Stretch Your Chest With This Seriously Underrated Piece of Equipment

Try these three chest stretches to undo a day of hunching over your laptop and to strengthen your pecs.

Resistance bands are a seriously underrated piece of equipment: They’re affordable, weigh next to nothing and are easy to tote around. Plus, you can use them on virtually every part of your body, so these stretchy bands are a must-have for any home gym, especially if you’re working with a tiny space.

Resistance bands are also great for proprioception, or our body’s awareness of where we are in space, says Toronto-based physiotherapist Surabhi Veitch. “If someone is really struggling to connect with their core or feel their butt during a workout, we can use resistance bands to promote the feeling of that muscle being used so that the person can start connecting with that area of the body.”

Like with dumbbells and other weights, integrating resistance bands into your exercise routine can lend more, well, resistance to your strength training, tearing your muscles more and making them stronger. When you do strength exercises, you’re creating microtears in your muscles. When this happens, your body sends more blood and nutrients to the area and this helps repair and strengthen your muscles. However, because resistance bands maintain constant tension on your muscles as you move through an exercise, they actually create more muscle growth. Basically, dumbbells and free weights generate resistance with gravity, so they’re most effective when you do downward motions (think bicep curls). Meanwhile, resistance bands rely on their own elasticity to create resistance, so they’re effective on multiple planes of movement.

A common place to use your resistance bands is in training your chest muscles (a.k.a. your pectoral muscles or pecs). Your pecs help with any pressing movements, like pushing open doors or pushing yourself up off the floor. Plus, your chest muscles stabilize your shoulders and shoulder blades, which protects you against injuries and aids in maintaining a healthy posture. When your pecs are healthy and strong, it helps you stay upright and not hunch forward.

“Typically, if you’re working on the chest, you want to focus on pushing,” says Ivana Sy, a registered kinesiologist. A chest press is one of the simplest chest strengthening workouts you can do with a band. In this case, all you need is a chair (or something to tie your band to) and your trusty band. Another pec workout to try with a resistance band is a pec fly . On top of being a great chest strengthening move, pec flies open up your chest muscles, which can help reduce back pain and increase range of motion. To strengthen your shoulders along with your pecs, Veitch suggests a move called Free the Bird.

These exercises are beginner-friendly, you can use any resistance band to do them. If you want to level up, Sy recommends just using a “heavier” band, meaning a band that provides more resistance. It’s the equivalent of picking up a heavier dumbbell.

But user beware: There are some things to watch out for when working with resistance bands. First, if you have a latex allergy, opt for ones made from rubber or cloth. Veitch also recommends wearing something that covers your arms when using resistance bands, which will protect your arm hair from being tugged on by the band, especially if your band isn’t covered with fabric. To that end, tie your hair back so it doesn’t get in the way or stuck to the band, which can really hurt. If you have grip issues or a hand injury, opt for a band with handles, says Veitch. And if you have higher blood pressure, Veitch suggests working out one side at a time: “That can prevent a big increase in blood pressure during exercise.” Finally, bands can snap while you’re using them, so be mindful of overstretching to avoid a painful elastic band slap, especially with pets or kids nearby. While it should burn a little when you work them, improving your chest strength should never feel painful.

Try these chest stretches

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Chest press

Start seated in a sturdy chair with your resistance band looped around the chair’s back. Grab both sides of your band with your hands and, starting with your arms bent and hands at shoulder height, slowly push forward by straightening your arms. Imagine you’re pushing open a really heavy door. Slowly return your arms to the starting position and repeat.

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Pec fly

Holding the band in front of you, with your hands facing each other and arms straight, slowly pull your hands apart. Try to get your arms in a “T” position. Once you’ve gone as far as you comfortably can, slowly return to the starting position and repeat.

Meaghan Way Best Health 1 CopyImage: Meaghan Way

Free the Bird

Start by stepping on one end of your band with one foot to anchor it to the floor. Then, grab the other side of the band with your opposite hand (e.g. if you’re stepping on it with your right foot, use your left hand). Starting about waist-high, slowly raise your hand up and out diagonally, as if releasing a bird into the sky.

Next: 3 Moves to Stretch and Strengthen Your Glutes After Sitting All Day

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Originally Published in Best Health Canada