Stretching Series: Pectoralis Minor

Figure 1                                                                                Pectoralis Minor- Photo Credit Anatomography


Figure 2
Pectoralis Minor is probably one the hardest muscles in the body to stretch. It is commonly done in an exact manner as pectoralis major which, in my opinion, can be improved upon. Because of its attachments, it does not have the ability to move through a large range of motion which, of course, limits how we can move it to stretch it. The main issue with singling out pectoralis minor is that pectoralis major usually comes to tension before we can stretch minor, or shoulder mobility does not allow for enough movement. So, in order to reach pectoralis minor, we will need to take these factors out of the equation. Instead of focusing on glenohumeral movement, we are going to focus more on scapular motion (retraction) to gain the lengthening we require.
Now some of you may ask why we are not going to incorporate more elevation of the scapula since the pectoralis minor depresses the shoulder. I answer this by saying that elevation, at least the way we need it, is almost impossible to accomplish when stretching on your own (someone assisting you is a different story). Also, we can accomplish more lengthening and single out pectoralis minor much more effectively with shoulder retraction in this circumstance. If you look back and look at Figure 1, I want you to imagine a simple pulley system on top of the shoulder. Pectoralis minor is a rope on the front side of the pulley and the scapula is the back side of the system. By depressing the scapula while at the same time retracting it, we are, in essence, “hoisting” the insertion of pectoralis minor up and drawing it away from its origin in the ribs.

Although Pectoralis Minor does not have an attachment on the humerus (unlike Pectoralis Major), we will use it to affect how we want the scapula to move.  We will also use the ribs where the Pectoralis Minor originates to help lengthen the muscle from the other direction.

The Stretch

  • Place your arm at a 45 degree angle to the wall with your elbow bent and fingers pointed toward the ceiling. Your arm is now anchored and should not move.
Starting Position
  • Place your feet with one foot forward and one behind to create a strong stance.
  • Contract your lower trapezius and rhomboid in order to stabilize the shoulder joint and encourage the scapula to move posterior and inferior.
Trapezius and Rhomboid Contraction
  • Lean your body forward focusing and allowing your whole shoulder girdle to translate posteriorly. You should start to feel a stretch develope around the corocoid process and into the upper ribs. 
Scapula Translating Posterior, Medially, and Inferiorly
  • Once the shoulder is fully retracted, actively exhale fully in order to depress the rib cage and lengthen the muscle fully. You will feel like you are forcing the air out of your body toward the end of the exhalation. The more depression of the ribs, the better the stretch.
Exhale for Depression of the Ribs

Note: As always if shoulder instability is a concern, take caution when doing this stretch. 

 Another Note: I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to focus on contracting the lower trapezius and rhomboid during this stretch. The retraction and depression of the scapula posteriorly is what truly makes the stretch work.
Another Another Note: You may also feel a stretch in the clavicular part of your pectoralis major which is also lengthened with this technique.

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