Because of its tendency to be such a pain (literally), your lumbar area usually hogs all the spinal glory. But the thoracic spine (T-spine) is an important link in the chain and is perhaps the most disregarded area when it comes to mobility. However, stiffness and lack of extensibility in the soft tissue surrounding the T-spine can cause shoulder strain and promote compression of the nerve roots, which can lead to pain and numbness in your shoulders, neck and fingers. And if you bench a bunch, you could be tight in your pecs, lats and shoulders, which can affect your overhead position in moves such as pull-ups and overhead squats.
Use these moves preworkout to release your T-spine — correcting posture, decreasing pain and injury potential, and improving results — and hit the reset button on your back.
Segmental Flexion/Extension with a Peanut
Lie faceup with knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Place a peanut massage roller between the floor and your mid-back just below your rib cage (T12). (You can purchase a peanut online or make one by taping two tennis or lacrosse balls together.) Loop a towel behind your head and hold an end in each hand to support your neck. Inhale and slowly lower your shoulders to the ground. Exhale and perform a small crunch, rounding the upper back. Repeat for two or three slow repetitions then move the peanut up to the next vertebra. Continue until you reach T1.
Lie facedown with arms at your sides, spine neutral. Press your abs into the floor, then externally rotate your arms so your thumbs point upward, palms facing away. Draw your shoulder blades down and back and lift your arms to raise your upper body off the floor slightly, chin tucked. Hold for two or three seconds, then return to the floor. Do one or two sets of eight to 10 reps.
Lie faceup with a foam roller along your right side. Bend your left hip and knee 90 degrees, then cross your knee over your body and rest it on top of the roller. Inhale, then exhale and press your left shoulder blade into the ground, aiming to rotate your T-spine rather than stretching your chest. Hold for three to five seconds, then release. Repeat four times, then switch sides.
Thread the Needle
Get on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Keep your hips square and reach your right arm underneath you as far as you can, resting your right shoulder on the ground. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side. Do one or two sets of four to five reps on each side.
The large, bony protrusion at the base of your neck marks the first of 12 vertebrae (T1-T12) in the thoracic region. This area of your upper back supports your rib cage and works with your shoulder blades to coordinate complex movements and provide stability to your upper body.