We often find that we can improve posture by opening the chest muscles and fascia. Stretching and opening key tissues in the chest is a vital step in the process of correcting head forward posture and rounding of the shoulders. These postural challenges cause chronic pain, limit range of motion and are precursors to more serious problems.
The Mighty Pec Minor
Pectoralis Minor is a small, but important muscle of the chest. However, it might be better thought of as a “front of the shoulder” muscle. It runs from our upper ribs to the coracoid process that reaches out past the front of the shoulder. Therefore, a tight pec minor will round the shoulders.
Unfortunately, isolating and stretching pec minor can be difficult. For various reasons, things like the “doorway stretch” and are not effective in releasing the pec minor muscle.
We begin with self-compression using a tennis ball. Next, we recommend a “passive stretch” for pec minor, done while laying on a foam roller. This is truly the easiest exercise you have ever done! Simply relax and let gravity do the work for you in a controlled manner.
Stretching Pec Minor
Lie on a foam roller that is positioned so that it fully supports your head and sacrum. If you cannot get your head down on the roller without elevating your chin you will need a folded towel or small pillow to elevate it for now. You should not feel awkward or off-balance with your entire spine, feet, hands and arms supported.
Note that in the example below, the model has his arms hanging in space. This reflects the tightness of the muscle. However, this makes it impossible to relax and it would be better to support the arms with pillows or a blanket roll until the chest opens further.
One of the challenges with this stretch is that it takes several minutes, during which you can’t really do much else. However, this is a great time to practice fully exhaling from the chest along with diaphragmatic (belly) breathing.
Many of us chronically hold our rib cages angled up into an “inspiratory” position. The lower, flatter position associated with exhalation is easier on our chest muscles and is more natural. It is also easier to breathe deeply into your belly once you have exhaled most of the stale air from your lungs.
Note that many illustrations and discussions of diaphragmatic breathing suggest using your hands to monitor and minimize the movement of your chest and to maximize movement of the belly. Feel free to check in with your hands but we want them up overhead, as pictured above, in this exercise. To encourage good breathing habits, we suggest placing a small book on your chest and slightly heavier weight on your abdomen to increase awareness.