THE HARDEST back MUSCLE TO STRETCH…
By far, one of the most difficult areas to stretch is the middle back and upper back.
Some people think it’s because the mid and upper back muscles are too thick to effectively target. But that’s not the case!
The truth is that many people do get muscle tightness in this area due to posture issues or constant sitting. They may even develop “knots” and mid back pain that never seem to go away.
Then they try to stretch the muscles of the upper and mid back, but unfortunately they’re using the wrong back stretches.
And they’re hitting the wrong back muscles!
You’ll see that most of the stretches for middle back that people do only target the latissimus dorsi muscles or the posterior capsule of the shoulder.
The problem with this is that if you just stretch out your latissimus dorsi and ignore the muscles in the middle and upper back, you are going to create an imbalance that can lead to more middle back pain and reduced range of motion than if you had ignored stretching altogether!
I don’t want you walking around with hunched shoulders and back, looking like Quasimodo…
So, I’m going to give you one of the best midback stretches to help you get the middle and upper back pain relief you need.
This is the best way to stretch out tight muscles in the upper body like the rhomboids, middle traps and lower traps and uses either a cable machine or even just a simple doorway!
3 STRETCHES THAT DOn’t work FOR UPPER AND MID BACK
Especially if you’re doing a lot of deadlifts and back training, it’s likely you’re tight in your paraspinal muscles in between your scapula.
Have you ever tried to stretch those mid back muscles and gotten unsatisfying results?
There are three ways that most people TRY to stretch mid and upper back (and get it wrong). Unfortunately, they’re the most common stretches people try to relieve pain and stiffness in this area.
Let me put on my physical therapist hat, and explain where these three common exercises go wrong.
1.) Hanging From a Bar
The problem with doing this is that is that we’re really just stretching out our lats. This can also be a great decompressive stretch to avoid lower back pain after deadlifts, but if what you’re going for is an upper and mid back stretch, this just isn’t going to get in there.
That’s because when we hang from the bar we’re only working on the upward and downward rotation of the scapula.
Instead we need a middle back stretch that is going to pull our scapula around our body.
2.) Cross Body Stretch
This stretch does get a little bit of protraction of the scapula out and around our body. But there’s another problem here. We are limited in mobility by the posterior capsule in our shoulder which is often tight, especially in athletes.
So that makes this stretch a less than optimal option for upper and mid back.
3.) Holding and Sinking
This is another lat stretch that’s not just good for pulling the scapula around the body.
THE ONLY STRETCH YOU NEED FOR UPPER AND MID BACK!
In order to properly stretch the muscles in the upper back we want to look for a stretch that moves in the opposite direction of the muscle’s function.
Let’s think for a second about what the middle traps and the lower traps do.
They pull the shoulder blades down and back together like this.
The key to figuring out how to stretch the middle and upper back is to reverse engineer the function of the muscles you’re looking to release. The rhomboids retract the scapulae or pinch them together while the middle and lower traps assist with this and also depress the shoulder blades.
So, to really get a feeling of stretch the muscles in the mid back you have to try and take the shoulder blades in the opposite direction as their normal function. We want to abduct and protract the scapulae while elevating them against their desire to remain depressed.
So, we’ve got to get them up, out and around like this.
I’m going to show you how to do the best stretch for upper and mid back on a cable machine.
If you’re at home, don’t worry!
You can do the exact same thing inside of any doorway!
Starting position is standing with feet flat on the ground in between your doorway or cables. Take your right arm across your body and grab hold of the cable or the door jamb to get that protraction. Then, take the left arm, and you cross it over to the other one in the same way and from there, you just sink back like this:
You want the arms to be pulled out in front of you so you can get that protraction with those shoulder blades being pulled apart.
There’s one more important tip I want to give you this stretch.
If you want to get those middle traps and lower traps, you’ll want to elevate the shoulders so that you can depress them.
We can do this by breathing in, letting your butt tuck under, breathing in deep, and lifting your shoulders as you let your arms pull away, like this:
Take a couple breaths like this and hold this position for about 60 seconds before returning to the starting position if you want to start causing some length changes and really stretch this muscle out! Do this 2-3 times, taking a couple breaths each time to deepen the stretch.
If you were trying this with me, you can feel that this is an amazing stretch to add to your daily routine to target that really hard to reach upper and mid back area!
Doing this simple exercise on a regular basis will help reduce intense pain and tightness in the back, prevent longer-term back pain and keep you out of the physical therapy office.
Remember, every muscle has a function. In order to stretch out that muscle, you’ve got to basically reverse-engineer that function. If the function is to pull this way, we want to stretch it by moving it the other way. If the function is to rotate it up, we want to do something to rotate it down.
At ATHLEAN-X we don’t only put the science back in strength. We also put science back in stretching! If you want a complete workout program that teaches you how to train like an athlete and supplements that training with effective stretches like these, check out all of our ATHLEAN-X Training Programs and start training like an athlete. I’ll coach you!
- The middle and upper back is one of the toughest areas to stretch. Many people are tight in this area, especially athletes and people who do a lot of deadlifts and back training.
- The 3 most common stretches that people do to try to relieve tightness in the middle and upper back are ineffective for hitting this area, and instead target the lats and shoulder capsule.
- In order to effectively stretch the mid and upper back including the middle and lower traps you need to reverse engineer the normal function of the muscle. For the upper to mid back we want to abduct and protract the scapulae while elevating them against their desire to remain depressed.
- The Cable/Doorway Stretch can be done at the gym or at home and is the only stretch you need to hit the hard-to-stretch upper and middle back!
Jeff Cavaliere M.S.P.T, CSCS
Jeff Cavaliere is a Physical Therapist, Strength Coach and creator of the ATHLEAN-X Training Programs and ATHLEAN-Rx Supplements. He has a Masters in Physical Therapy (MSPT) and has worked as Head Physical Therapist for the New York Mets, as well as training many elite professional athletes in Major League Baseball, NFL, MMA and professional wrestling. His programs produce “next level” achievements in muscle size, strength and performance for professional athletes and anyone looking to build a muscular athletic physique.