Want to loosen up your pecs? It’s time to upgrade the traditional doorway pec stretch to find lasting mobility gains.
Pec Anatomy and Function
There are 2 pec muscles – the pec major and pec minor, which run along the front of your chest to your upper arm.
Pec major has several originating points on your chest – your clavicle, your sternum, your upper ribs, and a tendon-like portion of your obliques . It then crosses the chest and ribcage to insert on your upper arm bone, or humerus.
Image by muscular-system.blogspot.com
Your pec minor muscle lies deeper and connects several of your upper ribs to your scapula.
The main function of your pec major is to move your humerus. It helps you adduct your upper arm (or move toward the midline) and rotate your arm in toward the midline as well . Your pec minor mostly works to lower your scaps.
Because your pec muscles cross your ribs, these muscles are heavily influenced by movements that occur at your ribcage. Like that one important, constant movement that involves your ribcage…
When your lungs are full from an inhale, your pec muscles are stretched. This connection to your breath will play an important role in how we’ll tweak the classic pec stretch.
What Exercises Work the Pecs?
Some of the most common exercises that work your pecs are the bench press, pushups and dips.
Your pec muscles are very strong muscles. Because of this, it’s pretty rare to injure them . Thankfully, you’re unlikely to face a pec tear because you overdid it on the pushups.
In fact, the only time you’re likely to see a pec muscle injury is in athletes that are really pushing the limits of the muscle – like powerlifters bench pressing with max weights.
The more common problem with pecs is something I’ve experienced myself – pec tightness.
I started lifting weights when I was 16 years old.
My brother bought me a York bench and weight set for my birthday.
I was eager to start pumping some iron because I was a skinny kid and felt it might help my chances with the ladies, whom I was becoming increasingly interested in impressing.
I can’t remember how I came up with my first weight training program, but it consisted of 3 exercises:
- Bench Press
- Bicep Curls
- Tricep Press
Help with the ladies?
Unfortunately, bigger arm and chest muscles wasn’t the root cause of my issues in that field. 😛
Image by www.gymguider.com
A year of this did what it should’ve done and although I added other exercises and body parts to the mix, I continued favouring these exercises because they felt good and I built some good strength with them.
But I have suffered the consequences of over-developing these muscles at the expense their antagonists, namely restricted shoulder extension and overhead mobility.
This is the big problem with doing a lot of horizontal pushing exercises like the Bench Press and Pushups.
The Doorway Pec stretch is a technique that many use to try to restore any range that’s been lost.
However, static stretching is what most people are taught and often, missing some critical technique cues to make the Doorway Pec stretch most effective.
Old School Pec Stretches
In the classic Doorway Pec stretch, you stand in a doorway with your arms to about 90 degrees, resting on the frame.
Image by therapylounge.ca
Your lower body starts to walk through the door as your arms stay put on the frame, creating a stretch in the pec muscles.
The problem is, this static stretch just focuses on increasing range of motion, or flexibility, without increasing range of control, or mobility (read more on flexibility vs. mobility here).
If we don’t also build strength throughout the range of motion we are trying to increase, then we won’t be able to maintain that range. Your neuromuscular system will see the range as unstable and tighten the muscles back up to protect you.
In comes my End Range Activation (ERA) approach. When applied to a stretch, these techniques can increase the mobility gains made and more importantly – make them last.
Upgrading the Doorway Pec Stretch
For this ERA sequence, we’ll strengthen the muscles that enter the range of motion (your pecs), the muscles that exit the range (your deltoids), and also the muscles that stabilize the range (your shoulder’s internal and external rotators).
There are a couple of other tweaks to the classic stretch to consider before we get started.
One, make sure to use what I like to call 3D breathing throughout this move.
As you breathe in and out, think of your ribcage expanding in ALL directions – 360 degrees – almost like a balloon inflating and deflating.
Remember that your pecs cross your ribcage. So when you take deep breaths that really expand the entire ribcage, it’ll create an even bigger stretch for your pec muscles.
Also, try to stay neutral through the spine. It is really common for people to go into spine extension during the passive stretch.
This tendency makes sense – your pecs are tight, so you might naturally compensate by extending the lumbar and thoracic spine.
Try to focus instead on keeping your abdominal muscles engaged and your low back neutral. This will help prevent your ribcage from flaring out and your back sliding into extension and keep the stretch focused on the pecs.
Doorway Pec Stretch Upgraded
Part 1: The Setup
- Place your elbows on a doorframe, a little bit higher than your shoulders, and step through the doorway with your feet in a split stance
Part 2: Agonist Contract Relax
- Contract your pec muscles as you push into the door with your forearms
- Hold for 5 seconds as you keep the pecs activated
- Release and relax into the doorway stretch for 5 seconds
Part 3: Antagonist Contract Relax
- Lift your arms away from the doorframe, contracting your deltoid muscles
- Keep your delts active as you hold for 5 seconds
- Release and relax into the passive stretch for 5 seconds
Part 4: Stabilizer Contract Relax (external rotators)
- Next, lift only your hands away from the doorframe to activate your shoulders’ external rotators
- Hold and actively contract for 5 seconds
- Release and relax back into the stretch for 5 seconds
Part 5: Stabilizer Contract Relax (internal rotators)
- Press your hands forward into the door frame like you were rotating your hands down (your elbows might pop off the door frame a bit)
- Hold for 5 seconds, activating your shoulders’ internal rotators
- Release and relax into the passive stretch
In under a minute, this move will take your pec mobility to a whole new level.
This drill will help improve your range of motion (flexibility), but more importantly, it will also help you build strength throughout this range (mobility).
In this way, your pecs will have greater range of CONTROL and your neuromuscular system will recognize the gains as safe and sustainable, allowing you to keep them.
So ditch the old doorway pec stretch and utilize this upgraded version for greater gains that last.