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3 Ways To Fix A Tight Chest

Use These Techniques To Loosen Up A Tight & Sore Chest!

Posted by heyhay5212 - July 6th, 2015

In honor of International Chest Day (a.k.a. every Monday), here are several ways to deal with your tight and sore chest the rest of the week.  These exercises are good to do even if your chest does not feel tight or sore.  The chest muscles are typically tight on most people due to lifestyles, exercise selection, work environment, and weak scapular stabilizers.  Performing these exercises 2-3 times per week can relieve tightness in the pectorals, improve posture, and improve scapular movement.

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The chest is made up of primarily two muscles: the pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor.

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The pectoralis major is the large, visible muscle that most people term “the chest.”  The pectoralis minor is an often ignored muscle because it sits deeper to the pectoralis major and is not visible.  The pectoralis minor is a difficult muscle to stretch and lengthen because small changes in exercise and stretching techniques will make it shorten.  Spinal extension (arching the back) and rib expansion will shorten the pectoralis minor so it’s important to keep the spine in a neutral position and to tighten up the abdominals so the ribs do not flare away from the body while stretching.  

A chronically tight pectoralis minor can cause problems in the shoulder because the muscle inserts on the coracoid process of the scapula (shoulder blade).


A tight pectoralis minor can cause the scapula to tilt anteriorly.  An anteriorly tilted scapula looks like the shoulder blade is pulling away from the back so there is a gap between the torso and the inferior (bottom) border of the shoulder blade.  An anteriorly tilted scapula will disrupt the kinematics of the scapula causing shoulder dysfunction and pain.

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The Fixes - Foam Roller Pec Matrix

The foam roller is a great tool for self massage and it’s also great for chest expansion.  For this exercise you will need a three foot long, round foam roller.  Start by laying the foam roller on the ground and then position yourself so you are laying supine on top of the foam roller.  Your spine should be directly on top of the foam roller and your head and hips should be supported.  The foam roller pec matrix consists of six different moves: punches, shoulder rolls forward, shoulder rolls backward, lateral flies, diagonal flies, and snow angels.  When you perform these moves remember to keep the back flat on the roll.  Do not arch your back.  If you arch your back you will not receive the full benefits of the stretch.  Another tip is to make sure you do not expand your ribs away from your body as you move your arms.  Keep the abdominals engaged so the ribs are cinched down.  Perform 20 repetitions for each movement.

Punches - Pull the shoulder blades apart and reach towards ceiling.  Do not let hands drift towards midline of body.  Palms face each other.

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Shoulder Rolls Forward - If viewing from the side, shoulders will rotate  counter clockwise. Do not let hands drift towards midline of body.  Palms face each other.

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Shoulder Rolls Backward - If viewing from the side, shoulders will rotate clockwise. Do not let hands drift towards midline of body.  Palms face each other.

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Lateral Flies – Let arms fall out to side in a fly movement.  Do not arch back.

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Diagonal Flies – Same movement as the lateral fly but arms are now forming a diagonal line across body.  Palms always face up towards the ceiling.  Do not arch back.

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Snow Angels – Let arms form the “touchdown “signal in football.  Reach overhead, keeping hands and elbows as close to floor without arching back.  Palms always face up towards the ceiling.

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Golf Ball Massage in Doorway

The golf ball massage in the doorway is the most intense chest release of all the tight chest fixes but it provides the fastest relief for tightness and soreness.  To perform this exercise you will need a golf ball and a regular door frame with a lip.  If you do not have a golf ball a lacrosse ball, tennis ball, baseball, or foam roller may work with some slight adjustments.  If you choose to do this exercise with a foam roller you will have to lay prone with the end of the foam roller in the same position as the golf ball.  To start, hold the golf ball in the middle of the door frame so it is resting near the lip of the doorway.  

Once positioned correctly, lean your body onto the golf ball so the mid belly of the pectoralis major is directly on top of the golf ball.  Be cautious with the placement of the golf ball because you may cause numbness down your arm if you too close to the armpit.  If you do experience numbness or tingling, stop immediately and wait for normal sensation to return to your arm then position the golf ball closer to the sternum.  Once the ideal position has been found you can simply rest your chest on the ball for 20-30 seconds on a tight or sore portion of the muscle or you can add arm movements to get an active release of the muscle.  

To add arm movements, you can keep your arm straight and perform a “fly” type movement or you can reach overhead.  Keep repeating these movements for 20-30 seconds each then relax for 20-30 seconds.  Repeat up to 5 times each side.

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Wall Angels

Wall angels are a great exercise to open up the chest and shoulders.  This exercise can also help with neck and mid back tightness as well.  To perform this exercise, stand with your hips, back, shoulders, and head flat against a wall.  Do not arch your back or expand your ribs away from the wall.  Start with your arms and palms flat on the wall.  Slide your arms and palms up the wall until your elbows are lateral to your shoulder then externally rotate the shoulders until the back of the hands are flat on the wall.  From this position reach up as high as you can without letting your hands, back, or shoulders leave the wall.  If you have never done this exercise you may not get very high on the wall and that’s alright.  It may takes weeks or even months before you can see and feel a difference.  Doing this exercise 2-3 times a week will yield greater mobility in the shoulders.  

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 I see many people with shoulder problems walk through the doors at the physical therapy clinic where I work.  Majority of people with shoulder problems have problems with the mobility in their shoulders and the tightness in the pectotalis major and pectoralis minor muscles.  Using these techniques will not only help decrease chest soreness and tightness, but it will help improve the overall health of the shoulder joint.  Prevention is the best way to keep little pains from becoming big problems.  Healthy shoulders keep you lifting longer!

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posted by heyhay5212
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Owner of Onyx Athletic Performance
Certified and Licensed Athletic Trainer

Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

BS in Athletic Training, Minor in Nutrition, University of Utah

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I start of with rollers and a tennis ball. It hurts but definitely worth it!

Great stuff @heyhay5212


I use a hockey/lacrosse ball on my legs but never thought to use it on my chest :-)

GraaY94  Edit  Delete  Close

ive started doing the same with a lacrosse ball! learned the hard way when i injured that upper area, ended up getting electric shock acupuncture on that area haha

Scott_Herman  Edit  Delete  Close

It is going to hurt!  That is for sure! haha


Solid! Never seen the golf ball! I use a tennis ball, but Scott's lacrosse ball sounds much better!


Great Article!


Awesome article @heyhay5212! I will definitely be trying some of these stretches :)

heyhay5212  Edit  Delete  Close

Thanks! I hope the stretches help you out!


I use a lacross ball.  It hurts soo good!

heyhay5212  Edit  Delete  Close

The lacrosse ball is my best friend and worst enemy. Definitely a love/hate relationship. 


I'll have to give the golf ball a try!


Before you workout, complete a warm up set or stretch!