5 Simple Tight Chest Exercises to Improve Posture & Pain

Loosen Tight Pecs, Improve Shoulder Stability & Posture

By Coach E

5 Simple Tight Chest Exercises to Improve Posture & Pain

Tight chest muscles create bad posture and limit range of motion. These five tight chest exercises target elements that give you better, lasting results.

Welcome! Coach E here. Today I’m going to help you loosen up your tight chest muscles, which can be the pectoralis major or the pectoralis minor.

In this article, I’m going to go through a bunch of different strategies and exercises that touch on various root causes of tight chest muscles.

Now, you might have one or more of these root causes. But if you implement the strategies and exercises in this article you’re going to feel better, whether it’s loosening the tight chest muscles, improving shoulder stability, or improving your posture.

There are a number of different benefits that you can get from this article and from the exercises I’m about to show you.

As always, if you want to follow along with the video, click over to YouTube to watch Tight Chest Muscles? 5 Exercises to Loosen Your Pecs & Improve Posture.

Root Causes of a Tight Chest

Before we go into the five exercises, I want to talk about three different areas that can have a big effect on your chest muscles. It’s something to think about and consider changing.

Number one is your sitting posture.

This is such a big thing. Most of the time, when we’re sitting down hunched over, we’re looking forward, and we’re in this forward head excessive thoracic kyphosis – we’re rounded throughout the spine.

What happens is our bodies adapt to this position. When that happens, we adapt in this range where the chest muscles are shortened, our shoulders are rounded, and external rotation and upper back muscles are all lengthened and get weak.

We’ve got to address this sitting posture before any of the exercises can have a good chance of loosening your tight chest muscles or giving you the results that you’re after.

So how do we do that?

The easiest way to do this is when you’re sitting, you sit on your sit bones. They’re called sit bones for a reason. They’re your ischial tuberosities, the bony part running right underneath your butt.

correct sitting posture

Most of the time, we’re sitting in a posterior pelvic tilt. Our tail is tucked between our legs, and we’re on our sacrum, also called the tailbone.

We want to get into an anterior pelvic tilt position. Everything from the pelvis up gets aligned in a more effortless way.

That’s number one. Fix your sitting posture. Get into an anterior pelvic tilt, and stack your vertebrae so you can sit effortlessly all day long.

The next point I want to make applies to my fellow gym rats, my fellow meatheads, that like to go into the gym and push big weights around.

You’ve got to take a look at your overall program design. I grew up on a diet of bench presses, bicep curls, and tricep extensions, so I know this more than anybody. But if you’re doing too much pushing, like a bench press, dumbbell, press push-ups, dips, or overhead presses, that’s going to tighten up the muscles in the front of the shoulder and the chest.

bench press tight chest muscles

You’re going to have tight chest muscles because they’re always going to be shortened and strong. It’s going to be difficult to open them up and strengthen the back muscles.

So take a look at your overall program design. Make sure you’re not pushing too much so that you can restore balance to the shoulder joint and help to get to the root cause.

The last point I want to make, and this point applies to not just general life but also the exercises that you’re going to do, is we often breathe shallowly. We don’t expand our diaphragm. We don’t expand the ribs.

When you’re breathing, if you’re trying to take some deep breaths, think about expanding the diaphragm and expanding the ribs in all directions. When you’re doing exercises, if you’re holding in a position that’s loosening the chest muscles and stretching them out, and you take a deep breath and expand the rib cage, that’s going to get you a little bit more expansion and loosening in that muscle.

That’s just a really quick primer on some things to think about to address tight chest muscles.

Tight Chest Exercises

Before we get to exercise, we need to strengthen some of the weakened muscles and stretch out the tight chest.

Exercise 1: Segmental Thoracic Mobilization

We’re going to mobilize the thoracic spine. The reason why we’re doing this is that if we’re stuck in this excessive thoracic kyphosis, it’s going to be next to impossible to get the proper muscles activated to bring your shoulder back and to be able to hold that position long-term.

To do this we’re going to do the Segmental Thoracic Mobilization.

You can use a foam roller or yoga block.

We’re going to do something that’s a little bit different than some of the other extensions you’ve probably seen.

Start off with the roller at the lower part of the thoracic spine, that’s at the bottom of your shoulder blades.

segmental thoracic mob - tight chest exercises

  1. Lead back toward the floor, extending the spine
  2. Take a deep breath
  3. Curl back up on the exhale (like a situp)
  4. Do three reps
  5. Extend over again
  6. Do 3 sidebends, alternating sides
  7. Tuck your elbow up (situp position)
  8. Twist your spine 3 times so your elbow point from side to side

You’ll do three different movements, three reps of each, at three or four segments total of the thoracic spine.

Keep everything from the roller down stationary. From there you’re going to move so the roller goes up your spine an inch or two. Do three segments total.

That’s going to help you to not only extend the thoracic spine and get that joint mobility that’s often lost when your posture is poor, but also activates some of the muscles in that extended position.

That way we can make that range of motion stick a little better.

Exercise 2: Slumpy Serratus Activator

The next exercise we’re going through is to get a muscle called the serratus anterior activated and strong.

This is a key muscle for shoulder and scapular posture and stability. It’s one I talk about for a lot of other articles, like the rotator cuff rehab exercises at the bottom of the page.

This exercise is my favorite for waking this muscle up.

The first thing you need to know about the serratus anterior is yes, it does the function of protraction – that’s the shoulder blades going apart from each other.

It also does a movement known as posterior tilt. It brings the bottom edge of the scapula of the shoulder blade closer to the rib cage. That’s the motion we want to focus on when we do this exercise.

You won’t need any equipment for the Slumpy Serratus Activator.

What we’re going to do is just stand up and get into poor posture – the opposite of what we’re ultimately going for.

slumpy serratus activator - tight chest exercises

  1. Start in slumped posture
  2. Reach the arms as far back as you can (palms facing each other) as you straighten up
  3. Tuck the chin and think posterior tilt of the scapula
  4. Pull the shoulder blades down into the rib cage, not just together but into the rib age
  5. Hold for 5-10 seconds
  6. Slowly bring your arms back to your sides, keeping everything on
  7. Gradually release the muscles in good shoulder positioning

Do 2 – 3 sets of 4 – 8 reps.

At the end range, you should be fighting between lifting your arms up higher and pulling your shoulder down and into your ribcage.

Keep the elbow straight. Breathe.

You’ll feel your chest expand and stretch. You’re trying to get deeper into the range of motion so you’re activating those muscles, contracting them strong.

Exercise 3: Chest Stretch

The next thing we’re going to do is stretch out the chest.

We’ll do a simple wall chest stretch. Put your hand up on the wall, fingers pointing backward, arm extended horizontally out to the side.

chest stretch - exercise to loosen pecs

  1. Put you hand up on the wall about shoulder level
  2. Lean forward to get into a mild to moderate stretch
  3. Take deep breaths for 1-2 minutes
  4. Switch sides

In the stretch, think shoulders down, posterior tilt of the scapula (you’re scooping your scapula under) and just holding that position, nice and tall through the spine. Keep the chin up and when you’re there in position.

Take it nice and slow, focusing on expanding the rib cage, especially under the chest muscle that we’re stretching.

Direct your breath. When you breathe out, let everything relax but keep that serratus on a little bit to keep that shoulder positioning. Stay there for 1-2 minutes.

With those little tweaks, you’re going to feel a little better and more relaxed afterwards. It is important that we do the sequence as such because we mobilize the thoracic spine, then we activate the serratus anterior.

Now we’re stretching the chest in a good position, in good posture, with a little bit of serratus anterior activation to keep the shoulder blades in good posture. That way, we can get to that pec minor.

So there’s an importance of the order of the exercises that we do here, the mobilize and activate sequence is what creates lasting change in your body.

Now that we’ve done our tight chest stretches, we’re going to activate and strengthen the muscles in the upper back and the external rotators of the shoulder. This is really good to do after stretching the chest because now we can get into the full range and the full shortened range of the rhomboid, the mid-traps, and the external rotators because the chest isn’t limiting those ranges of motion.

Again, the order is important.

Exercise 4: Prone ROWtation

The exercise we’re going to do is called the Prone ROWtation.

What you’re going to do is get a yoga ball, or you could use a stool or bench, something that you can lie on where your arms can hang down over the top.

Set yourself up in a pushup position with your chest and stomach on the ball. Hold a good posture with your chin tucked (pulled away from the floor.)

prone rowtation - tight chest exercises

  1. In the pushup position on the ball, row the elbows out but the shoulders down
  2. Let the forearms hang while squeezing the shoulder blades together
  3. Hold for 5 seconds
  4. Keeping your elbows steady, rotate your hands up, in front of you (external rotation)
  5. Hold for 5 seconds
  6. Reverse the motion slowly and under control
  7. Relax

Do 2 – 3 sets of 4 – 6 reps.

Think of stretching the chest. Think of opening the chest up, kind of bowing outwards so the chest stretches.

Hold that and breathe naturally.

Now the whole time, I’m trying to get deeping into all the range here. So I’m activating those muscles nice and strong. We’re developing stretch and endurance there.

After that one, just reverse the motion slowly and under control. Then relax.

What this exercise does is because we’ve got these isometric holds, we’re working in that fully shortened range of motion, opening the chest up and strengthening the muscles that tend to get lengthened and weaker when we’ve got poor posture and a tight chest.

This exercise is a great way to follow up any chest stretching you do, and it’s going to make those results that you get in range of motion from stretching the chest out last longer.

Exercise 5: Subscap Circles

The fifth and final exercise we’re going to cover today is for a muscle called the subscapularis. The subscapularis is part of the rotator cuff group of muscles, and it’s the only muscle that performs internal rotation.

subscapularis internal rotation

The pec major is another muscle that performs internal rotation. Now, when a muscle that we have in our body gets strong and overused, then other muscles can shut off and not work as much as they should be working.

The problem with this is that the subscap is a very, very important muscle for maintaining shoulder stability, especially as the arm is moving around.

It helps to maintain the head of the humerus, which is the ball at the top of the upper arm bone. The shoulder is a ball and socket joint. The top of the humerus (the ball or head) centers inside the socket (aka the glenoid) as you’re moving your arm around.

So if this muscle is not working because our chest is dominating this movement and this pattern in the shoulder, then the subscap will not be providing that alignment, and you can be at more risk of rotator cuff tendonitis and tears, shoulder impingement, biceps tendonitis, and other shoulder issues.

The exercise we’re going to do is the Subscap Circles.

I’m going to use a band for this. You set the band up around two feet above the ground and lie down so that the band is pulling horizontally out from your body. You just need a light band, so you don’t need a really heavy band.

Subscap Circles - tight chest exercises

  1. Lay on your back, gripping the band, bend the elbow to 90 degrees.
  2. Position your shoulder girdle on the floor; stick it there
  3. Draw big circles with your elbow coming right across your body, across your face, and down to the ground.
  4. Repeat for 3 – 4 circles per direction

Do 2 – 3 sets.

After you bend your elbow, think posterior tilt of the scapula and bring the shoulder down towards the floor so the whole shoulder girdle stays down toward the floor. Stick it there the whole time.

The reason why I like doing this on the floor is because you have that feedback to help you see that your shoulder is in proper positioning. So I’ve got my shoulder set up properly and with the elbow at 90 degrees.

Here we’re training the subscapularis. We’re waking it up, and we’re training it through the full range of shoulder motion or a wide range of shoulder motion, not the full range, but a wide range.

Go nice and slow. The key is maintaining the shoulder and scapular positioning, and you can do a few circles in one direction and then reverse directions, do a few circles the other way.

Again, you don’t need a really have band. You want a light band, just enough to get a little bit of tension to activate that subscapularis. Otherwise, if you use a band that’s too heavy, you’re probably going to over-recruit the pec major again.

The subscap circle is a great exercise for working this neglected rotator cuff muscle and working one of the synergists that tend to shut off when our chest muscles or pectoralis major muscles are overly tight and overworked.

How to Loosen Tight Chest Muscles & Eliminate Shoulder Pain For Good

There you have our approach to dealing with tight chest muscles.

tight chest exercises routine summary

Perform this routine 2-3 times a week, and that will help you to build strength and endurance in these muscles to give you lasting results.

We have another articles for you that builds on this to get your rotator cuff in great shape, “5 Best Subscapularis Exercises for Rotator Cuff Rehab.” Read that next to head off (or recover from) any shoulder pain from wear and tear.

Finally, if you’ve got shoulder pain, check out and sign up for the Shoulder Pain Solution. Let me guide you through exercises in the proper order and show you unique exercises that will address the root causes so you can get lasting results.

Thanks for reading. See you next time.

I wanted to report to you regarding the Shoulder Pain Solution.

My shoulder pain is no longer an issue. I play pickleball two to three times a week with no problems. I do strengthening and pushups and various exercises from the program.

I am so pleased. I had a 40-year shoulder injury from volleyball and now I can do whatever I want.

Thanks for all that you do.

– Alissha

About the Author

Eric Wong (aka Coach E) is the founder of Precision Movement and has a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Waterloo. He's been a coach since 2005 and spent his early career training combat athletes including multiple UFC fighters and professional boxers. He now dedicates himself to helping active people eliminate pain and improve mobility. He lives in Toronto (Go Leafs Go!) with his wife and two kids and drinks black coffee at work and IPAs at play. Click here to learn more about Eric.

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