The book opener stretch is a thoracic stretch that helps to improve mobility in the upper back, chest and shoulders.
It is popular in Physical Therapy and Pilates, and can be used to relieve stiffness caused by poor posture or being sedentary for long periods of time.
The book opener stretch requires no equipment but you may want to use a pillow to support your head during the movement. Similarly, squeezing something between your knees can also help keep your hips stable during the rotation.
We think this is a great movement to include any sort of daily stretch routine, as it will keep your back mobile, even if you’ve been stuck at a desk all day.
In this exercise guide, we outline how to do the book opener stretch properly (and common mistakes to avoid), as well as the muscles worked and benefits.
How to Perform the Book Opener Stretch
To do the book opener stretch:
- Step 1. Lay on your side, with your knees in line with your hips, legs bent and arms out straight in front of you.
- Step 2. Breathe in as you begin to raise your upper arm up to the ceiling and over your body. Imagine you are mimicking the movement of opening a book with your arm.
- Step 3. Follow the path of your outstretched arm with your head and allow your spine and chest to rotate with the movement.
- Step 4. Exhale as you allow your chest and spine to continue the movement of your arm all the way over your body until you begin to feel the stretch around your ribs. For some this may be when your arm is flat on the opposite side of your body but for others it will not be as far as this. Stop at what feels comfortable for you.
- Step 5. Once you feel the stretch, your spine and chest should have rotated so that your chest is facing the ceiling and your back is flat. You should feel the gentle twist as your hips remain still throughout the movement.
- Step 6. Take a deep breath whilst holding this position before exhaling as you rotate your body back to the starting position.
- Step 7. Repeat this movement for 5-10 repetitions on both sides of your body.
Coach’s Tip – Make sure you are moving your torso and not just your arms. Your torso should rotate as your arm moves across your body.
Strengthen as well as stretch
Book Opener Stretch Variations
You may want to use a pillow to support your neck and head, or alternatively, use the arm that remains still to cushion your head.
If you don’t, you may find your neck is strained during the rotation (which isn’t ideal).
But ultimately, it’s down to personal preference.
We recently published a buyer’s guide that delves into the best Pilates head cushions and supports for movements just like this. Getting a head support can help improve your alignment between your neck and back, ensuring you don’t strain your neck as you try to keep your head upright.
Elbows not Arms
Some may find the stretch easier with both arms starting bent at the elbows and held either side of the head. As you rotate your chest, spine and shoulder, the upper arm will mimic the movement of opening the book and allow for the same gentle twist in the upper body as the hips remain still. It’s worth experimenting with what feels most comfortable to you.
Book Opener Muscles Worked
The book opener stretch primarily works on stretching the muscles of the upper back, shoulders and chest.
You will also find your abdominals and muscles around your hips are engaged to maintain stability in your lower body as you rotate.
Book Opener Benefits
Book openers are a great choice for improving the mobility of the thoracic region of the spine. This part of the body facilitates the movement and function of other parts of your body too, particularly in the shoulders and neck.
Stiffness in this region can not only lead to limited movement patterns, but it can also be a root cause for pain and discomfort in the neck and upper back.
Particularly useful if you spend long periods sat at a desk, the book opener helps to loosen the areas in the upper body that commonly suffer as a result of prolonged stationary positions, such as the shoulders, neck and back.
One of the benefits of the book opener stretch is that the dynamic nature of the movement means it also works on shoulder mobility too.
Your shoulders are in constant movement, which helps to strengthen the muscles around the joint to encourage full range of motion.
The exercise is beginner-friendly and you can get started whatever your current back mobility is like… you may just find the overall movement is limited until you improve this thoracic mobility.
You can take your time with it though, and slowly test your rotational mobility by listening to your body.
Although the primary goal with this movement is to stretch out the upper back, due to the rotation, it means the muscles around your hips need to create stability to prevent your legs rotating too.
Improving stability in the hips is very useful to improve your overall body control.
If you’re struggling with hip stability and control, our guide on hip airplanes is worth reading as a potential movement to help improve your stability in this area.
Stretch the Chest
The book opener stretch is also a great way to stretch out the chest.
If you’re doing any exercises to strengthen and sculpt the chest, these muscles will naturally tighten unless you’re stretching them out.
Maintaining and improving the mobility of your spine and shoulders, whilst also gently stretching your chest and arm muscles will help to reduce the chance of injury to these areas of the body.
A stable core is required to keep your hips from rotating with your chest and spine. Strength in your core is linked with many benefits including better posture, balance and stability.
If you’re looking for ways to reduce stiffness in the upper back and thoracic spine region, the book opener stretch is definitely worth considering.
Go at your own pace and only extend your arms as far as feels comfortable.
You could do this stretch as a simple way to break up long periods sat at a desk, or within a more complete full body stretching routine.
The scorpion stretch is a similar stretch that involves a rotation of the spine from a prone (lying face down) position, which you may also want to try.