neck stretch
(Photo: Klaus Vedfelt, Getty)

The Best Upper Body Stretches for Outdoor Athletes

We often focus so much of our stretching on our legs, but athletes need to focus just as much time and energy on their upper body

neck stretch
Klaus Vedfelt, Getty
Amber Sayer

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When it comes to the best stretches for outdoor athletes, the emphasis tends to be on lower body movements. It makes sense: Your hamstrings, quads, and calves work hard to keep you healthy and mobile. However, upper body stretches are just as important—especially if you’re a climber, triathlete, or cyclist. Many of these stretches will feel basic, which underscores the point that sometimes you don’t have to get complicated to get results. 

What to Focus on With Upper Body Stretches

If you want to have a well-balanced recovery routine, make sure to target the pectoral muscles of your chest, the deltoid and rotator cuff muscles in your shoulders, the triceps and biceps in your upper arms, and the rhomboids, traps, lats, and serratus anterior muscles in your upper back. By giving attention to each of these key areas, you’ll maintain flexibility and mobility in your top half. 

The Best Upper Body Stretches for Outdoor Athletes

Some of these movements are great for a dynamic warm-up before starting an activity, while others are good recovery options. By integrating these stretches in your regular routine, you’ll feel more mobile and flexible throughout your upper body. 

1. Arm Circles

Arm circles

This movement is a great dynamic stretch to do before beginning any workout to help open up your chest, shoulders, and upper back.

How to do it: 

  1. Stand upright with good posture.
  2. Bring your arms straight out to the sides in a T-shape. 
  3. Slowly rotate both arms forward, tracing small invisible circles with your fingers. Keep your elbows straight. Gradually increase the size of the circles with each rotation. 
  4. Complete 15 arm circles. 
  5. Reverse the direction of your circles and repeat.

2. Trunk Twists

Trunk Twists
(Photo: Luis Alvarez, Getty )

This is another great stretch to add into your warm-up routine to support your upper back and shoulders. 

How to do it: 

  1. Stand upright with your feet planted hip-width distance apart. Bring your arms out to the sides in a T-shape. 
  2. Keep your hips square. Rotate and twist your torso from right to left, opening up your obliques, back, and chest. Gradually increase the speed and range of motion.
  3. Twist for 30 seconds. 

3. Chest Stretch

If you’re looking for a post-workout recovery movement, this is a great stretch to turn to. Focusing on the pectoral muscles in your chest and the front of your shoulders, this exercise is particularly helpful for cyclists who spend a lot of time hunched over in an aerodynamic position. 

How to do it: 

  1. Face a doorway with your arms out to the sides in a T-shape. 
  2. Step your right foot far enough forward through the doorway so that your arms catch on the sides of the entrance. You should feel a stretch across your chest and the front of your shoulders. 
  3. Keep your spine neutral, gaze forward, and core tight.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side. 

4. Shoulder Stretch

Chest Stretch
(Photo: Cavan Images, Getty)

As the most mobile joints in your body, your shoulders do a lot. To offer them some relief, try this post-workout stretch. 

How to do it: 

  1. Bring your right arm in front of your body. It should be parallel to the floor. Keep your elbow straight.
  2. Hook your left arm under your right and use it to pull your right arm across your body, toward your left shoulder. Your right hand should be pointing to the left. 
  3. With your left hand, gently press behind your right elbow or the back of your upper right arm. Keep your right arm straight. 
  4. Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.
  5. Switch sides and repeat. 

5. Overhead Triceps Stretch

Triceps stretch
(Photo: Getty, TravelCouples)

After swimming, lifting weights, or practicing yoga, this stretch can open up your shoulders and triceps. 

  1. Straighten your right arm and lift it overhead. Bend your right elbow and reach toward the top of your spine with your right hand. Your right elbow should point toward the ceiling. 
  2. Press into the back of your right elbow with your left arm to deepen the stretch. By doing so, your right hand should be able to reach a bit further down your back.
  3. Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.
  4. Switch sides and repeat. 

6. Eagle Arms

If you are an avid yoga practitioner, you may be familiar with this arm variation. But beyond being a part of your asana sessions, this stretch is a great go-to move for softening the muscles in your back and shoulders. 

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs crossed in a comfortable position. 
  2. Hook your right arm under your left. Press your palms together.
  3. Lift your elbows to shoulder height. 
  4. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
  5. Switch sides and repeat. 

After practicing eagle arms, move into another yoga arm variation, cow face pose, to stretch your chest and shoulders. 

  1. Sit in a comfortable seated position on the floor. 
  2. Lift your right arm up. Bend at the elbow and reach for the upper part of your spine.
  3. Bend your left arm and place it near your left hip. Reach toward your right arm with the back of your left hand pressing against your spine. 
  4. Unless you are extremely flexible, your hands likely won’t touch. If they do, interlace your hands to open your chest. 
  5. In either case, hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
  6. Switch sides and repeat. 

7. Neck Stretch

neck stretch
(Photo: Klaus Vedfelt, Getty)

This gentle stretch can help loosen up your sternocleidomastoid muscle and your upper traps to help relieve tension in your neck.

  1. Wrap your right hand over your head. 
  2. Place your right palm slightly above your left ear. 
  3. Gently pull your head towards your right shoulder. You should feel a stretch along the left side of your neck.
  4. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds. 
  5. Switch sides and repeat. 

8. Downward Dog

You likely think of downward dog as a lower-body stretch for your hamstrings, calves, and glutes. However, it’s also one of the best upper body stretches to do after exercising, as it targets your back, shoulders, triceps, and forearms. 

  1. Come into a tabletop position. Your hands should be slightly in front of your shoulders. Your knees should be underneath your hips. Curl your toes under your feet. 
  2. Spread your fingers apart. Your hands should be as wide as possible. Press your palms into the floor.  
  3. Lift your knees off the floor and press your heels down as you raise your butt toward the ceiling. Your body should be folded at the hips in an inverted “V” shape. Make sure your chest faces your thighs. 
  4. Engage your core. Keep your neck and spine neutral. 
  5. Hold for 30 seconds. 
Lead Photo: Klaus Vedfelt, Getty