Upper Back & Shoulder Stretches

by Matthew Schirm

About Matthew Schirm

Matthew Schirm has worked in the sports-performance field since 1998. He has professional experience as a college baseball coach and weight-training instructor. He earned a Master of Science in human movement from A.T. Still University in 2009.

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Stretching the muscles of your upper back and shoulders can increase arm, neck and scapular ranges of motion and might help prevent and treat injuries or pain. Perform either dynamic stretches, which involve moving your joints repeatedly in a controlled, fluid manner, or static stretches, which necessitate holding a muscle in an elongated position for 10 to 30 seconds, at least two days per week. Avoid forcing any stretch too far because doing so can cause an injury.

Neck Stretch

Adam Weiss, author of "The BackSmart Fitness Plan," recommends performing the neck stretch to lengthen the muscles at the base of your neck and within your upper back. Stand 2 to 3 feet away from a wall with your feet about 6 inches apart. Extend your arms above your head and lean forward, placing your hands on the wall at shoulder width with your fingers pointing upward. Drop your head between your arms until you feel a gentle stretch through your upper back, then hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Perform the exercise dynamically, if desired, by repeatedly flexing and extending your neck.

Scapular Protraction Stretch

The rhomboids and trapezius muscles within your upper back work to retract, or pull back, the scapula bones on either side of your spine. Stretching these muscles, therefore, necessitates moving through the opposite range of motion -- scapular protraction. Stand about 2 feet away from a chest-high bar, then extend your arms forward and grasp the bar with your hands close together. Lean backward while keeping your feet in place, allowing your upper back to round forward, to execute the stretch. Hold this position for five to 10 deep breaths, deepening the stretch slightly with each exhale.

Dynamic Arm Cross

The dynamic arm cross exercise targets the posterior, or back, portion of the deltoid, one of the most prominent shoulder muscles. The exercise also stretches the same upper-back muscles as the scapular protraction exercise. Stand upright and cross your left arm over your chest, parallel to the floor, with your palm facing backward. Move your arm horizontally, away from your body, until it's extended outward from your shoulder, then return to the starting position and repeat. Continue moving your arm back and forth like this for 10 to 12 repetitions. Perform the exercise with your right arm as well.

Flyaway Stretch

The flyaway stretch targets the anterior, or front, portion of the deltoid muscle. Stand upright and extend both arms away from your shoulders at shoulder height with your palms facing downward. Reach both arms backward until you feel tension through the front of your shoulders, then hold for 10 to 30 seconds. You can also have a partner provide assistance by pulling your arms backward, but make sure she doesn't force them too far. Additionally, you can perform the exercise dynamically by reaching your arms backward and moving them in front of your chest repeatedly.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.