probably heard a thousand times, and you will probably hear it a thousand times more. Most of the time, when it comes to stretching advice, a lot of it is focused on cardio and leg exercises. But do you need to stretch when you’re just working your upper body? The answer is, yes, upper body stretches are just as important as your lower body stretches. Whether you’re doing a full-body workout or are focusing on your arms, back and shoulders, here’s what you need to know about upper body stretches.
Stretching has several significant benefits for your workout and your overall health. Not only will stretching help your muscles warm-up and cool down, but it will also prevent injuries. Now, if you’ve never been injured while working out, you should consider yourself lucky and stretch diligently. For those who have old injuries that are either from working out or from past accidents, stretching is even more important because you’ll want to avoid aggravating the problem.
Stretching the Neck
The neck is a particularly sensitive area because it is home to so many important muscular and neural connections. While there are a few neck strengthening exercises that are aimed at strengthening that specific area, a lot of exercises will engage your neck muscles. Thus, it is always important to stretch your neck even if you aren’t specifically planning to perform any neck exercises.
The Side to Side
Start by cocking your head towards your right shoulder as far as it will go. Then go to your left shoulder. You can also deepen the stretch by using your same side arm to gently pull your neck down towards your shoulder. Repeat several times and then alternate from front to back. Remember, you want to feel the stretch, but it shouldn’t be particularly painful.
Bend your neck forward, then to the right, back, and to the left, making a circle. Go clockwise several times, and then switch. Again, you should feel a stretch but not sharp pain.
On a final note for neck stretches: If you’ve had a neck injury before, it’s also important to do any neck pain exercises that may have been prescribed as part of your physical therapy.
You’ll want to stretch your shoulders before you work out as well as after to help minimize muscle soreness.
The easiest way to start warming up and stretching your shoulders is to rotate the shoulders forward and back. You may also feel that this in your upper back.
Another good shoulder stretch involves putting your arms out on either side at the level of your shoulders and rotating your arms in circles. You’ll want to start with small circles and progress to larger ones. The arm circles can also serve as shoulder mobility exercises if you’re recovering from specific injuries.
How to Stretch Upper Back and Mid Back
Upper back stretches can be particularly tricky because you have several sets of muscles in the area. Fortunately, there are a few stretches that you can do before your upper back workouts to help loosen up your upper back muscles.
This can be done with a chair or foam roller. You’ll want to position yourself so that either the back of the chair or the foam roller is against your mid back, which is technically your thoracic spine. Then, let your head fall back and push your butt forward. You can also raise your hands over your head to help deepen the stretch for your upper back muscles.
This one is simple and easy to do regardless of where you’ll be performing your upper back exercises. Simply squeeze your shoulder blades together, hold for a few seconds, and release. In some cases, these can also help provide upper back pain relief if your muscles are sore.
If you’re experiencing a pain that is persistent either during stretches, you should check to see how much strain you’re putting on that side of the body. If you’re right-handed, for instance, you may experience upper right back pain because you’re working your right side more than your left. If you feel that your workout is even, get checked out by a medical professional.
Lower and Mid Back Stretches
Don’t leave out your lower and mid-back stretches even if you’re determined to focus on your upper body because those muscles play a major supporting role.
The Cat-Cow Pose
This is a great quick stretch for the middle and lower back. Get on all fours and push your belly towards the ground while arching your upper and lower back. Then, reverse by arching your mid-back and pushing your lower and upper back down. Repeat a few times.
Your arms have a lot of different muscles that stretch at different angles, so you’ll want to do a few stretches to really prep your arms for a workout.
Across the Body
Bring your right arm across your body just below shoulder level and use your left arm to push your arm closer to your chest and deepen the stretch, then switch. In addition to stretching your upper arm, this is also a good one to do for your shoulders.
Arm over Head
Raise your right arm over your head and touch the back of your neck. Slowly, slide your hand down the center of your back as much as you can. You can also use your left arm in order to push your right elbow down into a deeper stretch. Then switch.
These are a nice stretch for your forearms. The bigger you make your circle, the more you’ll be stretching.
Always stretch as much of your body as possible before working out, even if you’re not working out that part of your body that day
For best results, stretch before and after your workout even if you’re keeping the workout’s intensity low
Your back is a very important component in your workout, and you should devote some time to ensuring that your upper, mid, and lower back are loose before you start
Make an effort to keep your stretches and exercises even on both sides of your body.
You shouldn’t feel sharp or persistent pain when you stretch. If you do, it may be time to go to your doctor
If you’re recovering from an injury, always follow your doctor’s advice when stretching and working out