Trapezius stretches include any exercise designed to increase flexibility and relieve tension in the trapezius muscle of the upper back. The trapezius, so named for its trapezoid-like shape, is among other things responsible for elevating or shrugging the shoulders. As such, it often becomes tight, particularly among individuals who sit hunched over a computer all day. From sedentary office workers to bodybuilders to athletes like cyclists who use this muscle often, nearly everyone can benefit from incorporating trapezius stretches into their fitness routine.
Although it is one continuous muscle, the trapezius has three sections: the upper, middle, and lower trapezius. It has a diamond shape, with the triangle of the upper trapezius attaching to the occipital bone at the base of the skull and spreading outward to the top of either shoulder blade. The middle trapezius extends horizontally between the upper thoracic vertebra and the top outer edges of the shoulder blades. Found beneath that is the inverted triangle of the lower trapezius, which runs diagonally on either side of the spine from the lower thoracic vertebra to the outer edges of the shoulder blades.
Because each section of the muscle has its own function, different trapezius stretches are required to target each one. The upper trapezius elevates the shoulders and supports the weight of the arms, as in carrying heavy grocery bags at one’s sides. It can be stretched, then, by clasping the hands behind one’s back, drawing the shoulders downward, lifting the chest, and tucking the chin slightly. To intensify the stretch, the head can be tilted to one side, held, and then repeated on the other side. This stretch should be held for 20-30 seconds in any position without bouncing or moving.
The middle trapezius is responsible for drawing the shoulder blades together. To stretch this area of the upper back, the hands should be clasped in front of the body at chest height, shoulders and upper back rounded forward, and the shoulder blades should be pulled apart. The middle trapezius stretch should also be held for 20-30 seconds and can also be performed by grasping a vertical bar at chest height and rounding the upper back.
To stretch the lower trapezius, which depresses or lowers the shoulder blades and draws them inward, particularly when the arms are stretched overhead, one should begin by grasping the back of a chair, low wall, or countertop. Standing roughly three feet (0.9 meters) back so that the arms are extended in front of the body and hands are about shoulder-width apart, one should push the hips backward and hang from the chair or counter so that the torso is parallel to the floor. Both the legs and arms should be straight, but the middle back should be slightly rounded with shoulder blades apart. This stretch should similarly be held for 20-30 seconds, and each of these trapezius stretches should be performed once daily for optimum benefit.