Any sports coach or trainer will tell you that stretching before and after working out is important to prevent injuries; it will also improve your athletic performance and general fitness level. Stretching your ribcage increases your lung capacity, and stretching your chest improves your posture -- all good things. The muscles between your ribs are your intercostal muscles, which work to expand your lungs when you inhale. The muscles of your chest -- your pecs -- help you move your arms. When your muscles feel sore or stiff, stretching them will make them feel better by loosening them and helping them heal faster. Tight muscles may be caused by hard workouts or stress and tension.
Stretch your chest by standing in an open doorway so that your side faces the door jamb. Raise your bent arm closest to the jamb and place it inside the door against the wall. Your elbow should align with your shoulder. Now, turn your head, shoulders and chest away from your arm. Hold for at least 30 seconds, feeling the stretch across your chest.
Lower your elbow slightly and repeat to stretch your upper chest.
Raise your elbow slightly higher than your shoulder's height and repeat, feeling the stretch in your lower chest.
Repeat Steps 1 to 3 on the other side.
Lie on your back on a yoga mat to perform the Bridge pose, which stretches your chest and the front intercostal muscles between your ribs. Bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the mat as close to your butt as possible and your knees and toes are facing straight forward. Put your hands on the floor down by your hips and use them and your leg muscles to push your hips off the ground. You can join your hands beneath your buttocks to help support you on your shoulders if needed. Use your glutes to keep your hips in the air so that your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold the Bridge pose for at least 30 seconds or for as long as one minute.
Perform the Cat and Cow pose together to stretch your front and back intercostal muscles, as well as your neck and spine. Kneel on a yoga mat on your hands and knees. Your knees should be directly under your hips, your hands directly under your shoulders, and your back should be flat. Exhale and round your back, tucking your chin to your chest and your buttocks down toward the floor. Keep your knees and arms still. Do not tuck in your chin forcefully; lengthen your neck but allow your head to drop. Inhale to return to your original flat-back position, and exhale.
Inhale to lift your chest and hips toward the sky, letting your abdomen lower toward your mat. Exhale to return to your original position. Repeat Steps 6 and 7 for 10 to 20 repetitions.
Perform the Cobra pose to stretch your chest and your front intercostal muscles, stretch and open the lungs, and stretch the shoulders and abs. Lie flat on your mat on your belly, with your legs and feet together. Place your hands below your shoulders on your mat, with your elbows pointing back toward your feet. Inhale to lift your chest to the ceiling, straightening your arms, if you can do so without lifting your hips off the ground. Don't focus on pushing your hands against the ground, but on lifting your chest to the ceiling. Hold for at least 30 seconds, continuing to inhale and exhale deeply. Slowly lower with an exhalation.
Stretch the intercostal muscles on the sides of your ribcage by performing the Extended Side Angle pose. Stand up tall with your feet wide. about 3 1/2 to 4 feet apart. Lift your arms out to the side so that they extend directly out from your shoulders, parallel to the ground, with your palms facing down. Turn your right hip, knee and toes out 90 degrees and turn in your left foot slightly. Exhale to bend your right knee so that your leg forms a 90-degree angle and your right thigh is parallel to the ground. Inhale as you lift your left arm toward the ceiling, reaching it to your left ear. Look up at your left arm and relax your shoulders. Lengthen and feel the stretch along your whole left side. Repeat to the opposite side.
- Always stretch your muscles before and after working out to reduce or prevent muscle tightness as a result of exercise.
- Never stretch cold muscles; always warm up before stretching to avoid muscle tearing and for the stretching to be effective. Warm up with light cardio, such as walking or bicycling.
- Consult a physician before beginning any new exercise program.
Lindsay Haskell enjoys writing about fitness, health, culture and fashion. She is a contributor for "Let's Talk Magazine" and "The Wellesley News." Haskell is completing her B.A. in philosophy at Wellesley College. She's also a fiction writer whose work can be read online.