Updated: Apr 3, 2019
We walk a fine line in aerial arts, we need strength and we need flexibility. Obtaining both is the tricky part. I wanted to share some of the stretches and flex work that I do to help my chest stay open. As discussed in previous posts, in aerial and pole the lats and the pecs tend to take over the burden of lifting the body. This can cause overdevelopment in the pecs and lats, which usually comes with tightness. It can also mean underdeveloped muscle groups like the lower traps, rhomboids and even core. The other side effect is tight chest muscles and shoulders.
The Pec muscle group (Pectoralis major and minor) runs from the sternum (middle of the chest) winging out across the torso connecting with the shoulder and bicep muscles of the arm. The Pecs control the movement of the arms, by lifting the humerus bone with contraction. This allows for rotating the arm, vertical and horizontal lifting and aiding in flexing the arm. The pecs also lift the rib cage during a deep inhalation.
Every time we do a climb, pull-up movement, inversion or lift we are likely using the pecs. Overdevelopment is the name of the game.
How do you know if you have over developed or tight pecs?
First off, do you ever look in the mirror and think gorilla? Is it difficult to move your shoulders back and down. If you lay down on the your back and reach your arms overhead and try to touch the floor, do you feel tightness in the pecs near the shoulders. Another test is to try out the third exercise on the ball and see if you feel tightness. On the more extreme level, I have talked to many students who get a burning pain in the inside of the upper arm. Most of the time, the tight pecs are pulling on the long head of the biceps brachii muscle. This pain can also move into the anterior delt. The other side effect is that the tight pecs pull our shoulders forward, this can strain the upper middle back, including the rhomboids and middle traps. It is crucial to weight lift outside of pole and aerial and work on strengthening the rhomboids, lower traps and core.
How to open the pecs
I have selected three highly effective stretches for opening the chest. Like most of us, I want to maximize what little time I have stretching so that what I am doing is effective. I do recommend checking out these other posts on related topics. The myofasical release post is a really great addition to stretching.
The Floor Rollover Pec Stretch
I would like to credit this stretch to David Owen. David was helping me with flexibility training a few years back and he suggested this stretch for tight pecs. It is effective and can reach even the tightest pec. Begin prone (stomach down) Bring your arms out in a T position. To stretch the right side, gently roll onto your right side and keep the right arm in the "T". Roll to where you feel a pec stretch. Step the left foot behind the right leg for extra leverage and balance. Hold for 30 seconds.
Triple Pec Stretch on the Fit Ball
Place the upper back on a fit ball, bridging the hips up and keeping the knees in alignment with the hips. Use the glutes, hamstrings and core to stabilize. Lift the arms overhead right over the chest. With swan like movement, open the arms lower then the "T" position to 45-degree low. Take a breath. Lift the arms back overhead above the chest; lower the arms out to the "T " position. Take a breath. Lift the arms back above the chest and lower to a 45-degree above the "T" position. Take a breath. Repeat two to three times, them hold and open each position.
Standing Shoulder and Pec Opening Stretch
Stand in a wide stance or straddle. Interlace the hands behind the back, rolling the shoulders down the back away from the ears. Pull the shoulders blades together to engage the rhomboids and lower traps. Soften the knees (no hyper extending the knees), hinge at the hips with a flat back fold over into this wide forward fold position. Drop the arms overhead and open to where a stretch is felt in the shoulders and pecs.