At the beginning of July, we started a brand new 12 Minute Athlete Get Bendy 6-Week Flexibility Challenge.
If you missed the introduction post where we talked about the importance of flexibility and how to incorporate stretching exercises into your workout routine, make sure to check it out here.
Throughout the flexibility challenge, we’ll be focusing on one or two muscle groups each week. We’ll talk about why these areas of your body get tight in the first place, why you should be working on loosening them up, and also show you some of the best stretches that help you to increase your flexibility and get bendy.
We’re about to start Week 6, but if you’re joining us just now, don’t forget to check out the previous weeks: Week 1: stretching hamstrings and calves, Week 2: quadriceps and hips, Week 3: lower back, Week 4: upper back and shoulders, and Week 5: abs and obliques.
Why You Should Stretch Your Chest, Arms and Shoulders
We’ve talked a lot about sitting during this challenge, because that simply is the major reason why our bodies get tight. There is no area in the body that it doesn’t affect, and chest and arms are no different.
Sitting for a long time, shoulders hunched over, can cause the chest muscles to tighten and shorten, because they’re simply underused. At the same time, the upper back muscles weaken and loosen. The combination may later lead to developing a hunchback.
Of course, there’s another reason our chest and arms get super tight: our workouts. All those push ups, pull ups, handstands, and planks we do as athletes make everything extra tight. Stretching these areas can reduce soreness after a workout and prevent or help to treat repetitive stress injuries.
Six Stretches for Your Chest, Arms and Shoulders
Below are the six stretches that we’ll be working on during this week of the flexibility challenge.
The difficulty of these stretches varies: Level 1 designates the easiest stretches and the Level 5 the most difficult stretches. If you can’t do the Level 5 stretches, don’t worry—work on the easier ones for now, and as your flexibility improves, move on to more advanced ones.
Hold each stretch for about 30-45 seconds, 2-3 rounds.
Arm Across the Chest Stretch
Difficulty level: 1
This is a basic stretch to do after any arm and shoulder workout.
How to do it: You can do this stretch standing or sitting. Simply cross one arm across the chest and press the elbow towards the body with the other hand.
Basic Chest Stretch
Difficulty level: 2
If you’re working at a desk, take a few minutes every now and then during the workday to do this stretch. It will help you to bring your arm and chest muscles back to their normal length and you’ll feel much better immediately.
How to do it: Stand up tall, lift your chest up, then clasp your hands behind your back and raise your arms as far as possible, keeping your elbows straight. Try not to shrug your shoulders as you feel the stretch.
Overhead Arm Stretch
Difficulty level: 4
This stretch works your triceps and shoulders. Don’t be surprised if you find that this pose is harder on one side than the other—this is totally normal.
How to do it: Sit or stand tall. Lift one arm overhead and bend it, then also bend the other arm so that both hands meet behind the back. If you can’t get your hands together behind the back, hold a towel in between the hands.
Shoulder Stretch Against Elevated Surface
Difficulty level: 4
How to do it: Sit on your heels in front of an elevated surface such as a couch, a bed, or a waist-high mat. Straighten your arms above your head, leaning them against the surface. Arch your back and push against the surface. Try not to shrug your shoulders.
Shoulder Wall Stretch
Difficulty level: 5
This is one of the best shoulder stretches I’ve ever come across—but it can be painful! If you’re not already fairly flexible in your shoulders I’d recommend sticking to the elevated surface stretch for now.
How to do it: Stand in front of the wall with your hands straight on the wall above you. Lean against the wall as you arch your back and stick your butt out. You should start to feel a stretch in your shoulders right away. The more you arch, the greater the stretch.
Advanced Stretch: Bridges
We’ve talked about bridges before, but because they’re so great for the shoulders and chest as well, we want to focus on them again. There are several variations on them, but let’s take a look at three of them:
Hands Elevated Bridges
Difficulty level: 5
How to do it: Find a sturdy bench or other elevated surface that’s about knee height or higher. Sit in front of the bench, facing away from it. Place your hands down by your head with your fingers pointing toward your feet. Press through your hands and raise your hips as you press through your shoulders and straighten your arms.
Difficulty level: 5
How to do it: Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent and your hands on the sides of your head, fingers pointing toward your toes. Push through your shoulders, press your hips up, and straighten your arms.
Feet Elevated Bridges
How to do it: Find some stairs, a bench, or other elevated surface that’s about knee height or lower (the bench in the photo is actually slightly higher than is optimal). Sit in front of the bench, facing towards it. Place your feet on top of the bench and your hands down by your head with your fingers pointing toward your feet. Press through your feet and hands and raise your hips as high as you can, arching your back and straightening your arms. Try and really push through your shoulders on this one.
Flexibility Challenge Week 6 Homework
Here is your homework for Week 6 of the Flexibility Challenge! We will build on previous week’s homework each week, so you’ll be doing all the stretches from the last couple of weeks too. We promise that you’ll be way bendier by the end of the next week when the challenge officially ends!
3-6 days a week:
After that, open up your chest and shoulders with Week 6 stretches.
Remember, you don’t have to do every single stretch every time—just focus on the ones that work best for you. You should be spending about 10-15 minutes a day most days of the week on these stretches.
And if you’re not able to do the advanced stretches yet, don’t stress about it—just keep working on the other stretches and you’ll eventually be able to do them.
Make sure to post all your stretching photos and videos in the 12 Minute Athlete Facebook group to get feedback and support from us and your fellow athletes.