This 8-move stretching routine increases mobility and relieves upper body tension

woman doing cat cow stretch outdoors
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Mobility is essential for maintaining healthy muscles, bones, and joints, ultimately making exercise easier as your range of motion increases. Focusing on the upper body today, we have an eight-move spinal mobility routine that's perfect for releasing tension in your back and shoulders.

Tension in the upper body can result from various things such as prolonged time spent sitting in the same position, manual labor, leading a sedentary lifestyle, or a poor night's sleep. But adding this gentle Pilates style routine to your day can do a world of good for how you feel mentally and physically. 

Although this is a no-equipment routine, we recommend using one of the best yoga mats for increased comfort and joint protection. The routine comes from Paola Pilates, and you can watch her perform each exercise below.

What is the upper body mobility routine?

The routine should roughly take you around 15 to 20 minutes to complete so you don't need a lot of time or equipment for this Pilates inspired mobility session.

There are eight different moves to work through, each of which will help to enhance mobility and release tension in the upper body by incorporating slow, controlled movements that promote flexibility and range of motion in the spine, shoulders, and neck. 

We've listed the order of exercises below but don't worry if you're unfamiliar with any of the moves. Paola's demonstrations in the video underneath are there to keep you right.

  1. Thoracic spine twist, leg reaching to the side - x6 slow movements on each side
  2. Downward dog walk - alternate legs for 5 breaths
  3. Cactus arms with twists + center + twist + center - x2 slow rounds 
  4. Open book variation - x4 slow movements each side 
  5. Shoulder dip with twist - x6 slow movements 
  6. Cat cow - x6 slow movements 
  7. Seated side bend - x6 slow movements 
  8. Seated twist - repeat twice each side holding for two breaths

The exercises in this mobility routine are slow, gentle and low impact. Plus, the workout doesn't require any equipment or a fancy gym membership so it's suitable for anyone to give this one a go at home. 

Whether you're looking for a low impact way to move your body or in desperate need loosening up your upper body, the slow stretches above will target key areas prone to stiffness, such as the spine, back, and shoulders and lead to enhanced mobility throughout the body.

The spine takes a special center stage in this routine, with several exercises specifically designed to promote spinal flexibility and strength. Movements like the thoracic spine twist and the open book variation work to bend and flex the spine smoothly, improving its range of motion and overall mobility. 

This emphasis on the spine can help reduce the risk of back pain and enhance posture. Working on your core is another way to support your spine and upper body, if you have time give these Pilates exercises for strengthening your core a go.

In addition to benefitting your spinal mobility, this is a useful way to target tension in the back and shoulders. It's not uncommon to experience tightness and discomfort in these areas but that's no reason to not sort it out and avoid letting the pain linger for longer or worsen. Thankfully exercises in Paola's routine such as shoulder dips with twists and seated side bends specifically address this tension, helping to stretch and strengthen the muscles while promoting relaxation and relief.

Beyond the physical benefits, this short mobility routine can have a positive impact on your mental well-being. The slower movement provides a great opportunity for you to focus on your breathing and body awareness. As tension is released from the muscles, you should start to feel a heightened sense of physical comfort and an increased sense of calm and relaxation.

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Jessica Downey
Fitness Writer

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her love for keeping fit and fueling her body with healthy and enjoyable food quite naturally led her to write about all things fitness and health-related. If she isn’t out testing the latest fitness products such as the latest running shoe or yoga mat for reviewing then she can be found writing news and features on the best ways to build strength, active aging, female health, and anything in between. Before then she had a small stint writing in local news, has also written for Runners World UK (print and digital), and gained experience with global content marketing agency, Cedar Communications.

Born and raised in Scotland, Jessica is a massive fan of exercising and keeping active outdoors. When at home she can be found running by the sea, swimming in it, or up a mountain. This continued as she studied and trained to become a PPA-accredited magazine journalist in Wales. And since working and living in London, she splits her time between weight training in the gym, trying new fitness classes, and finding scenic running routes. Jessica enjoys documenting this on her fitness-inspired Instagram page @jessrunshere where she loves engaging with like-minded fitness junkies.

She is a big fan of healthy cooking and loves learning more about this area with expert nutritionists she has met over the years. Jessica is a big advocate for building healthy relationships with food rather than building restrictive attitudes towards it. When she isn’t eating or running she also enjoys practicing yoga in her free time as it helps her to unwind and benefits her performance in other sports.