We used to move our arms and spines in all kinds of ways-thing foraging, hunting, carrying. Today? Our arms mostly hover in front of us as we drive, tap on a keyboard, and prep food. A lifetime of not using our upper bodies well can limit mobility in the arms, shoulders, and upper back-and poof, our upper body strength drains away. The result: upper back pain.

For Katy Bowman, a biomechanist and movement teacher, restoring lost motion and power starts with one simple stretch: a thoracic stretch using the back of a chair.

How to do a thoracic stretch

As you perform this move, keep the muscles in the fronts of your thighs as relaxed as possible.

  1. Place your hands on a desk, a countertop, or the back of a sturdy chair. Walk backward, lowering your chest to the ground.
  2. Once your hips are behind your ankles, straighten your legs. Relax the muscles in the fronts of the thighs and gently lift your tailbone. Hold your arms in place and keep pressing your armpits toward the floor. The movement is primarily in the shoulders-if you feel it in your lower back, lift the bottom of your rib cage as you press your shoulders down.
  3. Flip your hands over so your thumbs point away from each other, then bring your arms toward each other. This engages more of your shoulder muscles. Hold for five to 10 breaths. Take a short break, then repeat two or three times.

Katy Bowman directs and teaches at the Nutritious Movement Center Northwest. This is adapted from her book, Don't Just Sit There.

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