Workout variety is the gospel of fitness. Whether it's changing up your strength-training exercises or mixing up cardio modalities, keeping your body guessing is one of the best ways to see consistent progress — and avoid overuse injuries.
But when it comes to stretching, this rule doesn't apply quite so strictly. There are a number of stretches you can do every single day to loosen up tight muscles, including your lats, the large muscles of your back. You can develop tight lats from spending too much time at the pull-up bar or from sitting at a desk with poor posture for long hours.
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Fortunately, you can relieve tight lats from just doing a couple of stretches for a few minutes every day. Here are six essential upper and mid-back stretches, courtesy of Samuel Becourtney, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments, to help you loosen things up.
Move 1: Overhead Reach
- Start on your knees and sit up as straight as possible. Reach both arms overhead and interlock your fingers.
- Press your hands straight up toward the ceiling as if you are trying to make yourself taller. Hold this position for a few seconds.
- Lean toward the right side until you feel a stretch in your left obliques. Hold this position for a few seconds.
- Return to the center and repeat on the opposite side.
Move 2: Child's Pose
- Kneel on a firm but comfortable surface. Sit back into your heels. If you can't get into this position, place a folded towel between your butt and your heels.
- Lean forward and rest your chest on your thighs.
- Reach your arms straight out in front of you, allowing your chin to drop down toward your chest.
- Slowly walk your hands out in front of you until you feel a stretch in your upper- and mid-back muscles.
- Walk your hands out to the right to feel a stretch on the left side of your body.
- Walk your hands out to the left to feel a stretch on your right side.
Move 3: Standing Lat Stretch
- Find a ledge that is approximately chest-height, such as a fireplace mantle. You can also perform this stretch by placing your hands on a wall at the same height.
- Grasp the ledge with your hands shoulder-width apart and keep your back flat.
- Keeping your arms still and straight, slowly hinge forward at your hips. Allow your head to drop toward your chest.
- Sink down until you feel a stretch on the sides of your upper and mid-back.
Think about hinging at the hips by reaching your butt back as your head falls forward while maintaining a neutral lower back, Becourtney says.
Move 4: Shoulder Shrug and Roll
- Stand or sit up straight with your arms resting at your sides.
- Shrug your shoulders up as far as possible toward your ears. Hold for three to five seconds, then relax. Repeat 10 times.
- Next, roll your shoulders: Shrug them up toward your ears, then slowly roll them shoulders back and down. Continue to make a circle by bringing your shoulders forward and back up. Circle backward 10 times, then forward 10 times.
Move 5: Towel Stretch
- Roll a towel and lay it horizontally on the ground. Lie on your back with the towel at your shoulder blades.
- Raise your arms overhead and rest them on the ground, and extend your legs out straight. If this position bothers your lower back, bend your knees and plant your feet on the floor instead.
- Lie in this position for 30 to 60 seconds, then bring your arms back down and relax.
"Your arms do not need to reach the floor from the get-go, especially if you are experiencing shoulder pain," Becourtney says. "If you are unable to achieve this position, you can start by just going to the point of feeling a stretch and gradually build up to resting your hands on the floor."
Move 6: Bench Prayer Stretch
- Start kneeling in front of a bench or chair.
- Place your elbows on the top of the seat.
- Lean forward and drop your butt toward your heels.
- Hold your arms overhead with your thumbs toward your shoulder blades.