Most people tend to stretch the muscles that they can see and feel, like the quadriceps or deltoids, but don't neglect the ones that you can't see -- especialy the ones that help you breathe. The intercostal muscles along your ribcage move your ribs upward and downward, which increases the diameter of your thoracic cavity. They also assist in force inspiration and exhalation. Before you start your morning run, take about five minutes to stretch your intercostal muscles.
Stretching your intercostal muscles can increase the amount of air your lungs can inhale and exhale. According to a 2012 study in the Experimental and Clinical Sciences International Online Journal, members of an experimental group who stretched their intercostal muscles before performing breathing exercises had higher lung volume and other respiratory parameters than the control group, which did only breathing exercises with no stretching. Intercostal stretching may activate stretch receptors in the chest wall, which causes the thorax to distend and allow the lung expand more.
Dynamic Vs. Static
The type of stretching you do would depend on your goal and when you stretch. Before you work out, perform dynamic stretching where you move your muscles repetitively and rhythmically within their range of motion to increase neural stimulation and tissue elasticity. This method is often used to warm up your body. Flexing your torso laterally back and forth is an example of dynamic stretching. To enhance relaxation and deeper breathing after your workout, perform static stretching where you hold the stretch for between 20 to 30 seconds. This lengthens the intercostal muscles due to a reduction in neural activity. Lying on a stability ball on your back to stretch your intercostal muscles is an example of static stretching.
Standing exercises work on your balance and core stability as you stretch your intercostals. One such stretch is Half Moon pose, which is a common pose in Bikram yoga. With your feet together, raise your hands overhead and lace your fingers together with your index fingers pointing up. With your elbows locked and your biceps next to your ears, tighten your buttocks and lean your torso to your right, pushing your hips to your left to increase the stretch in your intercostals. Hold the stretch for three to four deep breaths, and repeat the stretch on the opposite side. Other standing intercostal stretches that are based on yoga include Reverse Warrior pose and Triangle pose.
Lying on the floor enhances relaxation more than standing positions, allowing you to focus more on your intercostal muscles. Camel pose stretches your abdominal and intercostal muscles because you bend your torso backward and grab your heels with your hands from a kneeling position. In Fish pose, you place your hands beneath your buttocks while you lie on your back on the floor. Then you lift your chest and your back off the floor with your head and lower body in contact with the floor. Experiment with a variety of stretches and see which ones work best for you.
- Experimental and Clinical Sciences International Online Journal: Effect of Intercostal Stretch on Pulmonary Function Parameters Among Healthy Males
- Yoga Journal: Gate Pose
- Bikram Yoga: Half Moon Pose
- UW Health: Quadruped Trunk Rotation
- IDEA Fitness Journal: Stretching -- A Research Retrospective
- Art of Living: Triangle Pose
- Bikram Yoga: Camel Pose
- Photo Credit Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images