Stretch of the Week: C-Curves (Sides #1/Back #1)

*Yes, it’s well after Thursday.  But I wrote most of this on Thursday.  Does that count? 🙂

After spending a few weeks on Hip Stretches (and then a few weeks without any stretches), let’s spend a week on something slightly less intense.  Many of the stretches I have already shared use extended holds to really lengthen the target muscles.  The one I’ll share today is a bit different, and instead linked to breathing.  Rather than genuinely lengthening muscles (which is best done under extended holds), the goal of this stretch is to bring your attention to the tension lurking in your back/shoulders, and help you release and relax it.  The whole sequence can be done in less than 90 seconds, so “I don’t have time” isn’t a valid excuse for this one!  So let’s get to it!

But first, a quick safety note: Check out the Stretch of the Week: Start Here! if you haven’t already – and remember, some stretches aren’t right for some people.  If you are in pain, or something feels wrong, just stop.  There will be another stretch next week.  If you don’t feel anything, that’s fine.  You don’t need the stretch.  Move right along, and have a good day.  If you love it – bookmark it!  If you bookmark your favorites, then in 6 months, you’ll generate enough stretches to easily assemble a post-workout stretching routine (or two!).

Background: As mentioned above, this isn’t really a “lengthening muscles” stretch – it’s more of a prompt for relaxation.  Any of my runners reading this will tell you that we use this sequence to start our post-run stretching routine.  Runners tend to accumulate and hold a lot of tension in their shoulders while running, and this sequences seems to help many of us mindfully release.  I hope it does the same for you!

Contraindications: If you’re having an acute back issue right now, and in particular have been diagnosed with a slipped disc that is causing pain, you should skip this stretch.

Set-Up:

Stand tall and straight
Ground your feet firmly, from your toes to your heels
[Feet can be hip distance apart (more stable), together (more stretch), or somewhere in between.]
Stack your spine tall
Pull your shoulders back (in toward spine) and down
Stack your head evenly over your shoulders

Stretch:

Turn palms out
Inhale: Stretch arms as long as possible, and slowly reach them overhead in a wide arc
Press palms together at the top (or interlace fingers for more stability)
IMPORTANT: Reach hands UP, but keep your shoulders DOWN.

Exhale: Lean back very slightly, then curve your body to the left
Arms and shoulders drop to left; hips may shift to the right of your mid-line
IMPORTANT: Keep your body aligned in the frontal plane
[ie, Pretend you are a piece of toast in a toaster, and cannot lean forward or back.]

Inhale: Lift up again, hands reaching high overhead and shoulders down.

Exhale: Lean back very slightly, then curve your body to the right

The whole sequence should look something like this:

[Click for larger pictures.]

Inhale: Lift up again, hands reaching high overhead and shoulders down.
Interlace fingers, palms facing down.

Curl shoulders in, round upper back.

Curl shoulders forward, round upper back.

Exhale: Keep fingers interlaced and arms extended.
Slowly drop hands forward, until they are at shoulder height
Drop chin to chest
Curl shoulders forward and round upper back
Feel the stretch across your upper back.

Continue to push hands forward
For a greater stretch, maintain interlocked fingers, but gently activate arm muscles as though you are trying to pull your hands apart.

Stay in this position for several breaths.
When you are ready:

Inhale: Lift head and raise arms overhead, hands reaching high and shoulders down

Exhale: Release arms down slowly, in a wide arc, until they rest at your sides.

Length of Hold: This one flows with your breath, so there aren’t any extended holds.  However, I do stay in the upper back stretch position for several breaths before standing.  I repeat this sequence several times, or a few more if I need to calm myself, or feel very tight.

AVOID: Be careful not to collapse yourself forward when leaning to the side.  You may not be able to lean very far at first, and that’s OK.  [Compared with folks who have a very high range of motion in this posture, I don’t curve much myself.]  But keep your body in the same frontal plane, and avoid letting your “top” arm/shoulder fall forward.  This will prevent you from achieving a robust side stretch, and may prevent your breath from flowing smoothly.  Practice in front of a mirror, and try not to look like this:

 

AVOID twisting torso and dropping shoulder.  See how my left shoulder is coming forward, and my chest is no longer in an open position?  Try to avoid this!

AVOID twisting torso and dropping shoulder. See how my left shoulder is coming forward, and my chest is no longer in an open position? Instead, I should rotate my left shoulder up to open my chest.

Believe it or not, this stretch takes some practice and may feel awkward at first.  Your arms may tire easily, your compressed side may feel uncomfortable, and you may feel frustrated trying to link the breathing with the movement.  But flow through the sequence (Up/Right/Up/Left/Up/Forward) several times, and you will find your movements getting smoother and the connection to breath getting easier.

Remember, this is designed to be a low-commitment, low-stress stretch: Use it any time you have 60-90 seconds and need to relax and refresh yourself.  Enjoy!

How did the stretch feel while you were doing it?  How did your shoulders and upper back feel afterward?

Any questions, problems, or concerns with it?

Take it, or leave it?
[This is for my own data gathering purposes.  I won’t be offended if you don’t like it.]

Like this one? Check out more Stretch of the Week posts:
Feet
Hips
Twists

14 thoughts on “Stretch of the Week: C-Curves (Sides #1/Back #1)

    1. Holly @ Run With Holly Post author

      You are NOT alone. Most of us carry a high % of our tension up there. And that translates into even more tension during workouts – my most frequent reminder to my cycling classes is: Shoulders down – leave a space next to your ears!!!

      Reply
  1. Karen@ La Chanson de Ma Vie

    I’ve had tight muscles behind my shoulder blade for the last couple of months, so I live by this stretch in particular. But can we forget about all that and focus on the background of all your photos? I’d totally take up yoga or spend 30 hrs a day stretching if I had such a beautiful outdoor spot like yours!

    Reply
    1. Holly @ Run With Holly Post author

      Hahaha! Well, it is pretty gorgeous – although a former Alaskan such as yourself might eventually melt in our 80-90 degree heat + humidity…

      [Although that spot is about 8 minutes from my doorstep. 🙂 ]

      Reply
  2. Char

    You seem to know exactly which stretch I’m going to need next. I’ve just started back at my sewing machine for the year and I’m starting to feel the tension build up in my back. This looks like a great stretch to do through the day to keep myself mobile.

    Reply
  3. Meagan

    I liked this one! Especially the last part where you lean forward. I am notoriously tight, and have chronic pain, in the middle of my upper back. I hurt my back (no slipped disc, but a misalignment that was pinching a nerve) in August 2012. For about a week I couldn’t move, but finally saw an orthopedic doctor who got me squared away and gave me some PT stuff to do. I got better, to where I could function again but now I have chronic back pain that’s usually just around a 2 or 3 on the pain scale. But this stretch felt great! Definitely one I’m going to incorporate in my post-run stretching.

    Reply
    1. Holly @ Run With Holly Post author

      Incorporate it several times a day, even! It would probably be especially good for you after sitting at a desk or driving all day.

      And you may try lying down on a tennis ball or foam roller and smushing around in the tight spots – that may help release things a bit, too. Being in constant pain/discomfort sucks! Have you ever been to a massage therapist for it? They might help you get a sense whether you have a big knot that has to be worked out, daily mid-to-moderate tension, or something else all together…

      Reply
  4. Stephanie@nowirun.com

    This is a great sequence. I love that you have it outlined the way you do… I tend to stretch to one side, then the other, and call it a day! I also grab something waist high and then let my body drop backward (almost like I’m sitting but with straight legs) that is probably not as safe to do as the stretch you showed above (leaning forward). I will try this after my next outdoor run (I say that because we always rush out of the track workout ~ tomorrow night – and I don’t want to say I’ll do this tomorrow!).

    Thanks, Holly!

    P.S. I love the toaster image. That TOTALLY works!

    Reply
    1. Holly @ Run With Holly Post author

      Grabbing onto something and leaning forward actually isn’t a bad stretch, and as long as you don’t have back issues, it’s probably perfectly safe (I do it!) – that being said, the two stretches target slightly different areas (if I’m envisioning the proper stretch that you are describing…why don’t comments allow photos?!?!). I do like the way yours allows the head to hang down, relaxed and free. It’s always a good thing to have a variety of stretches in your ‘arsenal’! 🙂

      Reply
  5. Debbie @ Deb Runs

    I initially read this post while lying in bed and it was rather difficult to practice the stretch since I was too lazy to stand and try it. 😉 Now that I’m back, it feels great and it’s always nice to have someone else say, “Here, try this, you need it and you’ll love it!”

    Reply

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