Simple Foam Roller Drills for Better Thoracic Mobility
Written by: Coach James
Today, we’re going to touch base on the thoracic spine and some ways to improve mobility, but first let’s talk about what exactly the thoracic spine is. The thoracic spine is commonly referred to as the mid- to upper-back. It’s comprised of 12 individual vertebrae (T-1 thru T-12). The purpose of the thoracic spine is to allow us to rotate as well as bend laterally. Slight flexion (closing) and hyperextension (opening) can occur as well in thoracic mobility.
For many individuals, a dominant part of our daily lives require actions occurring in front of our bodies. Whether it be driving, typing, or pushing a shopping cart, the prevalence of this position is inevitable. Spending too much time in this forward-head, rounded-shoulders position can hinder your mobility and lead to stiffness in the thoracic spine. Take a look around… notice anyone with slumped shoulders and poor posture? This is what is now known as “Silicon Valley syndrome”.
When we have a limited range of motion in our thoracic spine, we are forced to compensate in other areas. When we overcompensate in this area, it can lead to postural deficits, low back/neck pain, headaches, biomechanical inefficiencies, and for the athletic population such as CrossFitters, we lose the ability to maintain optimal lifting form.
During a back squat, your inability to maintain an upright posture can be caused by poor thoracic mobility due to the excessive forward flexion and inability to achieve thoracic extension. Not only does this decrease your chance of performing the lift correctly, but it also redirects a great amount of stress to the lumbar spine and increases the risk for a lower back injury. The scapula resides on the thoracic region of the rib cage, hence a lack of thoracic mobility will in turn yield poor movement of the shoulder girdle as well. This is especially problematic for lifts such as the snatch, clean and jerk, or overhead press.
So, now that we have broken down the thoracic spine and how it can compromise our lifts, let’s look at some ways to improve thoracic mobility with just the foam roller. Special thanks to DCCF-er, Alex Spata, for these drills:
Before lying on the foam roller, make an imprint of your body on a firm surface. Recognize how your body feels “right now”. Next, align your body on the foam roller and keep your knees bent the entire time. Follow the sequence below for better thoracic mobility.
- Arms resting by your side – hold 30sec
- Arms resting in the T position – hold for 30sec
- Arms resting in Y position – hold for 30sec
- Arms resting in “bench press position” (elbows at a 90/90) – hold for 30sec
- Bench press up and down for 30sec
- With arms still in bench press position, give yourself a hug – repeat for 30sec
- Cross hands at waist and then reach into a Y position – repeat for 30sec
- Swim backstroke – repeat for 30sec
- Alex Spata PT, DPT. Clinical Director at Results Physiotherapy Pelvic Specialty Clinic