Improve Your Upper Body Flexibility

Part two of the flexibility series.

A healthy Range of Motion (ROM) can improve your scuba performance and overall quality of life. Flexibility is "use it or lose it," so it is important to utilize your full ROM on a regular basis. Incorporate the following exercises into your balanced fitness routine every time you exercise to improve or maintain a healthy ROM in each region of your body. Try to avoid missing more than two consecutive days to avoid detraining (decreasing your ROM). Stretching is most effective when the targeted muscles are warmed-up. Before beginning any new exercises to increase your ROM, complete a flexibility assessment.
To develop or maintain a healthy ROM in your shoulders, complete three repetitions of this sequence: arm circles, cross body stretch, behind the neck stretch, doorway stretch and lat stretch.
Arm Circles

Hold both arms straight out to your sides (abduction). Then starting with small arm circles, gradually increase the size and speed of the circles for about 30 revolutions. Make sure you remain in control of your arms and are not just using momentum. Reverse your direction and repeat. This will gradually warm up your shoulder region while improving your ROM.
Cross Body Stretch

Extend one arm across your body just below your chin. Reach up with the opposite hand and grasp your elbow. Gently pull your arm across your body with the opposite hand. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.
Behind the Neck Stretch

Extend one arm straight up like you are pointing to the sky. Then bend (flex) your elbow, so it points towards the sky. Using the opposite hand, lightly pull your elbow toward your back to increase the stretch. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
Doorway Stretch

Stand in a doorway or near a wall. Place one arm against the wall and slightly turn your upper body away from the wall; hold for 30 seconds.
Lat Stretch

Kneel on the floor. Reach out in front of you with both hands placing your palms down on the floor. Simultaneously lower your chest to the floor and bend your knees to stretch your upper back and shoulders. Hold it for 30 seconds.
Improve your ROM in your back by completing the following sequence: abdominal stretch, back roll and pretzel stretch.
Abdominal Stretch
Lie on your back (supine position), raise your arms over your head and point your toes. Reach for 10 seconds.

  1. Raise arms and legs off the floor (V position). Try to hold this position for 10 seconds.

  2. Challenge yourself by rolling onto your side without using your arms or legs. Reach out above your head.

  3. Roll back onto your belly (prone position), and if you feel comfortable, try lifting your arms and legs off the floor (superman position), and hold it for 10 seconds.

  4. Place your hands under your shoulders and press up while trying to maintain contact between your hips and the floor to further stretch your abdominals.
Repeat the abdominal stretch three times, rolling to alternate between the supine and prone positions.

Back Roll

Reach towards your toes and then slowly roll your spine up, one vertebra at at time. When you come to the top of the movement, bring your shoulders up to your ears and relax into a good standing posture. It should take 10 to 15 seconds to complete this movement.
Pretzel Stretch

Begin sitting on the floor with legs fully extended. Bend one leg at the knee and cross it over the other, placing the foot just outside the knee of the extended leg. Cross the body with the opposite arm and place the elbow on the inside of the opposite knee. Twist your shoulders and torso away from the knee to stretch your lower back. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds then repeat on opposite side.
Learn More
Complete a flexibility assessment.
Improve your lower body flexibility.
About the Author
Dr. Jessica Adams is an assistant professor in the department of physical education at Kean University in Union, N.J. She is co-author of Fit for SCUBA, a strength and conditioning handbook and a proud alumna of the DAN internship program. Jessica is also a Health Fitness Specialist certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.