If you've been busting out a bunch of push-ups for the LIVESTRONG.com 30-Day Push-Up Challenge, your arms and/or chest might be feeling a little sore. There's a good reason for that: You're pushing your muscle to the limit by doing more and more reps each day.
If you need a little bit of relief, here are some of the best upper-body stretches you can do, along with some additional tips on easing muscle soreness.
5 Best Upper-Body Stretches
While you'll mostly feel push-ups in your chest (if you're doing the standard version correctly), depending on the variations you're doing and your individual physiology, you'll also feel them in your arms, shoulders and even wrists. Here are the best stretches for those areas.
1. Wrist Stretch
- Grab the fingers of your right hand with your left hand.
- Extend your right arm straight, palm facing out and fingers pointing down, then gently pull back on your fingers.
- Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Flip your palm to face you.
- Gently pull and hold in this position for another 15 to 30 seconds.
- Do the same thing on the other wrist.
You can also do this stretch with your fingers pointing up.
2. Chest Wall Stretch
- Stand about a foot away from a wall, pole or other immovable surface.
- Place your right hand on the wall (or grab the pole) and twist away, keeping your hand in place.
- Keep twisting away from the wall until you feel the stretch through your chest and possibly also in your shoulder.
- Hold for 30 seconds on each side.
3. Chest and Shoulder Stretch
- Grab your hands behind your back and, with straight arms, lift your hands up until you feel a gentle stretch in your chest and shoulders.
- Be sure you don't lock your elbows.
- Play around with the position/height of your hands until you feel the stretch where you feel the soreness.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
4. Arm Across Chest Stretch
- Pull your right arm across your chest and hold it in place with your left hand.
- Use your left hand to gently pull it closer to your chest and further to the left.
- Hold for 30 seconds before switching sides.
5. Triceps Stretch
- Raise your right arm overhead and bend at the elbow so that your right hand touches your back.
- Use your left hand to pull your elbow further to the left so that you feel a stretch in the back of your right upper arm (triceps).
- Hold for 30 seconds before switching sides.
Top Tips to Ease Muscle Soreness
Stretches are great, but sometimes your muscles need a little bit more TLC. If that's the case, make sure you're doing everything you can to prevent and treat a little thing called delayed-onset muscle soreness (aka DOMS). That's the fancy name for the slight pain and tension you feel in your muscles the day after a hard workout.
1. Always Warm Up First
If you're new to working out or as the push-up count increases, you'll want to spend a few minutes getting your muscles revved up and your heart rate jump-started.
Cardio drills like jumping jacks or jumping rope help elevate your heart rate and raise your body temperature, which preps your body for exercise. And dynamic stretches like swimmer's hugs and alternating side bends gets your upper-body muscles moving without over-stretching.
2. Incorporate Mobility Exercises
Mobility exercises are kind of like stretches, but you're focusing more on a joint than muscles. Since push-ups can put a lot of stress on your wrists and shoulders, try incorporating these two drills into your warm-up.
Move 1: Wrist Mobility
- Hold your hands out in front of you and roll your wrists in circles that move out to the side.
- Switch to make circles going inward.
- Flex and extend your wrists.
- Keep moving your wrists around in ways that feel good and put them through their full range of motion.
Move 2: Shoulder Mobility
- Take your arms out to the side and move them in big circles moving forward.
- Circle to the back.
- Now alternate arms so that you're "swimming" forward and back.
- Try shoulder rolls (isolating just your shoulders) to the front and back.
3. Use a Foam Roller
Though some people may consider the foam roller more of a modern torture device than a recovery tool, as the saying goes, no pain, no gain. And that's certainly true with the foam roller (up to a point, of course).
Wherever you're feeling sore — upper back, chest, obliques — put the roller there and roll it out, staying put on any place that feels particularly sore. This can be particularly tricky/awkward with upper-body muscles, which leads us to…
4. Give Yourself a Massage
Either break out the lotion and give your tired muscles a good rubdown, or wait until you're in the shower and let the water and soap aid in the massage. Much like with the foam roller, wherever you're feeling particularly sore or tight — your upper arms, for instance — use your hands to massage away the tension.
Move up and down along the length of the muscles with a firm grip, or dig into tight spots with a circular motion.
5. Take a Long, Hot Soak
You're working hard! Show your muscles and joints some love by taking a soak in the bath. Some people also add Epsom salts to their baths to facilitate muscle recovery, and while there aren't many studies to back up the efficacy, there's plenty of anecdotal evidence.
More than likely, the benefits of an Epsom salt bath are from the warm water helping to relax and soothe your muscles. And as long as you don't have any underlying health concerns, there shouldn't be any reason not to give it a try. So go ahead and relax! You've earned it.
6. Make Sure You Fuel Up Properly
Your muscles need fuel to function optimally. Make sure you're getting a good balance of all macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat), especially protein. Protein contains amino acids, which are essential in the building (and rebuilding) of muscle.
Also make sure you're getting enough magnesium in your diet (from almonds, spinach and tofu). While it won't make muscle soreness or cramps go away, an October 2016 study from the British Journal of Anaesthesia found being magnesium helped decrease your body's sensitivity to pain.
How to Join the Push-Up Challenge
Step 1: Make Your Push-Ups a Daily Habit
Print out the 30-day push-up calendar below and use it each day to help you stay on track. Do the prescribed number of reps each day, and then check off each day as you complete them. Before you know it, it'll become habit!
Step 2: Connect With Us on Facebook
For daily support, motivation and camaraderie with LIVESTRONG.com team members, join us in our Facebook Group for the 30-Day Push-Up Challenge. We'll share tips, motivation, pictures and more! Plus, we'll answer all your questions.
Step 3: Stay Motivated
Throughout the 30 days we'll provide you with the tools and information you need to stay motivated and reach your weight-loss goals. Sign up for our daily newsletter or visit our homepage to get linked up with the push-up challenge and other great content, including:
- Daily motivational articles to keep you focused on your goal.
- Nutrition and fitness advice, including recipes and workouts.
- Real-time community support from thousands of LIVESTRONG.com members.