Thoracic spine mobility is one of the most important factors in achieving proper overhead form and for overall shoulder health. It’s also one of the most frequent causes of shoulder pain in the fitness athlete. Below you’ll find a few of our favorite exercises to improve thoracic spine mobility.
This video explains why thoracic mobility is so important to shoulder health.
To see how good your thoracic spine moves, start with this simple test. We want our athletes to achieve is ~50 degrees of rotation to either side. If one side is limited, it’s a good sign that you have restrictions that need to be addressed. Lastly, it’s easy to cheat this test, so be sure to listen closely to the video for proper cueing.
If you are looking to improve your overhead mobility as a whole, after finishing this article, visit our overhead mobility overhaul post. There is a ton of crossover so we wanted to make sure you had all the resources.
This is a great self-mobilization to start correcting immobility of the thoracic spine. The most important part of this exercise is to keep the elbows tucked and also incorporate diaphragmatic breathing. All cues are in the video!
A great variation is to add an overpressure by holding a dumbbell at the back of your head. It’s more advanced, but if you need more weight, it’s a great variation. However, always start with the video explanation.
This exercise becomes more functional because it puts you in the overhead position. Be sure to not get lazy. Assume a proper overhead position by “locking” the shoulders and then focusing on breath work and thoracic extension.
After all the mobility work is done, it’s imperative that you follow it up with strengthening. This will help the new mobility “stick.” The banded Z-Press is one of our favorites. In the long-seated position, it helps lock your lumbar spine and hips. Then, with the band anchored in front of you, it forces your thoracic spine to maintain the upright posture and then incorporating an overhead press ties it all together.
Start slow with this one and be sure to use correct form.
This is an advanced exercise that works thoracic extension and rotation. Keeping the knee pressed firmly against the foam roller (or ball) allows for your core to activate, locking the low-back and isolating your thoracic spine.
*This is helpful information, but it is general information. This is NOT medical advice. If you already have any injury, pain, tightness, etc., please seek help from a licensed and qualified healthcare provider like us, performance physical therapy in Green Bay. A complete solution for what you’re dealing with needs to be customized to all the different factors driving your pain, and those factors will be at least slightly different for each person. These strategies may help, but they’re not likely to be a complete solution for each individual reading this now or in the future.