Quick and Easy Thoracic Openers

In this week’s article I want to give you a few more ideas for thoracic mobility movements that will help you improve in various aspects of your life. If you are an Olympic lifter or participate in a sport with a lot of overhead involvement, this is for you. If you are someone who drives a lot or sits at a desk for 8 hours a day, this is for you. In virtually any activity that requires upper extremity involvement, you must have proper integrity of the upper back musculature and proper scapulothoracic movement. When the scapula is not moving and rotating on the ribs, it causes inefficient movement patterns and pain will follow.

Just like I previously have talked about in the Cat/Cow article, much of the pain and discomfort we feel in the areas around the mid back and scapular area are typically caused from a combination of poor neuromuscular control and poor mobility of the thoracic spine. Proper control of this segment of the spinal column is vital during many of our common movements in the gym. A weak and poorly mobilized thoracic spine will cause your back to round, during movements like deadlift, front squat or bent over row for example, and additionally in terms of your posture it won’t allow you to maintain a stable neutral spine throughout the day. The nice thing about these movements I will talk about are, that they can literally be done anywhere, at home, at work, at the gym, or really anywhere else you can make time for 5 minutes of mobility work.

This first movement will start with you needing a surface about the height of a desk, table or high couch. You will be on your knees and from there put both your arms, fully extended, on the elevated surface. From there you will need to lean down into the elevated surface and push your head through your arms, like you are finishing an overhead barbell press. Hold this position for 5 seconds and relax. Repeat 10 times for a total of 3 sets. Scapulothoracic rhythm is associated with all the other movements we have talked about, because without the scapula properly moving on the thoracic cavity, we would not be able to move efficiently. The initial 30 degrees of abduction can occur without scapular involvement, but after that point, in every additional 3 degrees of motion, 2 degrees come from the GH joint, and 1 degree comes from the scapulothoracic joint. If this rhythm is off, movement efficiency will be poor, pain will likely present and further injury can occur. The important movements of the scapulothoracic joint are elevation, depression, protraction, retraction and rotation.

The second movement will have you in a quadruped position, just like the initial starting point of the cat/cows. From this position you will reach your arm through, under your chest to the other side. You will reach as far as you can and plant your palm face down on the ground once you have reached max distance of your reach. You will hold that for 30 seconds and repeat the same thing on the other side. Once you have completed both sides, you will do each again two more times. That is the stretch and hold method. The repetition method, which can be just as effective, is the same movement, but instead of reaching and holding for time, you will be reaching and returning to the starting point for reps. I recommend doing 5-10 repetitions before switching to the other side and completing 3 sets of that on each side.

These are two very simple movements but can be extremely effective for low back pain or inefficient posterior control of your body. You need to make sure that if you are struggling with back pain currently and you want to add this into your warmup, routine, etc, that you perform it in a pain free range of motion at first. If you have any questions about this or anything else spinal mobility related, please reach out and always remember to #HealByMoving.

Todd SabolComment