How to Do the Seal Stretch: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to do the seal stretch to help with upper body mobility, flexibility, and muscle tension, plus modifications to make it easier or harder.

Published Date: Sep 7, 2023

If you find yourself rolling your shoulders to relieve upper back pain after a long day at your desk or trying anything to relax your tight muscles after a weekend of lifting heavy objects, you’re not alone. Upper back pain and tension — related to a variety of factors — are all too common in this day and age.  

Among the myriad exercises and stretches recommended for upper body pain relief, one stands out for its array of health benefits: the seal stretch. This simple stretch can have an impact by strengthening and stretching your upper body to relieve muscle tension and pain while also promoting relaxation. 

Here, learn more about the benefits of the seal stretch and how you can incorporate it into your daily routine. 

Our Hinge Health Experts

Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Is the Seal Stretch?

Sometimes referred to as the “cobra pose” in yoga, the seal stretch promotes back strength and flexibility while stretching the abdominal muscles and opening up the chest. The stretch involves lying on your stomach and extending your head and chest toward the ceiling while you push through your arms.  

What Muscles Does the Seal Stretch Work? 

The seal stretch primarily targets your back muscles, but it also works some muscles on the front of your body. Specifically, it targets: 

  • Erector spinae, which is a group of muscles that runs along the spine. It includes the iliocostalis, longissimus, and spinalis muscles. 

  • Rectus abdominis and obliques, which are located on the front of the body but get stretched when you arch your back during this exercise. The rectus abdominis runs from the rib cage to the pelvis, while the obliques are situated on the sides of the abdomen.

  • Trapezius, especially the lower part. This muscle spans the upper back and neck and is engaged to help stabilize the upper spine and shoulder blades.

  • Rhomboids, located between the shoulder blades. These help retract and stabilize the scapula.

  • Deltoids, which are shoulder muscles. The front part in particular gets a good stretch in the seal stretch when your arms are fully extended.

  • Pectoral muscles — especially the pectoralis major. These chest muscles are engaged as you open up your chest in this pose.

  • Latissimus dorsi, which is located on the sides of the back. These muscles can be engaged and stretched a bit during seal stretch, especially if you keep your elbows close to your body.

  • Hip flexors and quadriceps on the front of the hips and thighs can also get a good stretch, especially if you do a deeper backbend in seal stretch. 

Seal Stretch Benefits

The seal stretch offers a wide range of mental and physical benefits, such as: 

  • Increasing flexibility, especially if you have to sit for extended periods of time (e.g., in front of a computer for work) 

  • Reducing muscle tension, particularly in the back, neck, and shoulders 

  • Strengthening back muscles to help prevent and relieve back pain

  • Improving blood circulation, especially in the spine and pelvic region

  • Enhancing breathing by opening up your chest and allowing for greater lung expansion 

  • Relieving stress and improving mental focus 

Seal Stretch: Exercises and Modifications 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Seal Stretch

Seal Stretch

Seal Stretch

Seal Stretch

To do a seal stretch: 

  • Lie in a comfortable position on your stomach. It may help to do this on a yoga mat or another soft surface. 

  • Place your hands on the floor, at the sides of your chest. 

  • Push through your hands to straighten your arms and lift your shoulders and head toward the ceiling. 

  • Hold this position for a few seconds, keeping your lower body and core relaxed as you do so. 

  • Bend your arms to relax your chest back to the floor. 

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Seal Stretch Modifications

Seal Stretch Modifications

Seal Stretch Modifications

Seal Stretch Modifications

To make the seal stretch easier:  

  • From your starting position, move to a propped-up position on your forearms instead of pushing through your hands and straightening your arms. 

  • You could also reduce your range of motion by limiting how much you straighten your arms or extend your chest upward during the stretch. 

To make the seal stretch harder: 

  • Extend your head to look up toward the ceiling at the top of the movement. 

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program. 

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.  

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. 

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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  1. Erector Spinae. (n.d.). Physiopedia. Retrieved from https://www.physio-pedia.com/Erector_Spinae?utm_source=physiopedia&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=ongoing_internal