We stitch, we read, we type, some crochet, and some knit. Our arms and shoulders are in the same position for all of these activities. Our chest muscles (pecs/ pectorals) tighten, and our shoulders become rounded and our head can bend forward, which negatively affects our posture.
So let's open things up with some simple exercises that can improve your posture.
Why chest stretching exercises are important
A chest stretch helps lengthen the muscles in the upper body that we often overlook when working. We sew in the rain, the snow and even in the summer if it's too hot to be outside. All of this can have a negative impact on our posture over the long-term.
Next time you’re sitting at your sewing machine, check your posture....are your shoulders rounding forward, is your chest caving in? With bad posture the muscles in the back of your neck and back over-lengthen and weaken, while your chest, shoulders, and the front of your neck shorten and stiffen. Sitting also shortens your hip flexors and other muscles in the lower body, but today it's all about the chest!
When is a good time to stretch? I say anytime and anywhere. I am a big fan of what I like to call “spontaneous stretching”. That means while you're heading over to the ironing board, on your way to the loo or while you're planning your next block, your stretching opportunities are endless. You only need a minute for a quick stretch break to open up your chest. Pick one of the ones below today and a different one tomorrow. Stretch to the point of tension and hold for at least 15 seconds. Breathe deeply. Avoid bouncing or pulling to the point of pain.
Simple chest stretching exercises
Stretch #1 - V to W Stretch AKA Wall Angels
Got a minute? Find a wall.
Wall angels help with hunched posture, they open the chest, and help to loosen tight shoulders! It’s harder than it looks, so don’t be surprised if your elbows don’t slide down this far. This may seem easy, but it will help you loosen your shoulders, open your chest and improve your posture.
Here’s how to make this stretch:
Stand against a wall (preferably an empty one), with your bottom, back, shoulders, and head against the wall. The wall provides feedback, so you know your spine is neutral and your arms aren’t creeping behind your head. Engaging your core further protects your lower back.
Grow tall with arms overhead, then spread them to make a V.
Bend your elbows as you slide your hands down the wall, stopping when your hands are just above your shoulders. Keep your head, torso, and bottom against the wall. Lower into your W, and count to 5.
Only go as far as you can while maintaining good posture. You’ll feel the stretch, but if you feel pain, you’ve gone too far.
Repeat 2-3 times and carry on with your day!
Stretch #2 - Seated chest opener
Move your chair back a bit from your sewing machine and scoot your bottom toward the front of the seat
Place your feet on the floor at about hip width apart, ankles in line with your knees
Reach back to the sides of your chair with both hands. Either tug or push on the chair with your hands (Depending on your chair, you might be able to - if you can do both, try both!)
Inhale and look up send your chest up and out, exhale, relax, repeat
This stretch counteracts any rounded position of the shoulders and allows the chest and throat to open up and wakes up the muscles in your upper back.
Stretch #3 - Assisted Chest Stretch
Put both hands behind your back. If you find interlocking your fingers difficult, grab your tape measure, towel or therapy band.
Stand tall holding measuring tape. Holding both hands behind your back, use it to gently bring your shoulders back.
Squeeze shoulder blades down and together to maximize stretch.
Next raise both arms up and slightly away from the body. No need to go far, and try to keep your elbows straight, but not locked.
Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Rest and repeat.
Stretch #4 - Doorway stretch
The doorway stretch is a simple way to improve posture and you can do it every time you enter your sewing room.
Facing an open doorway, with your elbows bent to 90 degrees and at shoulder height, rest your forearms and palms along the frame with hands pointed toward the ceiling.
Do not step through the doorway! Your chest may be much tighter than you realize. Stepping through the doorway at this point could be very painful.
Take a deep breath, filling your chest with air, and let it expand into the doorway. This will gently press the chest through the open space. Exhale and hold anywhere from 5-30 seconds, depending on your comfort level. Breathe naturally. Hold a little longer each time. If this feels good, then progress to step 4.
To deepen the stretch, take a half step forward, you'll feel the stretch more across the front of the chest and shoulders. Stand tall and do not lean or drop forward.
You can also do one arm at a time, against a wall or wider doorway.
Stretch #5 - Corner Stretch
No doorway, no problem, find yourself a little corner.
Stand facing the corner and with your elbows bent, place your hands on the walls. Placing one foot in front provides better stability and control as you move into the stretch.
Tighten your core and slowly lean your body into the corner until you feel a stretch in your chest. Don’t arch your back, you shouldn't feel any pain in your lower back. Hold for 30 seconds.
Begin with your elbows at the same level as your shoulders. Experiment by raising and lowering your elbows and subsequently your hands.