Chest Release Pilates Series

With our lives spent either staring down at our phones or seated at a desk staring at a screen, we have become a breed of humans with chronic rounded forward posture. The slumped shoulders, jutting head & tight chest muscles are becoming more evident in the bodies we see around us.

Physically, this posture puts immense strain on our skeletal, muscular & nervous systems;  chronic neck & back pain, tight pectoral muscles and headaches are just two of the key negative impacts experienced by the body. In response, there also tends to be a physical and emotional closed effect on the individuals, with an inward focus & disconnected vibration, as though the body is drawing in towards itself, rather than the open and confident image presented through neutral, proud posture, which can be achieved when we mobilize, strengthen and open the upper body.

This Pilates series is a collection of upper back activation & strengthening exercises mixed with some great chest mobility and stretching movements. The focus is to counteract the effects of our daily lives and resulting posture, is to open the tight chest muscles, and stregthen the weak & long upper back extensors, resulting in open, proud bodies!

Swan Dive Prep

This exercise is the best medicine for the upper back and forms the staple or base from which nearly all the consecutive exercises will develop. Form & engagement are key to ensure the movement targets the upper spine, rather than loading the lumbar spine, causing more pain then good!

Starting face down on your mat, nose gently touching the mat and gaze down, you want your elbows tucked into the sides, with the palms flat & next to the shoulders. The legs are hip distance apart and lengthened along the ground. The spine & pelvis is in neutral, which is super important - make sure you pubic bone & hip bones are gently pressing down into the mat, with the bridge of the abdominals lifted up and booty switched on, this should create space in the lower back, so no sinking or collapsing - remember to keep this in both the set up & the movement!

From here, imagine you are rolling a marble away from you with your nose, this should lengthen the gaze to the front edge of your mat, so the upper body lifts gently up. Try to gently squeeze the shoulder blades together & down the back and only lift to the top rib. With this action, you should still be able to lift the abdominals and have no change in the lower back; its upper back only! Slowly lower back down, aiming to keep the engagement between the scapula.

10 repetitions.


Linking on from your swan dive preps, this adds a little extra load & squeeze betwee the shoulders. From the lifted swan dive prep position, you keep the scapula squeezing together and exhale to lift the hands up from the mat to a hover position. Lowering them back down, whilst remaining lifted in the upper body, you repeat with a hover & lower of the hands to build endurance.

10 repetitions. 

Long Arm Reach Forward

Further challenging endurance & adding load, we now extend the arms forward from the hover position. This lengthening of the arms adds extra weight, forcing the upper back extensors to switch on, whilst simultaneously challenges your set up as you need to remain focused that the shoulder blades keep drawing down the back; there will be a temptation to allow the shoulder blades to upwardly & outwardly rotate, losing form, support & control. Bring the hands back to the hover position between each rep.

10 repetitions. 

I to T

This exercise is great for feeling the activation of the downward rotation and setting of the scapula, whilst also providing a chance for the chest to widen & open. From the long reach forward (I position), you keep the arms lifted and reach them along a level horizon line out wide from the line of the shoulders (T position). As you do this, you should feel the the shoulder blades draw closer together and down towards your booty. Returning the arms to the I position, see if you can keep this engagement.

10 repetitions. 

Tricep Reach & Pulse

This one further opens the tight chest muscles, whilst also getting a bonus of targeting your triceps - double whammy workout! Beginning in the swan dive prep set up, however with the arms down by the hips, as you lift up to a hover, you want to reach the fingers towards the toes and face the palms towards each other. You should really feel the front of the shoulder girdle opening as you try to reach the hands not only together, but up towards the sky. Holding this position you then take 5 slow pulses of the upper arm higher to engage the triceps.

10 repetitions. 

Resistance Band Tricep Press & Pulse

Adding a resistance or theraband into this exercise helps to both open the chest further and gives feedback, whilst also adding a little bit of extra resistance to strengthen those tri's! The exercise is repeated exactly the same as above, however try to really use the band to draw the shoulder blades closer together and then press the arms against the band towards the sky in the pulses.

10 repetitions. 

Resistance band T stretches

The band here helps to provide feedback and guidance for the chest, upper back extensors and lats for mobilisation. From the previous exercise, the arms begin long by the hips and lifted, as you exhale you widen the arms out to a T position, being very careful that the shoulder does not roll forward, but rather you can reach the fingertips wide apart and feel a good stretch across the head of the shoulder socket!

10 repetitions. 

Rotator Cuff Activation

This activation exercise helps you switch on your rotator cuff, a key group of muscles that draw the shoulders open, whilst also giving a nice stretch across the front of the chest. Sitting or standing however is comfortable, you want to wrap a resistance band around your waist, wrapping it in front of you and then holding the ends in each hand. The elbows want to be tucked into your rib cage and the hands will reach forward with the palms facing up, as though you are holding a tray. The movement is simply opening the hands out to the sides, which should pull on the band and give you a good squeeze at the back of the shoulders. It's very important you keep the elbows close to the body here or else you won't get any activation!

10 repetitions. 

Pec Stretch & Mobilisation

This exercise is all about mobility and opening your Pecs - which generally are pretty tight on most of the population! You want to start laying face down, with the right arm extended out to the side directly from your shoulder, the left hand is pressed into the floor to help support you. From here, lift the left foot up and roll backwards to place the left foot onto the ground behind your right leg. You want to keep the right arm fully pressing into the ground, particularly across the front pf the armpit and upper arm. As soon as you place the foot down, return back to the start- you don't want to hold the stretch, it is about mobilising and moving through the action. Repeat for 5 times with the arm directly out to the side. From here you can play with the angle of the arm, moving it up at slow increases, aiming to see if you can get the arm extended forward from the shoulder. With each increase of the arm angle, only repeat 5 reps and make sure you are really pressing the arm down into the floor & getting the foot to touch. If the foot cannot be placed flat to the floor, then you need to step back and keep the arm a little lower until the chest opens up! Slow & steady with this one.

5 repetitions in each position and on each side.

Try each of the exercises, progressing when you feel like you have mastered the form & executed correctly. From here you can link them together to really build some endurance & strength in that upper body, before allowing the body to open and release.

FitnessRosie Gregory