8 Upper Body Stretches (Back, Chest, Neck and Shoulder Stretches)

Release tension in your neck, shoulders, back and chest with these 8 UPPER BODY STRETCHES! A quick, 10-minute guided stretching routine to do after an upper body workout.

Why do I have so much tension in my neck and shoulders?

Your neck and shoulders can feel tight and stiff for a variety of reasons:

  1. Sitting for long periods of time (hunched over a computer all day).
  2. Sleeping ‘wrong’ or in a position that causes extra stress on your neck.
  3. Holding or feeding babies and toddlers.
  4. Strength training arms and upper body.
  5. General stress, tension and overuse.

How do you relive upper body tension?

Get relief from tension in the neck, shoulders, upper back and chest with this short, 10 minute upper body stretching routine. 

Whether you’re unwinding after a long day in front of your computer, looking to release a tight neck and back from chasing kids around all day, or just finished a tough upper body workout and looking to reduce soreness — these 8 Upper Body Stretches are for you! 

t-spine stretch | upper body stretches

8 Upper Body Stretches (Back, Chest, Shoulders and Neck Stretches)

Try these eight upper body stretches after your next arm workout or make them part of your daily stretching routine.

These upper body stretches are designed to: 

  • Release tension in the chest, back, neck and shoulder muscles.
  • Reduce neck pain, shoulder pain, and back pain.
  • Increase upper body mobility (reducing stiffness in the neck and shoulders).
  • Improve posture.

Equipment:

None, just your bodyweight. 

Instructions:

Follow along with the guided, 10-Minute Upper Body Stretch Routine at the top of this post.

I’ll provide form cues for each upper body mobility exercise.

Or you can work off of the eight arm stretches below at your own pace. Hold each pose for 30-60 seconds, until you feel the tension in your muscles relax.

*Note, these upper body stretches are not a substitute for seeking medical attention or seeing a physical therapist if you have chronic neck, shoulder or back pain. 

8 Upper Body Stretches

  1. Half Kneeling Thoracic Spine Reach Under (thread the needle)
  2. Kneeling Posterior Neck Stretch
  3. Reverse Table Top Pose
  4. Kneeling Reach Across (opposite hand to knee) T-Spine Stretch
  5. Kneeling Scapular Protraction + Shoulder Rollback
  6. Childs Pose Hand On Hand Sit Backs
  7. Trap and Neck Stretch
  8. Butterfly Stretch with Rounded Back + Flat Back

1. Half Kneeling Thoracic Spine Reach Under (perform on right side, then left side)

Targets: Neck, shoulders, chest and upper back (while also opening the hips).

Half Kneeling Thoracic Spine Reach Under (thread the needle)

How to do a Half Kneeling Thoracic Spine Reach Under (Thread the Needle):

  1. Start in a table top position on all fours with hips over knees and shoulders over wrists.
  2. Extend your left leg long, toes in line with left hip.
  3. Then reach your left arm overhead towards the ceiling, while also turning your head up towards the ceiling; gaze follows fingertips. Opening the chest and shoulders. Hold for a moment.
  4. Then ‘thread the needle’, reaching your left hand between your right hand and right knee; lowering left shoulder and ear to the mat. Hips stay high.
  5. Hold this position for a moment and repeat this arm extension and reach under.
  6. Repeat this movement on the left side, then switch sides, performing steps 1-5 on the right side.

2. Kneeling Posterior Neck Stretch

Targets: All the muscles along your neck, traps, upper back and spine.

posterior neck stretch | neck and shoulder stretches

How to do a Kneeling Posterior Neck Stretch:

  1. Start in an upright kneeling position, seated on your heels.
  2. Place both hand on the back of your head and gently pull down on your head as you lower your head towards the ground.
  3. Feel the stretch along your neck and spine as you gently pull down on your head.

3. Reverse Table Top 

Targets: The front side of the body, specifically opening up the chest, shoulders, neck and hips.

THE BEST stretch to do after a long day of traveling or driving. Also a great way to counteract sitting at a computer all day. 

reverse table top pose | the BEST upper body stretch after sitting at a desk all day

How to do a Reverse Table Top:

  1. Start seated on the ground.
  2. Place your hands behind you on the mat, shoulder-width apart, fingers pointing towards you (fingers facing your butt) and legs bent at 90 degrees in front of you.
  3. Lean back as you lift your hips up towards the ceiling while pressing firmly into your hands and feet. Arms straight.
  4. Hold at the top with knees at a 90 degree angle and thighs and torso parallel to the floor.
  5. Let your neck fall back as you open the front side of your body holding this reverse table top pose.

4. Kneeling Reach Across (opposite hand to knee) T-Spine Stretch (perform on right side, then left side)

Targets: Chest, shoulders, upper and lower back muscles.

Kneeling T-Spine Stretch

How to do a Kneeling T-Spine Stretch:

  1. Start in an upright kneeling position, toes tucked under, seated on your heels.
  2. Place your right hand on your left thigh (close to your knee) as you extend your left arm overhead towards the ceiling; gaze follows fingertips.
  3. Hold this t-spine stretch on the left. Then switch sides and repeat on the right (placing your left hand on your right thigh as you extend your right hand towards the ceiling).

*You should feel the stretch in your lower back, upper back, chest and shoulders. 

5. Kneeling Scapular Protraction + Shoulder Rollback

Targets: Shoulder and scapular mobility; activating the trapezius, rhomboids, and latissimus dorsi muscles.

Kneeling Scapular Protraction, active upper body stretching

How to do Kneeling Scapular Protraction + Shoulder Rollback:

  1. Start in an upright kneeling position, tops of feet flat on the floor, seated on your heels.
  2. Extend both arms long in front of you at shoulder height.
  3. Pull your shoulders up towards your ears, then actively pull your shoulders down away from your ears. Squeezing your shoulder blades together and you pull your traps, shoulder and upper back muscles down and back (scapular prostration).
  4. Rolling your shoulders down, creating a long neck, while actively engaging your trapezius, rhomboids, and latissimus dorsi muscles (neck, shoulders and upper back muscles.
  5. Repeat this movement.

6. Childs Pose Hand On Hand Sit Backs (perform on right side, then left side)

Targets: Shoulders, upper and lower back, and hips.

childs pose stretch for back pain

How to do Child’s Pose Reach Across Stretch: 

  1. Start in an upright kneeling position. Rest your hands on your thighs as you open your knees slightly wider than hip-width and bring your big toes to touch.
  2. Then high forward, lowering your torso between your knees. Extend your right hand across your body, out in front of your left knee. Place your left hand on top of your right hand (palms facing the mat). Also referred to as the corner stretch, as you can think of reach your hand towards the corner of your mat.
  3. Sit your hips back, resting your butt on your heels as you reach your right hand as far away from your body as possible. Breath and continue to hold this stretch.
  4. Repeat on the opposite side — extending your left hand across your body, out in front of your right knee. Placing your right hand on top of your left hand (palms facing the mat).

7. Trap Neck Stretch (perform on right side, then left side)

Targets: All the muscle along the sides of your neck, traps and upper shoulders.

trap and neck stretch, neck and shoulder upper body stretches

How to do a Trap Neck Stretch:

  1. Start in an upright kneeling position, tops of feet flat on the floor, seated on your heels.
  2. Place your left hand on the top, right side of your head (near your right temple) and gently pull your down guiding your left ear toward your left shoulder.
  3. Hold this stretch, then gently release this side, and switch sides, performing this same stretch on the right side. Gently pulling your right ear toward your right shoulder.
  4. Feel the stretch along your neck and shoulders as you create length in your neck the longer you hold the stretch.

8. Butterfly Stretch with Rounded Back + Flat Back

Targets: The upper back, shoulders, chest and neck (as well as the inner thighs and hips).

Butterfly Stretch with Rounded Back and Flat Back

How to  do a Butterfly Stretch with Rounded Back and Flat Back:

  1. Sit on the floor with the soles of your feet pressing into each other.
  2. Clasp your hands on your feet — criss cross your arms, placing your right hand on your left foot and your left hand on your right foot.
  3. Then tuck your chin towards your chest as you round through your spine and upper back (creating a C-shape with your spine); pulling your shoulder blades apart. Hold here for a moment.
  4. Then return to the start position with a neutral spine — straighten your spine, sitting up tall on your sit bones.
  5. Then reverse this motion, lifting your chin up towards the ceiling as spread your chest open, pulling your shoulders down and back to open up through the chest and shoulders.
  6. Continue to flow through the rounded back (chin tucked with C-shape spine) to flat back (neutral spine with chin lifted).

10 Minute Stretching Routine to release tight neck and shoulders

Stretching FAQs and Trainer Tips

When should I be stretching? How often? 

It all depends on your personal goals, but ideally you would incorporate active mobility and stretching exercises into your daily routine!

I suggest adding these upper body stretches to your fitness routine 2-3 days a week. 

I personally like to use this 10-minute upper body stretching routine as a mid-day stretch break from my computer or desk work. This is also a great extended cool-down to add onto any upper body workout.

What are the benefits stretching?

Here are just a few tangible benefits you’ll see from adding 5 to 10 minutes of dynamic stretches to your daily routine:

  1. Increased Range of Motion — The ability to get deeper into your loaded movements, and press weight overhead pain-free.
  2. Reduced Muscle Soreness — Alleviating “muscle knots” from tough workouts (and sitting at a desk all day), and speed up recovery time between workouts.
  3. Improved Posture — Regular stretching lengthens your muscles which helps you avoid common low back pain and improves your overall posture.
  4. Reduced Risk of Injury — Starting your day with a stretching routine prepares your body for every day activities, like grabbing a glass from the cupboard or carrying groceries.
  5. Reduced Joint Pain — When your muscles are tight, you decrease the range of motion within your joints, which can lead to joint pain during and after your workouts.

Pin these Upper Body Stretches

Upper body neck and shoulder stretches | pin for pinterest

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