Upper Body Stretches

Tamsen Butler
Senior woman with fitness instructor at gym - stock photo

Stretching and maintaining your flexibility are important parts of any exercise regimen, and stretching your upper body is just as important as stretching your lower body and legs. Upper body stretches can help prevent and relieve pain from back injuries, while keeping your spine in alignment. Try these five stretches to target several areas of your upper body.

Seven Upper Body Stretches

These seven stretches work several muscle groups in your upper body including chest, arms and back. Try just one or all to improve your flexibility.

Chest Stretch


Stand with your feet slightly wider than hipbone-distance apart.This stretch will help to open your chest, stretching your front, shoulders and upper arms at once.

  1. Clasp your hands behind your back. If you are unable to clasp your hands comfortably, hold a towel or a strap and place your hands as close together as you are able.
  2. Raise your arms upwards behind you while you bend at the waist.
  3. Let your head hang loose and raise your arms as far overhead as possible. Keep your hands clasped and touch your palms together if you are able.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds and release.
Female open water swimmer stretching arms at ocean

Overhead Stretch


Stand with your feet hipbone-distance apart.This is a great stretch for targeting your arms, shoulders, upper back and chest.

  1. Raise your arms overhead and clasp your hands.
  2. Turn your palms upward as you stretch overhead.
  3. Hold straight up for 30 seconds, then bend slowly at your waist to the right. Keep equal weight in both feet as you reach overhead to the right. Hold for 30 seconds, then bend to the left.
Female runner stretching arms on urban footbridge at sunrise

Biceps Stretch

Most biceps exercises focus on the flexing of the elbow, so a good stretch for the biceps focuses on the extension of the elbow to stretch the biceps muscles.

  1. Stand tall with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Open your arms wide with your thumbs up, palms facing forward.
  3. Reach your fingers as though you're trying to reach walls on both sides of you.
  4. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.
Bare chested Man Exercising

Triceps Stretch

This stretch mainly targets the triceps, but will also work parts of the shoulder as well.

  1. Stand upright with your feet hipbone-distance apart.
  2. Raise your right arm overhead.
  3. Bend your right arm at the elbow, reaching for your upper back.
  4. Place your left hand on your right elbow and gently pull down on your elbow until you feel the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, release and repeat on the other side.
Woman doing static stretches before working out

Shoulder Stretch

This stretch works your shoulder, as well as your rotator cuff.

  1. Stand comfortably with your feet about hipbone-distance apart.
  2. Raise your right arm and bring it straight across your body, reaching to your left.
  3. Bring your left arm up in front of your right and use your left forearm to gently pull your right arm toward the left.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds, release and repeat on the other side.
Happy sporty young man stretching on the coastline

Seated Twist

This stretch works the muscles through your upper, middle and lower back. It can be done on a chair or on a stability ball.

  1. Sit on a chair or stability ball with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Keep your lower body still as you twist your upper body to the right.
  3. Grasp the outside of your right hip with your left hand, and reach your right arm behind you until you feel a stretch.
  4. Hold and repeat on the other side.
Beautiful woman practicing yoga by pool area in the mountains

Scapula Stretch

This stretch targets the muscles surrounding your shoulder blades and your upper back.

  1. Stand tall with your feet at least shoulder-width apart.
  2. Reaching your arms in front of you, clasp your fingers together.
  3. Push your hands to where your palms face outward with fingers still interlaced.
  4. Drop your chin to your chest, allowing your upper back to round slightly.
  5. Continue to breathe as you push your hands away from you with straight arms. Hold for 30 seconds before releasing.
Woman in office streching

Dynamic Stretches

The static stretches above are most appropriate after exercising (and your muscles are warm). For stretches pre-workout, use dynamic movements like the stretches listed below.

Shoulder Release

Most people spend a great deal of time throughout the day with their shoulders raised up toward their ears, which can cause muscle strain. This stretch helps release those muscles in preparation for exercise.

  1. Stand tall with feet wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Keeping your arms no higher than shoulder height, open your arms wide and then quickly cross them in front of your chest.
  3. Repeat step #2, allowing momentum to build and making it a quick, fluid motion.
Seniors doing arm strengthening exercises in a health club

Side Stretch

This stretch will feel great before a challenging core workout in particular.

  1. Stand tall with feet hip-width apart.
  2. Clasp your fingers together with your arms stretched straight overhead. Palms should face up toward the ceiling or sky.
  3. Bend at your waist on the right side (keeping your chest up), pushing your palms to the right while maintaining straight arms.
  4. Bend at your waist on the left side, alternating from side to side in a "tick-tock" motion.
Young woman runner stretching before run

Lower Back Release

It's a good idea to dynamically stretch your lower back before a workout to prepare it to work. If you have lower back issues or stiffness, start small with this stretch.

  1. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Bend your arms at your elbows and raise your arms to chest-level.
  3. Using your elbows to guide you, push your elbow behind you on one side. Your body will twist to the side.
  4. Repeat step #3, quickly alternating from side to side.
A smiling woman stretching

Stretch Often

For the best results, stretch each time you exercise, as well as on days when you may feel stiff or sore in these muscle groups. Frequent stretching will help keep these muscles flexible, which will enable you to gain more from your exercise.

Upper Body Stretches