The Almighty Thoracic Spine – Part 2: Corrective Exercise

In Part 1 of this 2 part series, I introduced the relatively unknown thoracic spine and two ways to assess different, but essential ways that the t-spine should be able to move – flexion/extension and rotation. If you haven’t checked out that article, I suggest you check it out here before moving on.

I explained the anatomy and importance of the middle section of the spine in that article, so I’ll get right to what you came for. Once you have assessed the mobility in your thoracic spine and noticed it may not be up to par (or maybe it is, so let’s keep it there), now you need to do something to correct it. During your self-assessment, you probably saw one or more of the following issues pop up:

Back-to-Wall Extension Test

STRUCTURAL ISSUES:

Your arms got “stuck”, at which point something else had to give, most likely your lower back or head popping off the wall. This is directly related to your vertebrae not flexing and extending as they should.

CORRECTIVES:

1.      Rolling Thoracic Spine

 

2.      T-Spine Extension on Roller

3. T-Spine Extension on Peanut

MUSCULAR ISSUES:

Your elbows flexed as you moved overhead. This is often related to tightness in the latissimus dorsi muscles (the lats) which basically run up your ribcage, through your armpit and attach on your upper arm.

CORRECTIVE EXERCISES:

1.    Rolling Lats

2. Bench Thoracic Mobilization

In another scenario, your lower back may have pooped off the wall unless you really focused on it, forcing other things to break down. This shows me that the main issue is anterior core weakness or laxity in comparison to the muscles of the low back.

This is especially prominent in hockey players, as we tend to live in an anterior pelvic tilt or stick our asses out all the time.

*IMPORTANT NOTE: Core stability is tightly linked to thoracic spine extension. If you can’t maintain a neutral lumbar spine by contracting your core, your overhead extension will almost certainly come from your lumbar spine or the junction between your lumbar and thoracic spine. Once again, the body is adjusting to weakness, which will cause problems if not addressed.

CORRECTIVE EXERCISES:

1.    Wall T-Spine Extensions with Exhale

2. Wall Press Deadbugs

PAIN

If you felt pain in your shoulders, neck or anywhere in the upper body during the assessment, you should probably book an appointment with a physiotherapist or athletic therapist (I know a few).

Thoracic Spine Rotation Test

There are generally only one of two manifestations that will happen with this assessment (if others showed up for you, please let me know!). They are as follows:

STRUCTURAL ISSUES:

Your knee lifts up off the floor and/or your rotation just stops at a certain point, not allowing you to go any further. This shows that the rotation between your thoracic vertebrae stopped, so your lumbar vertebrae picked up the slack to make it happen

CORRECTIVE EXERCISES:

1.    Side Lying Bow and Arrows

** The Bow and Arrow is still one of my favourite corrective exercises and props go to Chad Benson for introducing it at a conference a few years ago.

MUSCULAR ISSUES:

b)    You need stop or make a funny face/loud noise to continue rotating due to tightness in the pec/chest. This is very common and can be hard to correct as most people roll the head of the humerus forward in the shoulder joint without even knowing it. The Bow and Arrows can help this issue as well, but you have to focus on literally pulling the head of your humerus back in the shoulder joint

CORRECTIVE EXERCISES:

1.    Rolling Pecs

2.    Roller Angels

Bonus: Sample Movement Preparation Plan

Here’s a sample of what I would program for the movement preparation portion of an upper body workout including some of the exercises above.

Mobility

a)    Rolling Thoracic Spine x 1min

b)    Roller Angels x 10 (slow)

c) Rolling Pecs x 1min/side

Activation

a)    Wall T-Spine Extensions with Exhale x 10

b)    Side Lying Bow and Arrows x 12/6 (double reps on tighter side)

You can also pick up my free guide to reducing upper body soreness and banishing shoulder injuries, the Weekend Warrior Shoulder Saver if you want a quick, efficient daily warm-up or something to add to your upper body workouts.

Yours in Fixin’ Yo Shit,

GM

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Gavin McHale

Author Gavin McHale

Online training and nutrition coach, retired semi-pro hockey goalie, and ex-skinny kid. Currently a beer league superstar, and lover of lifting heavy things, Gavin will help you reclaim that athletic, dead sexy body, and shrink your clothing budget. Because tarps are always optional.

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