Upper Back Stretches Program

If, like me, you spend a ton of time in front of your laptop then you probably suffer from neck stiffness, shoulder tightness and general pain across your upper back.

It’s a real frustration isn’t it?

After being sick and tired of constant pain following my back surgery, I created my own program of ‘Upper Back Stretches’ to reduce the tension, improve mobility and eliminate much of my back pain caused by the dreaded desk job. By dedicating just 16 minutes per day (8 mins in the morning and 8 mins in the evening) I’ve transformed my physical and emotional state and have drastically improved my quality of life.

The BIG Lifestyle Problem

Our lifestyles are completely different to 20 years ago. We spend more time glued to our laptops, slumped at our desks or driving our cars (with bad posture) than ever before.

The pace of society means you need to work longer and harder to get tasks completed and this leaves less time for your to look after yourself, in particular your upper back, neck, and shoulders. If you never stretch your upper back muscles then it is very likely you will suffer problems at some point in your life.

A constant seated position not only affects your posture but, if you forget to stretch then it will have a negative affect on your mobility.

My own lifestyle was exactly this, and it was the route cause of my back pain. After going through the hell of numerous medical procedures, expensive chiropractors, and major surgery, I finally found a way to reduce my pain by 70% using this program back stretches.

I combined my program of lower back stretches with the upper back stretches detailed below.

My Upper Back Stretches Program

Let’s be honest, this isn’t rocket science. Stretching your upper back is something we actually do in everyday life without really knowing it. We constantly bend down to pick things up, we reach, we lean, we twist, we push and we carry.

The main issue is that we never really do this for a prolonged amount of time to create a proper stretch in the muscle that will add any real benefit. We also don’t tend to do it evenly on both sides. This means you’re are often left with one side hurting more because the muscle is shorter on that side than the other. This can cause an imbalance across the neck, shoulders and upper back.

The result is back pain!

Stretching your upper back on a daily basis will help to rectify this imbalance. It will ensure your body stops compensating on one side, it will help to prevent long-term issues occurring and it will reduce your pain if you already have an existing back or neck condition.

Following my own back surgery, I dedicated 8 minutes in the morning and 8 minutes in the evening to stretching my upper back.

THAT’S JUST 16 MINUTES PER DAY TO DEFEAT UPPER BACK & NECK PAIN.

Just 16 minutes vs A nagging pain that won’t go away! Hmm, I knew which one I preferred.

This program has helped me to recover quicker from my surgery, become stronger in my upper back and decreased my pain considerably.

Below you will find my 4-week rehabilitation program of upper back stretches.

Each week consists of 5 easy stretches. That’s it!

Believe me. You will not regret it. Be dedicated, pause the TV for 10 minutes and commit to that pain-free life. 🙂

Upper Back Stretches Program Essentials (Please read)

For optimum results, you should carry out this program once in the morning and once in the evening.

Please be aware that you need to be dedicated. Your upper back pain will recover quicker if you apply the effort and work hard to fit your routine in.

If you miss a session, then find 5-10 minutes during the day to catch up. You can always find somewhere to do it.

Please do not try to exceed your limits. Stretching should be a gently, gradual process that helps your body to release tension without harming yourself.

If you feel any pain, stop immediately. If you feel slight discomfort then that should be ok. Stretching in new directions will cause some discomfort but that is part of gaining back your mobility.

You should also take the time to read my disclaimer here. I am not a medical practitioner. I am simply sharing what worked for me and what helped my recovery from back surgery.

UPPER BACK STRETCHES FOR WEEK 1

1. Standing Reach Stretch

This is a simple upper back stretch for beginners. It is designed to help you release tension whilst maintaining a firm posture.

Get into position:

Stand tall in the middle of the room with you hands by your side. You can place one foot in front of the other to help maintain balance.

The Stretch:

  1. Bring your hands together in front of you and interlock your fingers with your palms facing you.
  2. Keep your arms straight, bend your head forward and reach forward. You should feel the stretch in your upper back between your shoulder blades and under your arms (the lats muscle).
  3. Hold the stretch for 5 seconds and relax.
  4. Repeat 10 times.

Stretching Tips:

  • It is important you maintain a balanced, firm form.
  • This stretch should take 1.5 minutes.

2. Single Shoulder Blade Stretch

This stretch is designed to release the tension in the shoulder blade muscle (the Scapula) by pulling against an object. You can use a doorway, railing or heavy obstacle as leverage to maintain a good stretch. For this demonstration, I am using a Spin Bike.

Get into position:

Stand in a doorway or next to the spin bike where you have access to hold onto something with a firm grip. Be careful not to use a doorway where you will trap your fingers.

The Stretch:

  1. Reach forward with your left hand and grip the handle or hook your fingers around the door frame, just below shoulder height.
  2. Gently lean back until you can feel a stretch in your left shoulder blade and upper back. Don’t pull too hard that you will over-balance.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds and then relax.
  4. Repeat 10 times and then change sides to your right side.

Stretching Tips:

  • Make sure you have a firm grip but don’t pull so hard that you will loose your grip. The idea is to use your body weight to gain the stretch.
  • A variation of the stretch is to turn your body into the stretch.
  • After a couple of weeks working on this muscle area, you should be able to lean deep into the stretch.
  • This exercise should take 1.5 minutes.

3. Two Handed Upper Back Stretch

This exercise enables you to use your body weight to get a great stretch in your back muscle. To do this, you can also use a doorway, a set of railings or even a Spin Bike, like me. This exercise will target the middle of your upper back and the sides (Latissimus Dorsi).

Get into position:

Position yourself square on in front of the spin bike, open door or railings so you can grab on with both hands. Place your feet together. 

The Stretch:

  1. Secure a firm grip with both hands.
  2. Slowly lean backward and bend your legs whilst tucking your head between your arms. You should feel the stretch across your upper back.
  3. Hold the stretch for 5 seconds and then return back to the upright position.
  4. Repeat exercise 10 times.

Stretching Tips:

  • Don’t yank the door off the hinges or pull the Spin Bike over. Pull into the stretch gradually.
  • Breath out during the stretch to loosen yourself up.
  • After a couple of weeks working on this muscle area, you should be able to lean deep into the stretch.
  • A variation of the stretch is to turn your body inwards.
  • This stretch should take 1.5 minutes.

4. Sky Reach Upper Back Stretch

This is a simple, yet effective upper back stretch. You need to maintain balance and ensure you really get the best stretch you can. If you don’t, you will see a limited benefit.

Get into position:

Stand upright with your hands by your side.

 

The Stretch:

  1. Face your palms in towards your body.
  2. Keeping your arms straight bring them out to the side and up above your head until your palms are together.
  3. Stretch your arms as high as you can until you feel the stretch in your middle and upper back.
  4. Hold the stretch for 5 seconds and them lower your arms.
  5. Repeat the stretch 10 times.

Stretching Tips:

  • Stretch as high as you can without causing yourself any pain.
  • This stretch should take 1.5 minutes.

5. Standing Russian Twist

The standing Russian Twist is a great exercise that can be performed anywhere, like when you waiting for the bus, at work or in the kitchen. It’s a gentle and controlled way of loosening your upper back quickly.

Get into position:

Stand upright making sure your are relaxed and comfortable.

The Stretch:

  1. Lift your arms up to shoulder height in front of you. Make sure your elbows are facing outward, your hands facing inwards and your palms facing down to the floor.
  2. Next, slowly twist around to your left side whilst keeping your feet fixed to the floor. When you feel the stretch in your lower back and shoulder blades, hold it.
  3. Hold the stretch for 5 seconds. Then return to face forward.
  4. Repeat 10 times on each side.

Stretching Tips:

  • Try to maintain good form as this will help to get the best stretch.
  • To stretch your neck at the same time, turn your head round over the shoulder of the same side your are stretching.
  • This exercise should take just over 2 minutes.

UPPER BACK STRETCHES FOR WEEK 2

6. Neck Flexion Stretch

The side of your neck (Trapezius muscles) are a common cause upper back pain and nagging discomfort in your neck. They can even bring on the onset of tension headaches. With just a little amount of stretching you can release the pressure and make a huge difference to the way, you feel and function.

Get into position:

Stand upright with your arms down by your side. Maintain a firm posture, preferably with your stomach muscles tensed.

The Stretch:

  1. Tilt your head to the right side until you feel a stretch in the left side of your neck and the top of your shoulder (the Trapezius muscle). For a slightly deeper stretch, you can gently pull your head down further with your hand. Be careful not to pull too far.
  2. Hold for 5 seconds and then return your head back to the middle.
  3. Repeat on your left side.
  4. Carry out the stretch 5 times on each side.

Stretching Tips:

  • You can make the stretch deeper by gently pulling your opposite arm down to the ground by your side.
  • You can carry out this neck stretch anywhere. So, if you have a few seconds waiting for a bus or train, then it is an ideal opportunity.
  • This stretch should take approximately 2 minutes.

7. Spine Roller Stretch for Upper Back

Back rollers are a fantastic tool for reducing back pain. They have lots of uses including releasing tension, improving flexibility and pain relief. This particular exercise uses a roller to improve flexibility.

Get into position:

Lay on the floor with yoga mat or cushion under you. Grab the back roller and place it behind you on the floor. Lean back and make sure the roller is positioned just below your shoulder blades.

The Stretch:

  1. Get comfortable, then place your arms above your head and lean back. Ensure your bottom stays on the ground. Learn back to get the best stretch you can without pain.
  2. Hold the stretch for 5 seconds and then rest.
  3. Repeat the exercise 10 more times.

Stretching Tips:

  • Do not over stretch to the point of pain.
  • A steady, gentle stretch will help you to improve your flexibility.
  • This exercise should take around 2 minutes.

8. Arm Wrap Stretch

This is a very easy stretch and can help to quickly deliver relief from upper back pain. You can practice the one anywhere so it’s great when you have a couple of minutes to yourself during the day.

Get into position:

Stand up or sit upright on a chair. Maintain a firm posture and form throughout the movement. I would advise on tensing your stomach muscles to help you with this.

The Stretch:

  1. Lift your right arm up to shoulder level and pull it across your body so your right hand is over your left shoulder. If you can’t quite manage this then go as far as you can without pain.
  2. Place your left hand on the end of your right elbow.
  3. Push you elbow so you arm goes a bit further over your shoulder until you feel a stretch in the middle of your back.
  4. Hold the stretch for 5 seconds and then release.
  5. Repeat exercise 10 times and then change to your left side.

Stretching Tips:

  • Keep a straight back during the entire exercise.
  • Once you are comfortable with the stretch try to push your arm further each time. This fuller motion will stretch your upper back further.
  • This exercise should last 2 minutes.

9. Praying Upper Back Stretch

I’m a big fan of this exercise because you get such a wide stretch across your upper back and sides (the lats). I perform this at my desk about 5 times a day to release the tension between my shoulder blades.

Get into position:

Sit upright on a chair, a step or on a Swiss Ball. Get you balance.

The Stretch:

  1. Put your hands together in a praying pose in front of you at shoulder height.
  2. Next, keeping your hands in position, push your elbows up and forward with your chin dipped to your chest. You should be in a hunchback position and feel a stretch across your entire upper back.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds. Then release.
  4. Repeat this exercise 10 times.

Stretching Tips:

  1. Try to maintain your balance throughout the exercise.
  2. Tense your stomach muscles to maintain your form.
  3. A variant of this exercise can be to twist to each side when you are in the stretch. This will help to release more tension in the shoulder blades.
  4. This exercise should take around 1.5 minutes.

10. Upper Back Squat Stretch

This squat helps you to release tension in the lower region whilst you get a great stretch targeted at the middle and upper back. You also get the benefit of the squat on your legs muscles.

Get into position:

Stand in the middle of the room with a relaxed posture.

The Stretch:

  1. In the same movement, place your hands out in front of you (linking hands) at shoulder height and then squat downwards. Push out with your arms straight at the bottom. You should feel a nice stretch across your upper back and some release in your lower area.
  2. Hold the squat for 5 seconds. Then return back to the standing position.
  3. Repeat 10 times.

Stretching Tips:

  1. Try to maintain your balance throughout the squat.
  2. For an extended stretch in the neck, tilt your chin into your chest.
  3. This stretch should take around 1.5 minutes.

UPPER BACK STRETCHES FOR WEEK 3

11. Upper Back Pull-Down Stretch

Similar to the step pull, this stretch can be easy executed with the help of a sofa, a bed, dining room chair or swiss ball. It is also a great beginners stretch who need to target their upper back in a safe and comfortable way.

Get into position:

Get onto your knees with a chair or swiss ball in front of you an arms length away.

The Stretch:

  1. Reach both arms out in front of you and place your hands palms down on the ball.
  2. Next, lean forward between your arms whilst keeping your hands in position.
  3. You should feel a stretch in your upper back, middle back and shoulders.
  4. Hold the stretch for 5 seconds and then relax.
  5. Repeat 10 times.

Stretching Tips:

  • Don’t go too deep as you may hurt your shoulders.
  • Stretch to where your feel comfortable.
  • This exercise should take 1.5 minutes.

12. Twisting Wall Stretch

I find this a very simple exercise that enables a great stretch across the lats (sides of upper back). This is one of my favourite upper back stretches because I like to leverage myself on the wall for a deeper stretch.

Get into position:

Stand against a wall so your right shoulder is 3 inches away from the wall.

The Stretch:

  1. Lift your right arm up to shoulder height and place the back of your palm on the wall.
  2. Slowly turn your body inwards toward the wall whilst keeping your arm in position.
  3. You should start to feel the stretch in your upper back. Hold for 8 seconds.
  4. Repeat 5 times and then change sides.

Stretching Tips:

  • If you will be able to gain more of a stretch by twisting your body away form the wall.
  • This stretch should last approx. 2 minutes.

13. Angry Cat Back Stretch (Yoga Pose)

Yoga has some fantastic moves that involve stretching and maintaining a firm posture. If you get the chance, I would certainly recommend it to aid your recovery back to full fitness. This, Angry Cat pose, is one of the easiest stretches.

Get into position:

Climb onto all fours (knees & hands) on the floor.

The Stretch:

  1. Start to tuck your chin into your chest whilst arching your upper back into a stretched position. You now look like an angry cat! 🙂
  2. Hold for 5 seconds and then return back to the relaxed position.
  3. Repeat 10 times.

Stretching Tips:

  • A variant of this stretch is to gently drop your lower back on the way down. This will ensure a double stretch across your lower and upper back. It will also improve mobility.
  • This stretch should take 1.5 minutes.

14. Kneeling Reach-through Back Stretch

This is a very easy twist exercise that gives a great stretch to the side of your back. It’s at a different movement to what you would usually do in everyday life so it targets those hard-to-reach muscles.

Get into position:

Lower yourself onto all fours on the floor (Hands & Knees).

The Stretch:

  1. Place your weight on your left arm.
  2. Lift your right arm and reach through under your left armpit until you feel a stretch in your upper back.
  3. Hold the stretch for 5 seconds and return back to the middle.
  4. Repeat the exercise 10 times in total.
  5. Repeat on the opposite side 10 times also.

Stretching Tips:

  • Make sure you reach to get a deep stretch but not to the point where you feel uncomfortable.
  • Be careful not to over-balance.
  • This exercise should last about 1.5 minutes.

15. Diagonal Reach Stretch

This exercise gives you a great stretch across the lower shoulder blade and your side. I really love this stretch because it pulls on those muscles that get really tense when you are sitting at your desk.

Get into position:

Get comfortable sitting on a chair, step or Swiss Ball. Sit with a straight back and your stomach muscles tensed to maintain form. Place your hands on your thighs.

The Stretch:

  1. With your right hand, reach up diagonally until your feel a stretch in your shoulder blade. This may be uncomfortable but that is a good thing because it is probably attacking muscles you rarely stretch.
  2. Hold the pose for 5 seconds and then return to the relaxed position.
  3. Carry out the same action on the left side.
  4. Repeat on both sides 10 times.

Stretching Tips:

  • Make sure you reach to get a deep stretch but not to the point where you feel uncomfortable.
  • Be careful not to over-balance.
  • You can get a deeper stretch if you twist your body slightly when you are reaching.
  • This exercise should last about 1.5 minutes.

UPPER BACK STRETCHES FOR WEEK 4

16. Chin Tuck Stretch

This is a very simple stretch that will help to release quick tension in your neck and between your shoulder blades.

Get into position:

Stand upright in the middle of the room with your arms by your side. Make sure you are loose and relaxed.

The Stretch:

  1. Slowly push your head forward and tilt your chin downwards to your chest. You should feel a gentle stretch down the back of your neck.
  2. Hold for 5 seconds and then release.
  3. Repeat 10 times.

Stretching Tips:

  • Only stretch to the point of slight discomfort. Don’t over-stretch to the point of pain. Your neck is very delicate and you only want to gently encourage a stretch to release tension.
  • This exercise should last 2 minutes.

16. Head Tuck Squat

The Head Tuck Squat is a great exercise because it covers your lower and upper back, your neck and gives you a nice stretch on your quads (thighs) to.

Get into position:

Stand upright in the middle of the room with your arms by your side. Make sure you are loose and relaxed.

The Stretch:

  1. In the same movement, slowly squat down whilst bringing your hands up together in front of you with straight arms.
  2. As you get to the bottom of the stretch, tilt your head forward and down between your arms. You should feel a stretch in your lower back, upper back and neck.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds. Then return to a standing position.
  4. Repeat 10 times.

Stretching Tips:

  • Try not to rush this exercise. You will gain more benefit from it if you take more time.
  • Practice holding the stretch for longer.
  • This exercise should last 2 minutes.

More Upper Back Stretches to follow.