6 Steps to Stop Chest Gripping

supine over ball

Are you a “chest gripper”? After reading Jen’s last post about chest and butt gripping (which you can find HERE if you need to review), many of our clients and program participants figured out that they are, and have been asking us for tips on how to stop chest gripping. So, here it is!

WHY chest gripping happens:

1. Posture. Lots of moms push their pelvis forward to make it easier to hold their kids, it gives them a ledge of sorts to prop the child on. When your pelvis is shoved forward, your ribs have nowhere to go but down.

2. Tightness of the external oblique muscle (the abdominal muscles that attach to the bottom border of your ribs) is a common compensation pattern in women who have any history of pain in their low back, pelvis, or hips.  Um, hello, pregnancy? It’s one of our body’s not-so-great ways to find stability when the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex is not sound.

3. Common cues that trainers/instructors give to activate your core, like “close your ribs”, “draw your ribs in”, “draw your navel to your spine” often inadvertently result in chest gripping, instead of isolated deep core activation. (In the future, when you hear that cue, just allow your ribs to rest over your abdomen without actively engaging them down and in, it should help.)

4. Trying to feel skinny again after giving birth. I actively pulled my ribcage in as part of trying to make myself feel skinnier. I did this because my rib cage widened during my pregnancies and I wanted to pull it back in. It also goes along with sucking in your belly to try to feel skinnier.

These are just a few common reasons we become chest grippers.  It’s also important to know that chest gripping is strongly associated with stress urinary incontinence in women, because of the way it increases pressure on the pelvic floor. So, if you suffer from SUI, double check to make sure you’re not chest gripping! (Find out how to test yourself here.)


WHAT to do about it:

1. Fix your posture.  Read our blog about standing posture, here.  Look at yourself in the mirror.  If your pelvis is pushed forward and your hips are in front of your ankles, you need to adjust. Have a look at your ribs there too, are they drawn in on the bottom?

Then, imagine someone is pulling on your back belt loop.  Let your pelvis draw back as your chest adjusts by shifting forward just a bit (so you don’t fall over).  Bring your pelvis directly over your ankles. If you need extra help, email us a picture of your standing profile and we can have a look!

2. Massage. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Gently use your hands to massage your abs as they come up and attach to the bottom of your rib cage. Work the lower boarders of your ribs on both sides from midline out to the edges. You may feel how tight and surprisingly tender they are.  Be careful not to poke and push in too much, or you’ll be digging on your diaphragm and liver.


3. Lateral and diaphragmatic breathing practice. This will open your chest and give mobility back to your ribs and lungs. Lie on your back with your knees bent. These may take a bit of practice, since you’re trying to retrain your body away from chest gripping, so be patient and keep trying!

For diaphragmatic breathing, rest your hands on your belly, breathe in and out deeply and slowly for 3 seconds in/3 seconds out.  As you inhale, you should feel your belly rise to the ceiling and then fall as you exhale.  Don’t push it up by forcing it, just let is rise with your breath.

For lateral breathing, rest your hands on the outside of your ribcage and breathe in and out deeply and slowly for 3 seconds in/3 seconds out. As you inhale, feel your ribs opening, widening into your hands.  An image I like to use is the gills of a fish opening and closing on the side. When you exhale, your ribs will relax back into resting position.


4. Cobra pose with breathing and relaxation. Sounds nice, right? Start on your belly, with your hands under your shoulders. Slowly press up either onto your elbows or hands (which ever is more comfortable). In this position feel your abdominals stretch, as they come up and attach to your rib cage. Now let yourself relax as best you can, and use your deep breathing to increase the mobility through your ribs. Hold for 10-30 seconds, relax, and repeat as you’d like.


5. Stretch over exercise ball with breathing and relaxation. This lovely exercise stretches your entire abdominal wall.  It’s more intense than the cobra stretch, but can be very relaxing (if you don’t mind being upside down!). Start by sitting on your exercise ball.

Then walk your feet forward to roll down onto your back. Either with your hands behind your head for support, or with your arms reaching down for the floor behind you, allow your body to fully stretch and relax over the ball.  In this position, let yourself relax as best you can, and use your deep breathing to increase the mobility through your ribs. Stay there as long or short as you’d like.

And don’t forget to have fun! Your kids might find this fun too.


6. Practice deep core activation and see if you can breathe all at the same time.

There are two good positions to activate your deep core in while decreasing external oblique activation. It may be helpful to start with these.  They are either by lying on your back with your legs out straight, or by lying on your side. These help facilitate neutral lumbo-pelvic-hip position (as per the amazing Diane Lee, in her book, “The Pelvic Girdle”).

Assume one of these positions, and engage your deep core (learn how to do that here). Now just practice all the great breathing exercises you learned earlier while holding you deep core on gently.  This does not have be a maximal contraction.  Try 30% contraction and breathing.  It’s a great place to start!

Learning to breathe and activate your core at the same time is the first step. Then you can integrate this with all of your deep core exercises and daily activities.

Be patient with yourself as you break an old habit and create a new one.  It will be worth the effort!

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or amazing insights!

Here’s to happy breathing.




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