1. The shoulder and the thoracic spine are hugely related as it pertains to movement synergies. In order for the shoulder to maintain optimal health and function over the long run, your thoracic spine better be able to extend, side bend and rotate freely if you have any hopes of lifting hard and heavy while staying injury free.
2. There are many ways to enhance both shoulder and thoracic mobility, but treating these two regions as one is the key to continued health even under frequent and torturous training loads. The shoulder and the thoracic spine need to move as a unit, and the only way to achieve this is by correcting movement patterns that teach them to work together!
3. After a general warm-up and some dynamic movement drills to prep your systems for an upper body emphasis training session, it is time to move into a few corrective exercises that will not only enhance your mobility in sticky areas, but prep your neural system to clean up firing patterns that link the thoracic spine to the shoulder girdle.
Thoracic Spine Rotation with Arm Sweep
-Really get your arm reaching for maximal stretch through your your shoulder, back and more importantly your rib cage and thoracic spine.
-Slowly rotate in a circular like motion and graze the floor with the fingers to stay smooth and controlled with the motion.
-Incorporate deep breathing strategies into this movement by exhaling while your top arm is placed in a maximally reached position.
-Place a pressure through your knee into the foam roller to set your spine and maintain this position throughout the exercise. This position will be standard for all of these thoracic spine + shoulder movements.
Thoracic Spine Rotation with Reach
-Focus on opening up that rib cage and using the arm on top to create leverage to accentuate the stretch at end range.
-Similar to the arm sweep, this movement should be smooth, slow and controlled.
-Exhale fully as your arm moves into an end range stretched position to create a deeper level of stretch through the rib cage along with the pectoralis group.
Thoracic Spine Rotation with Rib Grab
-Take a hold of your rib cage with your entire hand and maintain a grip on the lateral side that you can maintain throughout the movement.
-Essentially, you are going to be manually rotating your rib cage and thoracic spine as you mobilize the shoulder girdles as well.
-Like the others, deep breathing becomes very important when reaching an end range stretch.
The Postural Resoration Program
Here is what a general pre-workout preparatory sequence looks like. Use this template to warm up for your next upper body emphasis training session, prehabilitation and soft tissue session or in your free time to enhance your thoracic spine and shoulder function.
1A. Thoracic Spine Rotation with Arm Sweep 2×12 (per side)
1B.Thoracic Spine Rotation with Reach 2×10 (per side)
1C. Thoracic Spine Rotation with Rib Grab 2×15 (per side)
*Use these corrective exercises in circuit, so move from 1A to 1B to 1C then back to 1A for another round through.
About The Author
Dr. John Rusin is a sports performance specialist and injury prevention expert that has coached some of the world’s most elite athletes including multiple Olympic gold medalists, NFL & MLB All-Star performers, and professional athletes from 11 different sports. Dr. Rusin has also managed some of the most successful barbell sport athletes in the world including world record holding powerlifters, CrossFit Games athletes, and IFBB professional bodybuilders and physique athletes.
His innovative pain-free performance programs have been successfully used by over 40,000 athletes, which has gained him the reputation as the go-to industry expert for rebuilding after pain, injuries or plateaus.
Dr. Rusin is also the founder of the Pain-Free Performance Specialist Certification (PPSC) that has certified over 1500 personal trainers, strength coaches and rehab pros from across the globe in his methods over the past two years.