Be prepared to hear a loud back crack and pop as Jesse gets his upper back mobilized and you learn how to do the same thing to yourself. In this video, I’m going to show you how to restore thoracic extension so that you can stand up straighter with better posture and perform some of your bigger lifts more effectively. The squat, front squat, row, overhead press and deadlift are just a few of the exercises that require that you have adequate thoracic extension to perform them properly. This self mobilization will make sure you do every single time.
It start with understanding how the spine is set up. The spine is divided into three different zones; the cervical, thoracic and lumbar areas. The cervical spine consists of 7 vertebrae and runs to about the level of your shoulders. The thoracic spine consists of 12 vertebrae and runs down to about the navel. Keep in mind however, the curve in this area is not all convex. This will be key when it comes to performing this adjustment properly. Finally, the lumbar spine has 5 vertebrae that ultimately meet with the sacrum at the level of the pelvis.
When we perform weightlifting, the demands of thoracic extension are high. In order to properly elevate our arms overhead without compensation or maintain a proper posture we have to make sure that we maximize the full available extension through the thoracic spine. Unfortunately, it is quite common that we start to round our shoulders and assume a slumped posture that limits our ability to keep the proper posture when we need it the most.
That is where the self adjustment comes in here. You want to be able to push your vertebrae that are in the rounded, flexed position back into extension. You may never actually get into extension with the mobilization but you will be extending them from the flexed position they are stuck in. First, it is easiest to visualize if someone else does it for you.
You can see that this is what I’m doing to Jesse in the video. I ask him to lay flat on the floor on his stomach and rest his arms at his sides. This will open up the thoracic spine and get the shoulder blades out of the way to allow for a good spinal adjustment. I feel for the area of stiffness between the level of his shoulders and the bottom of his shoulder blades. I ask him to take a deep breath in and then slowly exhale. While he does, I direct the sides of my hands down and up to create an anterior force which will generate the extension.
To perform this yourself, all you need is to have a heavy medicine ball or object that you can place on your chest and a foam roller (a weight plate will do as well, but you just need to remember to hug around the plate to create the space needed in the back when the shoulder blades are cleared). Line up the area of your upper back that feels most stiff and slowly allow the ball that starts resting on your chest to drop over and back down towards your chin. This will drive you into a posterior direction that will accomplish the same thing as the partner assisted mobilization.
If you perform this a few times to the areas that are stiff just prior to training, you will find that all of the exercises mentioned earlier will be easier to perform properly and your posture will be much better. If you are looking for a complete program that puts the science of physical therapy back into every workout you do so you get better results, click on the link below to start training like an athlete today.
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Jeff Cavaliere M.S.P.T, CSCS
Jeff Cavaliere is a Physical Therapist, Strength Coach and creator of the ATHLEAN-X Training Programs and ATHLEAN-Rx Supplements. He has a Masters in Physical Therapy (MSPT) and has worked as Head Physical Therapist for the New York Mets, as well as training many elite professional athletes in Major League Baseball, NFL, MMA and professional wrestling. His programs produce “next level” achievements in muscle size, strength and performance for professional athletes and anyone looking to build a muscular athletic physique.