The upper back/shoulders can be a very hard area to feel deep stretching, making it become extremely tight. The best way I get into my upper back/shoulders is by using a wall to stretch!
Stretching the upper back on the wall can be very intense...these are not chill stretches that one can just "jump" into doing. The back, shoulders, and neck all should be warm before starting any of these drills. Because the upper back/shoulders are not stretched as often as the low back, this can be a bit of a shock to the body. Make sure you go slow while doing upper back stretches and try to remain calm! I know all of this sounds v obvious, but once you start doing these exercises, the simple things are easily forgotten!
While this might seem like the silliest thing to focus on, it is so important! I find so often, people are holding their breath while they are stretching their upper back, and that is not ideal. We want to make sure we are breathing evenly the entire time we are stretching the upper back. What might be tempting is to take a big exhale as you are getting into the stretch, and then hold your breath for about 10 seconds, and then restart the breathing...already the breathing has been compromised and not even. For me, I have to constantly be reminding myself to breath evenly...what helps me do this is to remain calm. If at any point I start freaking out because the stretch is really intense or too deep, my breathing is effected. So my main tip for breathing is to remain calm at all times! I know the stretches can be intense, but remain calm, breathe, and stretch on!
Again, I totally get that upper back/shoulder stretches are insanely hard and can be super deep! However, as a coach, I see all too often technique and form go out the window when it comes to upper back stretching. I think it is because of two things: 1. it takes a lot of effort to hold yourself correctly and have the correct technique, and 2. we want to focus so much on "getting low" (thank you Lil Jon) or being super deep in the stretch, that form and technique are compromised. It is much better to have perfect form/technique and be a little higher up, than be lower down in the stretch with compromised form. It takes effort to hold your body in the correct position (straight arms, shoulders internally rotated, holding neck, legs straight, etc.), so only drop as low as you can, while still being able to hold technique. Stretching with improper form is completely pointless and can lead to injury very easily.
~"To the windowwwwwww, to the wall"~
Lil Jon, thank you again for that intro, yas! I find the wall to be such a useful tool for stretching the upper back/shoulders! There are so many drills you can do with it for upper back and shoulders. You can also do these wall drills standing or kneeling. If you want to see these wall drills, head over to my Vimeo page https://vimeo.com/ondemand/functionalflexibility and subscribe!
~How often to stretch on the wall?~
I think it is best to ease into these...we do not want to shock our body with these super intense stretches. Start with once a week. Once they are feeling good, and you feel like you have a grasp of the technique, you can start doing these twice a week. I wouldn't do these more than 4 times a week though. Give your body a little break. Still do maintenance stretching (stretching for mobility upkeep) and conditioning as often as you want, but keep these super intense stretches limited to every other day. I have found from coaching and personal experience, that doing these stretches everyday makes the body actually reject the stretch: it becomes too much for it...so as tempting as it might be to do these everyday, ease into it and LISTEN to your body! If you feel like you need to come out of a stretch because something is getting injured, come out of the stretch! Do not sit there in excruciating pain! Stretching should not be painful. Dr. Elson from Harvard Health Publishing said it flawlessly: "You should not feel pain when stretching, rather it should feel like lengthening of the muscle"
~"But Rochelle, I have no idea what any of these upper back stretches on a wall are!"~
No fear, I gotchu!!!! Head over to my Vimeo page and subscribe! I go over my routine of wall stretches! And I also have other videos of shoulder stretches on the wall that are so yum!
I hope this information on upper back/shoulder stretches is useful to you! Let me know if you have any questions! Remember to check out my subscription page on Vimeo for more flexibility videos!