How to do Wall Angels

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Wall angel

Francesco Carta Fotografo / Getty Images

 

Targets: Upper and lower back.

Equipment Needed: Perform this next to a wall.

Level: Intermediate.

Is your back or neck feeling achy and tight? Relieve tension in your upper back with wall angels, a deep and dynamic stretch for your spine. This stretch primarily targets your back, but you’ll feel the benefits throughout your neck and shoulders, too.

Benefits

Improves Thoracic Spine Mobility 

The primary benefit of wall angels is improved T-spine mobility. This truly is one of the best stretches for your mid- to upper spine—the sheer difficulty proves that. If you master wall angels, you’ll enjoy a super bendy spine that supports dynamic and intense exercises. 

Helps Develop Good Posture

Most people could use a little help with their posture these days. Add wall angels into your daily or weekly routine to fast-track your posture improvements. This stretch teaches you how to pull your shoulders back while maintaining a strong core and avoiding an arched back. It’s a win-win-win!

A Great Pre-Workout Mobilization Move

If your workout lineup includes squats, overhead pressing, or any other movement that requires T-spine mobility, add wall angels to your warmup to loosen things up before you start. 

May Reduce Back and Neck Pain

Even though this stretch doesn’t directly target your neck, it can help relieve neck pain and tension. It works on your neck indirectly: By compressing and decompressing your upper and mid-spine, wall angels may create space and laxity in the vertebral joints that extend through your neck. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

Here’s how to do wall angels and start improving your spinal mobility.

  1. Make an “L” with your body by sitting tall against a wall. Press your entire back (even your natural arch) into the wall and extend your legs in front of you. 
  2. Bring your elbows out to the side, level with your shoulders. Press your triceps against the wall. 
  3. Rotate your arms upward so your forearms and the backs of your hands also press into the wall. Your arms should mimic the shape of a football goal post. 
  4. Slowly raise your arms above your head, continuing until your shoulders and elbows fully extend. The whole time, continue pressing your back into the wall—avoid arching and try not to lose contact with the wall. 
  5. Lower your arms back down until your triceps are parallel to the ground. 
  6. Repeat for 10 to 15 reps. 

Common Mistakes

Wall angels are a rather difficult stretch, even for people who already stretch and exercise often. Watch out for these mistakes when you try wall angels. 

Arching Your Back 

By far, this is the most common mistake seen in wall angels. This stretch intends to maximize spinal mobility, and core control is the first thing to go out the window when spinal mobility is challenged.

If you can’t keep your lower back in contact with the wall, it means your body is compensating for limited T-spine mobility. Your lumbar spine extends and your core protrudes in an attempt to get your shoulders extended overhead.

This compromises the integrity of your spine and, if you make this mistake often, you might inadvertently teach your body to reinforce this harmful movement pattern.

Protruding Your Neck 

Second, many people unconsciously protrude their necks during wall angels. This may happen simply because they’re straining to reach the overhead position — the body creates all sorts of compensations when it can’t reach the position it wants.

While you won’t necessarily hurt yourself doing this, it’s best to keep your neck tucked in to maximize the stretch and promote good posture.

Lifting Your Hips

Trainers often see people shift and lift their hips during wall angels. It’s yet another compensation that happens when your body can’t reach the seated overhead position.

To combat this, focus on pressing your buttocks into the floor while also pressing your back into the wall. 

Rushing Through the Movement

Lastly, avoid rushing through wall angels. Though this is a dynamic stretch, it works best when you take it slow. If you move slowly and intentionally through your reps, you can pinpoint “sticky” areas in your spine and work on mobilizing them. 

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?


Floor Angels 

If you’re struggling to maintain a neutral spine position while doing wall angels, try floor angels instead. All of the steps remain the same, except you’ll lie face-up on the ground instead of sit against the wall. This should make it easier to prevent your back from arching and still allow you to reach your full range of motion with your shoulders. 

Single-Arm Wall or Floor Angels

Still having trouble? Try practicing wall angels or floor angels with just one arm at a time. This alleviates some of the pressure on your spine and makes it easier to send your arm overhead, so you can fully reap the benefits of the stretch. You can alternate arms or perform several reps on one arm before switching. Just remember to focus on keeping your lower back pressed into the wall throughout the entire movement.

Up for a Challenge?

Wall angels are challenging as-is, but you can make this stretch even tougher by practicing a “hollow sit.” While pressing your back into the wall, engage your core to achieve the hollow position (tuck your abs in, drawing them toward your spine) and tuck your tailbone under. Hold the hollow sit while performing wall angels for a serious challenge to your upper back. 

Safety and Precautions

Don’t Overdo It 

With stretching, it’s always best to start small and take it slow—especially when you’re trying a move you haven’t done before. To avoid overstretching and potentially straining a muscle or suffering a serious cramp, perform slow reps. You can even do your first few reps at half of your ability (i.e., only put your arms halfway overhead) to prime your body before going all in.

Practice Single-Arm Wall Angels First 

Even if you’re using wall angels as part of your warmup, you can warm up to your warmup! Do a few single-arm wall angels before proceeding to regular wall angels. This allows you to gradually mobilize your spine, rather than jump right into an intense stretch.

Foam Roll Your Back

If you’re feeling a little sore after doing wall angels, don’t worry: It’s normal to have a bit of muscle sensitivity (but not pain) after very deep stretching. You are pushing your body past its comfortable range of motion, after all. Spending a few moments on a foam roller may help. Roll your upper back, lower back and shoulders to massage the muscles you stretched.

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