Overhead Arm Stretch With Ab Work for Back and Neck Pain

One of the best upper back exercises is also among the most common—the overhead arm stretch. But many people skip the part that really builds their abdominal muscles, which may, in turn, help manage upper back and/or neck pain. The key is keeping your rib cage stationary as you slowly raise your arms overhead.

Arms Overhead Stretch with Ab Work
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How to Do the Stretch

    1. Assume the Start Position: Begin by lying down on your back. If you are a beginner, bend your knees and put your feet flat on the floor. Try to line up each heel with its respective sitting bone. This will help you avoid knee and hip joint strain. If you are strong in the core and more advanced, you can try this exercise with your legs extended straight.
      Your arms should be down by your side and straight, but your elbows should not be locked.
    2. Prepare: Take a moment or two to prepare both body and mind for what's coming next. As alluded to before, this exercise is not just an upper back stretch. As you move your arms overhead, you'll be putting your attention on your rib cage to prevent it from "popping" up.
      In the start position, inhale, then exhale and slide your shoulders down your back. To help this along, gently reach your fingertips away from your head. Try to keep the front of your shoulders open and wide as you reach. You may feel a bit of a stretch at the shoulder girdle as you do this.
  1. Begin to Lift Your Arms: Lift your arms slowly until they are at a right angle to your body. Check to see if your ribs are in the same position as they were when you started. If you do this, you'll likely feel your abs working.
    1. Complete the Arm Lift: During this next part of the exercise, it will be trickier to keep your ribs down. It may also be too difficult to get your arms all the way back over your head to the floor. It's okay to go only as far as you can without pain, but there are no excuses for letting those ribs move.
      To do the exercise with good form, take your arms back only as far as you can while keeping your rib cage still. This will challenge the rectus abdominis and other upper ab muscles.
    2. Bring Your Arms Back Down by Your Side: To initiate the arm action when returning back to the start position, again, slide your shoulder blades down your back. Use the leverage the shoulder blades provide to lift your arms off the floor behind you. (You do this by continuing to bring the shoulder blades down your back—the arms will come up naturally.)
      Remember to keep your ribs on the floor. Keep your elbows straight, but not locked, as you slowly bring them back down in front of you.
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