If you are someone who suffers from persistent hunching or rounding of your shoulders, seeking to relieve tightness in your Pectoral (pec) muscles could be one of the simplest, yet the most effective solution to your problems.
A lot of people have tightness in their pecs and what’s worse is that they don’t even know it.
As we spend more time sitting in front of our computers and phones, we hunch our bodies and round our shoulders forward, which closes off the chest area causing the pecs to tighten up.
This is a problem because chronic tightness in the pec muscles can solidify the effects of rounded shoulders and keep you in a hunched back position.
As your pecs get tighter and tighter your posture will proportionally grow worse.
All is not lost though!
By learning how to self-massage your pecs and stretch them properly, you can begin to relieve the tightness in them and hopefully restore good shoulder posture too.
The only issue is that releasing and stretching the pecs isn’t as simple as most people think.
This post is written to teach you the basics of the pec muscles, how to release them and then finally stretch them out.
People who have lived a sedentary lifestyle and have developed bad posture should find this post particularly valuable.
How Do the Pecs get Tight?
As discussed in the introduction, the primary reason is due to the type of lifestyle many of us live today.
Many of us work a 9-5 job where we spend a lot of our time sitting in front of a computer screen. The more we sit at our desks, the more we hunch over pushing our head forward towards the screen, and also rounding our shoulders in the process.
This process not only happens when we are sitting at our desk, but also as we look down at our mobile devices. The problem has gotten so bad that the term ‘Text Neck‘ has become a common term to describe the bad posture that can develop from looking down at your mobile too much.
However, it isn’t technology that is the problem, but more the unhelpful posture habits we develop when using them.
When we sit with bad posture, what normally happens is that the chest area becomes smaller as we hunch forward, this causes the pecs to be held in a shortened position for long periods of time. After a while, the pecs will adapt to this short position and tighten up.
Years can go by where a person will never stretch out their pecs or even know that they have tight pecs. As a result, the tightness will gradually start to cause other problems in the body.
Why Is Tightness in the Pecs Bad?
Despite the pecs being such an overlooked muscle to stretch, I now believe it is one of the most important muscles to ensure is at its optimal length for a number of reasons:
- Tightness in the pecs contributes to postural dysfunctions such as rounded shoulders and forward head posture.
- Having tight pecs pulls the shoulder joint into a less than optimal position leading to mobility issues and increases the chance of sustaining an injury.
- It can cause aches and pains across the front of the chest and shoulders.
- Tightness can destroy your confidence by pulling you into a ‘timid’ bodily stance.
The reasons listed above are what I have found to be the symptoms in my own case.
After living a sedentary lifestyle for years without stretching my chest area I noticed that my rounded shoulders brought a long with it a lot of aches in my both shoulders and across my chest. Most notably when I got up from sitting or sleeping, I would pull my shoulders apart to get some relief and I would get a crunching noise across my chest.
However, the relief was short lived as the tightness in my pec muscles would pull my shoulders back into its rounded position. My shoulder area ached all the time as well. I lived like this for years without knowing what the issue was.
When I did finally take the time to release the tightness in my pecs the problem started to get better and my posture too.
Relieving tightness in the pecs should also open up your chest area. If you are someone who would consider yourself ‘pigeon chested’ then releasing the pecs may also help.
Once the chest area is open you will also find that breathing may become easier as your lungs now have more room to expand.
Ok, So How Do I Stretch the Pecs?
Restoring your pec muscles to its proper length is a three-step process.
- Understanding that the pectoral muscles are made up of two different muscles. Once you understand how they are laid out, you will know the areas you need to target.
- Performing self-myofascial release to relieve any trigger points/knots that cause tightness.
- Once the muscles have been released, you will then need to begin stretching them out.
Steps 2 and 3 and not one-offs but will most likely need to be repeated. The more tightness you have the more times you will have to repeat those steps.
Ok, now you know the process, let’s get started!
Understanding the Pectorals: The Pec Major and Minor
The Pecs are made up of two main muscles: The pec Major and Minor.
The Pectoralis Major
Everyone knows about the pec major (shown in the diagram above), or at least have noticed them in their own body. It’s the large muscle that covers the upper chest area, starting at the sternum and collar bone and from there attaches to your upper arm.
It’s important to note that it attaches to your upper arm. You can imagine that if the pec Major muscle is too tight, it is also shorter than it should be.
When this happens it pulls on your shoulder causing them to rotate internally and brings your arms inwards towards the midline of your body.
Tightness here will cause your arms to sit in an internally rotated position.
The Pectoralis Minor
This is the sneaky pec muscle that causes the most problems because a lot of people are unaware of it (as was in my own case).
The Pec minor starts at the top of your arm just below the shoulder (Coracoid Process) and runs down the chest attaching itself to the 3rd, 4th and 5th rib.
Looking at the diagram you can see that if the pec minor is too tight and short, it will pull on the top of the arm as well as bringing the shoulder blade forward and over. This will cause bad shoulder posture.
You can now see that you have to relieve tightness in both pec muscles to see any positive results.
I highly recommend watching the short video above. It sums up all the above points as well as teaching a few stretches you can try for yourself. Don’t be put off and think this video is just for bodybuilders, anyone can benefit from watching it!
Now that you know where the two pec muscles sit, the next step is to perform self-massage on them.
1. How to Self-Massage & Release the Pecs
Before stretching the pecs you’ll want to perform self-massage or myofascial release on your pec major and minor to get rid of any trigger points or knots.
Personally, this process took a very long time for me to perfect.
I tried a lot of different tools and methods such as using a Thera Cane, a foam roller, my own hand, and different sized massage balls whether that be lying on the floor using my own bodyweight or in a seated position, however, I found the most effective method is to use a massage ball (preferably a lacrosse ball) and a wall (If you want to see other methods watch the video above).
To use this method, you would place a massage ball against the wall, then lean your pec into the ball using your body weight. You will first want to massage the Pec major by moving the ball around the largest portion of your pecs.
The next step is to massage the pec minor which is more tricky than massaging the pec major.
To hit the pec minor you’ll want to make sure the massage ball comes in from the side of your pecs and at an angle which is almost as if it was underneath the pec major.
You may need to refer to the diagram of the pec minor to remind you where this muscle is, however, chances are, that if it’s tight, you’ll know you’re on the right muscle as it will be extremely tender.
If you’re having a hard time dealing with the pain, then I suggest either reducing the pressure or moving to a softer type of ball. The Triggerpoint (2.6 -inch) massage ball is slightly smaller than a lacrosse ball and a little softer.
Another piece of advice would be to take it slow and do a bit a day.
If your pecs are extremely sore the next day, then take a break for a few days, let the soreness subside then massage it out again once it feels better.
If you keep repeating this process you should eventually remove most of your trigger points. If you were using a softer ball, you can also start using a lacrosse ball as the pain lessens.
A lacrosse ball should be enough to hit most tender spots but if you need something more you may want to look into using a Beastie Ball.
Releasing the pecs is a vital part of removing any tightness and fixing posture issues. Don’t skip this step!
2. How to Stretch the Pecs
A common way of stretching the pecs is the classic doorway stretch. I feel it’s also the best kind of stretch to do. The video above shows you the basics of how to perform this stretch.
The doorway stretch involves placing your arm up high with your hand against the door frame. You then lean into the doorway and begin to stretch your pecs.
Certain videos will give you an exact angle to place your arm in but the best way to do it is to feel the stretch where you need it most.
Everyone has different bodies so it’s important to get the angle where you feel the best stretch. Move your body around and test different angles with different intensities.
Be aware and try to feel the stretch taking place in both the pec major and pec minor.
Removing Tightness in Your Pecs Can Be Life Changing
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say this especially if you are someone who suffers from hunching, rounded shoulders and shoulder mobility issues.
If you’ve done the steps properly, and also with enough time, you may find your shoulders move back slightly and your chest opens up. This can be a very freeing feeling.
Just note that if you have a lot of tightness, it could take a while to relieve the chronic tightness in your pecs and it’s likely you’ll have to repeat the steps daily for a couple of weeks or even months.
Taking it to the Next Level
People with tight pecs often times will also likely have weakness in their back as well. By adding a back strengthening routine, (particularly the upper back) you should find that this will help pull your shoulders back and improve your posture even more. If you want to do this, see this page for back exercises you can try out.