There is a scientific publication about the benefits of stretching and strengthening for pectus excavatum improvement. Over the years, many patients were clinically examined to benefit from this non-surgical method. Even though stretching is proven to work in the short term, it is still undiscovered how effective it will be in a long time.
In this article, I will write about the most effective stretches that can improve a sunken chest deformity. I have achieved impressive results by doing them. A big concern to people suffering from pectus excavatum is how stretching and exercising can pull the indented sternum outward.
You must be aware that there is a set of muscles that help in pulling out the chest. They are called the inspiratory muscles (muscles that activate when a person is inhaling). They include:
- Scalenus anterior
- Scalenus medius
- Serratus anterior
- Pectoralis minor
These muscles activate in the process of forced inhalation. This is a type of breathing that happens during exercising. While there is forced breathing, inhalation and exhalation occur because of muscular contractions.
CAN THEY PULL THE SUNKEN STERNUM?
The intercostal muscles (the muscles located between the ribs) can elevate the chest wall only when the first ribs are fixed and raised. Nevertheless, these muscles can’t pull the lower part of the breastbone, which is associated with pectus excavatum. Their pulling effect is restricted and can affect only the upper part of the chest wall.
PRINCIPLE OF REVERSAL OF MUSCLE ACTION
There is some good news. Suppose the arms are supported by grabbing an object. In that case, the pectoralis major muscles can elevate the sunken chest wall because of their sternal origin. The chest wall can be forcibly pulled throughout the muscle contraction when the arms are settled in an upwardly stretched position.
The principle of “Reversal Of Muscle Action” is implemented. The full path, from the fixed arms to the sternocostal fibers of the major pectoral muscle, works amazingly on the sunken chest. When the pectoralis major muscle is half-stretched, it activates a maximal number of fibers to generate a strong pulling force.
The stretches I will show you below work based upon these principles. Combine these stretches with bodybuilding exercises. You will get an incredibly muscular body with a less noticeable dent.
4 STEPS OF STRETCHING WILL IMPROVE THE LOOK OF YOUR CHEST
There are four benefits of the stretches I will show you below.
- Increase the flexibility of your chest wall and spine through special stretching exercises
- Stretch the stiff and shortened muscles that are restricting your natural breathing patterns
- Strengthen the musculature that is meant to elevate and expand the sunken chest
- Improve your pectus posture
The stretching will help you mobilize your tight joints and lengthen the shortened soft tissue around the sunken chest. This will lower the electrical impedance of muscle tissue while the inverted chest is elevated.
DO THEM AS WARM-UP BEFORE EXERCISING
If you have the time, you should do the stretches as a warm-up before doing more strenuous physical exercises. It will be ideal to do them before a bodybuilding workout program. That will help you strengthen the inspiratory muscles required to elevate the funnel chest.
The bodybuilding exercises will help develop the pectoralis major muscle, especially the sternocostal fibers. You must continue performing the stretches and exercises even after seeing improvement in your chest wall appearance.
8 STRETCHES THAT HELPED ME THE MOST
FORWARD ARM STRETCHING IN PRONE KNEELING POSITION
You can perform this stretch in a prone kneeling position, with your arms forward, fixed on a chair. Gradually lower your upper body to the floor while keeping your arms straight and fully extended. You will mostly feel the stretch in your shoulders, chest, and armpits. This exercise is similar to the downward-facing dog in yoga.
- Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds. Then, rest for about 15 seconds. This resembles one set.
- Try to get ten sets in the morning and ten sets in the evening before sleep.
- This will result in a total of 600 seconds in a stretched-out position.
The goal is to stretch all anterior chest wall muscles, which are tight because of the pectus excavatum deformity. It will also help you lengthen your upper back. This stretch will help you perform the overhead press without any shoulder pain. After some time, you’ll finally be able to extend the barbell or dumbbells over your head thoroughly.
Stand next to a wall. Put the arm that is closest to the wall upon it. Put it higher than shoulder level. Then, slowly rotate your body away from your arm to the point when you feel a gentle stretch.
You will feel the stretch in your anterior shoulders and the muscles of the upper chest wall.
- Hold this stretch for 30 seconds. Rest 15 seconds. This is one set.
- Repeat this 20 times during the day.
This body rotation exercise will increase the range of motion in your thoracic vertebrae. It will also stretch the tight muscles, ligaments, and joints around the chest cavity. They will stretch in all directions. If you haven’t played sports, your body isn’t used to this kind of movement. It is essential to start it slowly and progress gradually.
You’ll feel a pleasurable sensation in your upper chest and shoulders. This exercise is terrific as a warm-up before doing workouts in which you’ll do a lot of pulling. When I started going to the gym, I had trouble developing my back muscles.
GREAT EXERCISE FOR BACK ACTIVATION
I only felt the dumbbell rows and pull-ups on my shoulders, not my back muscles. My back musculature wasn’t developing as well as my shoulders and chest muscles. Then, I searched across the internet for a solution. I found this Elliott Hulse video that explains why you must stretch the tight frontal musculature of your chest before doing any back workouts.
In the video, he recommends a stretch. I tried it before my workout and felt the exercises in my back where you should feel them. After that workout, I was very sore the next day because these muscles couldn’t be activated when my chest was tight.
After all, the tightness of my chest and arms were restraining the movement. This stretch must be mandatory for all pectus excavatum patients with poor posture and tightness in the frontal body.
SITTING BEND TO THE SIDE
Begin this stretch sitting comfortably on a chair with both hands on either side. Lift your left arm to the ceiling while standing upright. Then, slowly bend your trunk and extend your arm over your head to the other side. If you want to add intensity to this stretch, you can get a full breath and hold it in. Then after 5 seconds, you can slowly exhale it and get another breath in.
- Just like the previous two, hold the stretch for about 30 seconds. Rest 15 seconds.
- Repeat the same for the other hand.
- In a day, aim to perform ten stretches with your left arm and 10 with your right.
The side bend is usually the least practiced stretch. This is unfortunate because this will help you stretch and strengthen your obliques, abs, ribs, and spine muscles. Your breath will also become lighter because you’ll stretch the muscles that are “blocking” your ability to inhale fully. For the following stretches, you will need minimal equipment.
You can get these from any sporting goods store, department store, Walmart, etc. I purchased mine from Amazon, and they were delivered to my house in a few days. These items are very cheap, and you can have them in your house to help you with your daily pectus excavatum stretching routine.
EXERCISE BALL STRETCH
Lean back on an exercise ball and lower both of your arms above your head. Then, circularly move your arms, just like when you used to do a snow angel in the snow when you were a kid. The only difference is that you should move the arms slowly, so you feel the stretch all around your chest and shoulders. This movement will feel amazing on your body.
The point of this exercise is to ease into the stretch. There is no point in rushing or straining. Simply allow your body weight to stretch the musculature around your sunken breastbone. Breathe deep and aim to fully expand your chest while holding your breath for about 5 seconds. Relax your hips and head.
- Aim to stretch yourself for about 60 seconds. Then, rest 30 seconds.
- Repeat until you do five sets.
- Aim for a total of 300 seconds in an exercise ball stretched out position in a day.
Laying on the ball will naturally arch your chest. Elliott Hulse uses a similar stretching exercise, which he calls “Bioenergetic release on a stool.” The only difference is that he focuses entirely on the breath while stretching his body on a seat similarly. You can check out his video here.
ADVANCED EXERCISE BALL STRETCH
You can increase the intensity of the Exercise Ball stretch by grabbing 2-pound dumbbells. Even though it may sound silly, it will provide enough resistance to stretch out and strengthen the muscles around the funnel chest area.
You don’t want heavier dumbbells because you don’t want to create a lot of tension around the sternum. The purpose of this exercise isn’t for it to be intense.
It needs to be a light exercise that you can do daily. Frequency is the most important thing when it comes to this exercise. Gradually work on expanding and strengthening the chest daily. You’ll also be at risk of pulling or even tearing a muscle.
This is a stretching exercise that helps with your overall shoulder mobility. It stretches the tight musculature around your chest and flared ribs. It will help you with the pressing movements you’ll need to do in the gym to strengthen the upper body musculature if you’re feeling shoulder and chest pain.
To help you with the pectus excavatum deformity, I will recommend you do a slight variation of the exercise. In addition to the stretching benefit, this will also strengthen the weak postural muscles. It would be best if you lay on your stomach with the resistance band to start the exercise. Then, lengthen your legs, with the feet pointed down on the floor.
Squeeze your quads and glutes. This may seem pointless, but it will help you prevent lower back pain and hyperextension in your lower back while performing the exercise. Grab the resistance band with an overhand grip. Then, bring it up and around in a circular motion until it touches your glutes. You’ll notice the thoracic extension (your chest needs to stay up to bring the band around).
If you had the slouched-over posture while doing this stretch, you wouldn’t be able to bring the band to the glutes. This stretch will force you into a thoracic extension, which will stretch your tight chest, lats, and biceps, and strengthen the back muscles (rhomboids, rear delts, trapezius).
Perform 15 repetitions of this exercise for three sets every day. After implementing this movement, you’ll notice how much your bench and overhead press will improve.
This is a fantastic stretch for your entire chest and abdominal musculature. The best advice I received for this stretch was to push my shoulder blades back to open my concave sternum. Ever since I did that, I felt the stretch around my dent. While stretching during this exercise, you’ll feel like your concave chest is being fixed.
This is primarily used in yoga workouts. It is excellent for pectus excavatum sufferers who have an office job and spend their days at a desk. Just like in the previous exercise, focus on squeezing your glutes. That’ll prevent any chances of a lower back injury. To perform it, lay down with your hands underneath your shoulders, just like in a push-up position.
Take a deep breath, fully extend your arms, and elevate your upper body from the floor. Keep the hips down on the floor. Tilt your head, squeeze the shoulder blades together, and lift through your concave breastbone.
- Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds.
- If it feels good and you don’t feel any pain in the lower back or chest, you can extend the duration until you feel uncomfortable.
- Repeat this three times throughout the day.
PEC MINOR STRETCH
Put the front side of your shoulder against a wall (a door jamb or a squat cage would be ideal). Retract your shoulder blades back together. This is important to eliminate the protraction action of your shoulders. Slide your arm up the wall, jamb, or squat rack.
That will create an upper rotation of the scapula, which is extremely important for us, pectus excavatum sufferers. If you do this, you’ll feel a stretch in your pec minor that you’ve probably never felt before. Hold this position for at least 60 seconds.
STRETCHING ISN’T A QUICK FIX
Do the stretches I listed above. You’ll see an improvement in your deformity over several weeks or months. This isn’t a quick-fix solution. You can’t just stretch once and get the pectus posture and deformity improved. It is a slow and steady process that is worth it. This process also teaches discipline that you can transfer to other areas in your life, such as your business, family, reading, etc.
POWERFUL QUOTE ABOUT DISCIPLINE
As the late rapper, Nipsey Hussle said, instead of building a brick wall at once, try to lay a brick every single day. In about a year, you’ll look up and see a brick wall. Have faith in the stretches and exercises you’re about to do. Never take no as an answer. There is even scientific evidence that proves the stretches can work.
STRETCHING BENEFITS FOR PECTUS
If you have pectus excavatum, you probably suffer from poor posture. This includes hunched shoulders, unusual curvature of the upper back (kyphosis), anterior pelvic tilt (which forces your spine to curve), and forward head posture.
This will further worsen your bodily appearance by emphasizing your concave chest. Proper corrective stretching exercises will help you improve this. However, stretching is not enough.
YOU’LL BE CONSCIOUS OF YOUR POOR POSTURE
You also need to focus on how you carry yourself throughout the day. You must be constantly aware of your posture while walking, running, exercising, laying, sitting, etc. After some time, you’ll be able to recognize the exact point when you round your shoulders over or when you tilt your head forward.
Mental awareness of your posture will also help you improve the deformity faster. Keeping your body upright and sturdy while walking can change how others perceive you. You’ll look very confident, which at the end of the day will help you with the psychological problems associated with the condition.
HOLD A STRETCH LONGER IF IT FEELS TIGHT
Some may need to hold a particular stretch more than other stretches.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
If you feel tight and uncomfortable during the stretch, that is a sign that you need to focus on that particular pose more. Your body tells you where you need to improve and what causes your postural problems. That is why I involved many exercises in this stretching routine, focusing on releasing all possible muscular tensions in your body. Try all stretches, and spend more time on those where you feel uncomfortable.
FOCUS ON STRETCHING FOR A YEAR
Frequency is crucial if you’re willing to change your chest structure permanently. Stick to this stretching program for about a year. Don’t focus on what workout program other people are doing. They’re doing what is best for them. What is best for you is to correct the unsightly dent that forces you to slump your shoulders and makes you look like a weak, unconfident person. You will do this by stretching frequently and doing the right exercises for pectus excavatum.
IMPORTANCE OF STRETCHING PECS
Serious problems can occur when your pectoralis minor and major get tight. Their flexibility is essential if you want to maintain a healthy upper body while doing the pectus excavatum exercises at the gym.
DON’T LET IT RUIN YOUR POSTURE
The tightness of these muscles can ruin your shoulders. When they get tight, your shoulders will rotate internally, which will cause rounded shoulders and poor posture.
DON’T IGNORE THE PECTORALIS MINOR MUSCLE
Stretching the pec minor is usually ignored. That is why we must pay special attention to how to stretch this muscle. If this is tight, you’ll get an anterior tilt of the scapula. You will force your shoulders to go down and toward your chest. If this happens, you won’t be able to properly activate your back muscles when trying to correct your pectus posture. You’ll also struggle to extend your arms above your head thoroughly. That can mess up your shoulders, slowing the non-surgical treatment correction process.
TIPS FOR PARENTS
Some kids who suffer from pectus excavatum can’t perform the stretches mentioned above. However, it is critically important for those kids to start stretching and strengthening the postural muscles from an early age. You should keep the stretching exercises within your kid’s physical limits. You can modify the parameters of the stretches based on your kid’s capabilities.
CONSULT WITH A DOCTOR
If you’re unsure about this, you can always consult with doctors, pediatricians, or physiotherapists. You can help your kids passively stretch their arms and legs in a similar motion to the stretches I previously mentioned. Also, swimming can benefit them greatly.
The freestyle and backstroke swim techniques will strengthen their musculature in the chest and back. After a month or two of training, they would be physically able to do the stretches by themselves. It is scientifically proven that the bone structure can be reshaped more efficiently when the patient is under 25 years of age. The same rule applies to the malformed bones caused by the pectus excavatum deformity.
Here’s the bottom line. Whether you have a minor or a severe case of pectus excavatum, stretching will do wonders for your deformity. Don’t ever let the deformity make you self-conscious. It can’t define you as a person. Other than your chest, don’t forget to develop the rest of your body. That will take the attention away from your dent.
Every single person on this planet has something that holds them back. For you, the problem is probably in your chest appearance. Use it as a motivation. Use the deformity to build a better and more structurally healthy body than the rest who used to make fun of you. Forget about doing only bodybuilding exercises.
That alone won’t help you correct the deformity. Stretching is just as important. When you combine the two, you’ll notice a fantastic improvement in your anterior chest wall. Last but not least, you must execute the stretches correctly. The only way to do this is to try them. Your body will sense if you’re doing something wrong. I can’t stress that enough.