How to Do Thread the Needle

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Portrait shot of a woman doing yoga in a studio.

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Targets: Shoulders, upper back, neck.

Equipment Needed: None.

Level: Beginner.

Looking for a deep, effective yet gentle stretch that simultaneously targets your shoulders, neck and upper back? Look no further than the thread-the-needle stretch. This stretch can be static or dynamic, and you can perform it as fast or as slow as you want to. 

Use the thread-the-needle stretch as part of your warmup or cool-down for an upper body workout. Or, simply add this stretch to your morning or nightly routine for some mobility work that’ll leave you feeling refreshed. 

Benefits

There are many benefits to this stretch.

Relieves Neck Pain and Tension

If you’re feeling tight and tense in your neck, try doing thread-the-needle for a minute or two on each side. This stretch requires you to slowly twist your neck back and forth and apply gentle pressure with your bodyweight, which may work out any kinks or knots in your neck. 

Mobilizes Your Upper Back

Thread-the-needle is arguably one of the best stretches for the upper back, especially for beginners and people with limited range of motion. This stretch gently opens up your cervical (neck) and thoracic spine, two areas that can become very stiff when you sit for long periods of time or don’t stretch on a regular basis.  

Stretches the Shoulders

Many people have tight shoulders from hunching over a computer or phone all day. Thread-the-needle stretches the sides and backs of your shoulders, helping to ease posture-related pain. 

It’s Relaxing

Thread-the-needle is sort of like an advanced version of child’s pose, which is one of the most relaxing poses in yoga. The dynamic nature of thread-the-needle is rhythmic and steady, making this stretch relaxing in its own right. 

Serves as a Great Warmup Movement

Toss a few reps of thread-the-needle in your warmup before an upper-body workout, and you’ll find yourself amazed at how strong you feel while performing movements such as barbell presses, kettlebell swings, and triceps dips. Thread-the-needle opens up all the joints you need to do pushing and pulling movements

Step-by-Step Instructions

Here’s how to do thread-the-needle and reap all the benefits of this upper body stretch.

  1. Lay down a yoga mat or find a soft carpeted area for comfort.
  2. Start on all fours on the ground. Make a tabletop with your body: Stack your hips directly above your knees and position your elbows, shoulders, and wrists in a straight line perpendicular to the ground. 
  3. Lift your right hand up sending your gaze up with it and then follow your right hand down as you thread it beneath your left arm. 
  4. Sink into the stretch by keeping your hips high while allowing your chest to rest on or come close to the ground. Push your hips back and up and keep some pressure in your left palm to avoid crunching your neck. 
  5. Hold the position as long as you’d like—a few seconds up to an entire minute—and then switch sides. 
  6. To come out, press firmly into your left palm and slowly unthread your right arm reaching back up towards the sky, the gaze can follow. Return your right hand down to the ground back in tabletop. Repeat on the left side.

Common Mistakes

Even though thread-the-needle is just a stretch, there are some common mistakes to stay aware of.

Rushing Through the Movement

While the thread-the-needle stretch can certainly be a dynamic movement, the intended stimulus is still a slow, deep stretch. If you rush through this one, you may limit yourself to a shallow stretch or hurt yourself by forcing your muscles to stretch too quickly. 

Keeping the Hips Forward

During thread-the-needle, you should rock back on your hips as you sink into the stretch. Keeping your hips too far forward displaces the pressure intended for your shoulder and may put too much force on your neck. Plus, rocking back gives your hips a nice stretch in addition to your upper body. 

Hunched Back

Your thoracic spine will gently twist in this pose and should achieve two positions during thread-the-needle: extended and neutral. Your spine should never flex (hunch) during this stretch.  

Overstretching

Many people make the mistake of overstretching, especially during new stretches where they may not know their end range of motion. Overstretching can lead to a sprain or strain, especially if you stretch too quickly, so be sure to take it easy at first.

Holding Your Breath

Deep stretches like thread-the-needle are so much better when you remember to breathe! It’s common to forget to breathe during stretching, especially when it feels challenging, but breathwork helps you get the most out of your stretch session. During thread-the-needle, inhale as you come up and exhale as you sink into the stretch.

Modifications and Variations

If the thread-the-needle stretch proves to be too much or too little, try out a variation of it.

Need a Modification?

To modify this stretch, simply reduce the pressure you place on your working arm. Use your core to dictate how much pressure your arm receives; the deeper your lean forward, the deeper a stretch you’ll get. 

You can also use a pole, chair or bench (or anything else sturdy that you can grab) to help with this stretch. Position yourself so you can grab the object as you thread your arm beneath your shoulder. Holding onto something will help you maintain core control during the stretch.

Up for a Challenge?

If you want an even deeper stretch, thread your arm so that your left and right shoulders become stacked. If you thread your arm this far, you’ll feel more of a stretch in your thoracic spine. 

Safety and Precautions

Stretching might not seem like a big deal, but there are still safety tips to keep in mind as you work your way through this stretch.

Start Small

If you’ve never done thread-the-needle before, start with a small range of motion and work your way up. Consider starting with similar stretches that aren’t quite as intensive, such as child’s pose. Child’s pose can help your body get familiar with the position you’ll be in for thread-the-needle. 

Don’t Overstretch

Even if you feel confident with the thread-the-needle stretch, respect your range of motion. Only stretch to the point where you feel mild discomfort—if you feel pain (especially sharp, stabbing pain), you’ve gone too far. Overstretching may lead to injury, so it’s best to play it safe. 

Encourage Circulation Before Stretching

Although stretching is often considered a warm-up activity on its own, you can warm up to your warmup by encouraging blood flow before doing thread-the-needle. Shake things out by doing a few arm circles, bear hugs or arm flaps. Improved circulation may help you achieve a deeper stretch and get the most out of the exercise.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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