Now that we have an understanding of how tight pectoralis major muscles can affect us, let’s explore how we can combat it. Just as a reminder, reciprocal inhibition is that mechanism in our body that will loosen muscles that are being overstretched by their counter-muscles to prevent tearing. In this case, our rear shoulder muscles (like trapezius and the rhomboids) are overstretching to compensate for the Pectoralis Major that is contracting and shortening. This most typically results in pain -primarily in the traps and rhomboids! This is because the victims will always cry more than the offenders. Most often I will see clients who complain of “shoulder pain” in their traps and rhomboids. Not until we begin to work and stretch the Pectoralis Major out do they even realize they were tight.

In addition to the pain, many of my clients seem to suffer muscle amnesia in their traps and rhomboids because of the overstretching. This is because their muscle fibers are so stretched out that their function has decreased. The best way to remedy this is to simply regain proprioceptive awareness and build strength in the traps and rhomboids. I use YTU Gomukhasana Arms with my clients, to regain strength in the back of the body – the clip is below, and also on the 10 Minute Quick Fix for Shoulders. This pose brings each scapula into its full range of motion, which can help break up any scar tissue formation and activating the traps and rhomboids will promote reciprocal inhibition on the Pectoralis Major muscles, encouraging them to relax.

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Lindsay Cleary

Lindsay first began practicing yoga at 15. After years of taking various dance classes and participating in a part time arts high school, Regional Center for the Arts, she decided it was time to concentrate more on academics. Five years ago, Lindsay enrolled in the CT Center for Massage Therapy and knew she had started on the right path for her career. Lindsay fell in love with anatomy, physiology and kinesiology - finally giving names to all the movements and parts to the body that propelled them. While attending CCMT, Lindsay took a YTU workshop with Jill Miller and was amazed at the style of teaching that married the art and science behind yoga. A little while after graduating CCMT, Lindsay enrolled in Lotus Gardens Yoga School, a comparative theory program, and has completed her level 1 YTU teacher certification. Lindsay currently teaches private sessions in Fairfield County, CT.

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Jon Connelly

This was really helpful for me, I have had chronic neck/upper back pain due to posture and a lot of rock climbing. I do roll out my upper back, but stretching the pecs *first* made a big difference. I tried stretching my pecs, and then did Gomukhasana Arms as a follow up.

Julie Cadorette

Thanks for reminding us what reciprocal inhibition is. Nursing and breastfeeding 3 babies, I hurt one of my shoulders. Fortunately, a great physiotherapist helped me understand how my tight pec major and overstreched back muscles caused the problem and, most importantly, how to deal with it and use YTU balls to release the pectoralis.

stephanie blazi

Great article! This is an awesome and interesting take on the overstretched muscles.

Annette Allen

Was a great reminder to pay more attention to my pectoralis major muscle. Thank you for the inspiration

aniela eva

This is something that occurs in my body. I appreciate the information and look forward to trying the recommened stretches to see the difference!


thank you- this is something i struggle with- my pecs are way too tight and my back muscles are over stretched. It is a nice reminder of how the muscles of the body work together.

Betty Homer

This is timely with what we are studying in YTU. Thank you!

Matt Halawnicki

Love the sequence/posesin the video!

Emily Pantalone

This post is hugely real for me. I love the way you talk about the “victim” and the “offender” muscles, and how the “victim” makes the most noise. I never quite understood how my pec pain was related to my shoulder/upper back pain until now. What an awesome metaphor.


There is a huge psychological component to a tight chest The C7 nerve raises the hands to the face in defense, an action largely of the shoulder The C8 nerve extends the arm at the elbow as an action largely of the pecs, lats and triceps These actions make up the basics of our fighting reflex, defense and offense, blocking and throwing punches The health of these nerves is dependent on proper mobility and positioning of the C7 vertebra The stress response brings changes in our breathing pattern and tightness in the chest and throat This tightness targets the C7… Read more »


I enjoyed the description of how the muscles and fascia in the upper back lose function because of the poor postural habits – and overstretched position that have been sitting in..sometimes cleary due to the tight pec muscles…This is so true after having babies, nursing them and carrying them around – the ball work for proprioception and the chest and shoulder openers are so needed to rid the body of the chronic hyertension that many moms manage!

Free Your Pec Minor, Free Your Shoulders! | Yoga Tune Up

[…] I want to do today is to more thoroughly define the term by taking a look at the pectoralis major’s shy little brother, the pectoralis minor. Pectoralis minor lies deep to the pectoralis major […]


Hi Lindsay, thanks for this great article. I love that you included the principal of reciprocal inhibition. It really made some light bulbs go off in my brain. Of course the rhomboids and traps feel the pain of over tight pectorals! The notion of weak and stretched is still a new concept to my mind. I have held the assumption that tight equals strong, but it’s not necessarily so. I also love the focus of the 1 Armed Cow (YTU Gomukhasana) exercises, to use your own body as resistance while you hold the pose, to both strengthen AND stretch the… Read more »

Barb Voss

I enjoyed this article and the reinforcement of the idea of reciprocal inhibition. I had often considered this relationship in terms of the quadriceps and hamstrings, but not within the context of the back. We think of muscular strength all too often in the obvious areas of the body, but tend to forget to look at the places we cannot see. Building strength & flexibility- but mostly awareness of the back body would be of great benefit to counteract my slouching habits!


i also had not made the connection of the shortened pectorialis and overused rhomboids and traps but sitting at a desk all day will definitely do that. I really like the video and seeing how much space and stretching can be created (even if using a strap to bring the gap between the hands) in the shoulders with this pose. It’s a great one to incorporated when i can’t get away from desk just to make sure the shoulders are depressed and the chest is open. Great blog!


I find that I have a very different ease in clasping my hands on one side vs. the other. There is mention that this is common, I’m curious to understand why this is so common. Where could that imbalance of range be sourcing from and what else is it affecting in my body?

marianne bateman

So excited to read about Reciprocal Inhibition. I had a pain in my rhomboids recently and Webb, the trainer I work with, knew, right away that it was a Pec Major issue. I had been working very hard on Sarvangasana and had clearly foreshortened my pecs..then did some pretty deep chest work at the gym.

This is an AHA moment for me…only a little embarrassing that I just got it now. Better late than later…. .


often times during a private pilates session, i will put a little pressure on both sides of the superior portion of the pectoralis with my knuckles while a student is laying supine on the cadillac. there are a few pressure points that one can hit here that will provide major relief since its where the all important brachial plexus nerve runs – which branches down all sides of the shoulders!


The clip referenced isn’t showing up for me. I get the relationship, and can immediately introduce the work we’ve been doing in our training to the computer jobbed folks I get in my classes complaining of tightness in their neck, rhomboids and traps. I’m working with tennis balls because we have a lot of them (tennis courts at the fitness center), they’re not quite as deep, but they do the trick when it’s all you got!

Caroline M

The concept of the antagonist being antagonizing is pretty common but especially here. I never considered the over use of my rhombiods and trapezius as being over-stretched but I now see that all that is strong on the back has left my chest caving in ever so slightly. I’ll get working on those pecs.

Eva Berswick

Excellent information. Half of my family has the overstretched back. It is uncanny to look at my two young nephews (10 and 12) and see how their postures are so different. I can see on them what their future holds regarding stiff muscles. Here comes auntie to the rescue, starting them on yoga.


What interesting insights–thank you for that. Due to a lack of embodied awareness, I think many of us interpret muscular pain as tightness and don’t stop to consider that the muscle could be overstretched due to tightness in the antagonist. I guess they call them antagonists for a reason!

Katie McClelland

After years of yoga practice, I was surprised, when following this video, how intense this arm movement proved to be. I had lots of range of motion in the tricep stretch but very little strength when trying to move the head of my humerus back when my arm was behind my back. I am going to introduce this to my students as an arm variation in Warrior 2, as well as prep for parsvottonasana. Thanks for this innovative strengthener, Jill!

Susan McGurn

Love the title! It is true, most people don’t relate neck stress and back pain with tight pecs. In addition to our digital world, sitting at computers,texting etc., we do so many things in the saggital plane. We cook or prepare food and reaching for dishes, washing dishes, carrying the laundry basket gardening………and the list goes on. Our posture and positioning of our outstretched arms play a big part of our shortened pecs. We have to think about stretching in the opposite direction since this position isn’t natural. Then there is always the breath. How many people utilize the back… Read more »

melanie sloane

I loved the video,especially the cue: to press your forearm inti the back to move your shoulder up and back (after you internally rotated your arm and brought it behind you) I also like the words :”The victims will cry louder than the offenders” —to look beyond the muscle which is “crying” due to being overstretched to the offending muscle, which is not crying out in pain


I beleive a majority of people are weak in their Pectoralis Major due to many reasons, primarily working at a computer. Some of the Quick fix Shoulder exercises, i.e.Cow Face Pose while stretching the Pectoralis Major can also cause too much pressure in the shoulder socket like Keith brings up. His remedy of using tune up balls would be a perfect warm-up before doing the shoulder exercises.

Keith Wittenstein

Another issue that isn’t directly addressed is the fact that the muscular imbalance between the pecs and the upper back muscles causes a forward translation of the humerus in the shoulder socket. The anterior positioning puts undue stress on the soft tissues of the shoulder. Now if that shoulder is put under stress or load like in a plank or chattaranga (which happens about 108 times during a vinyasa class), then you have a simple recipe for a shoulder injury. Another remedy for this is to spend some time with the yoga tune up balls trying to get some myofascial… Read more »