Top 5 Thoracic Spine Mobility Exercises

Top 5 Thoracic Spine Mobility Exercises

Top 5 Thoracic Spine Mobility Exercises

Thoracic spine mobility is essential for the overhead athlete, anyone lifting overhead, and even the everyday person. Having adequate amounts of thoracic spine mobility can help prevent nagging muscle and joint issues up and down the kinetic chain. Frequently, a lack of thoracic spine mobility (especially thoracic extension) can lead to shoulder pain and impingement.

Here are our top 5 thoracic spine mobility exercises (in no particular order).

1. Downward Dog

The downward dog is a phenomenal thoracic extension mobility exercise that is underutilized. It is a great drill to work on overhead shoulder flexion, thoracic extension, and shoulder strength all at the same time. This should be a pain-free exercise and should not cause any pinching in the back part of your shoulder joint.

PRO TIP: To really get the most out of this exercise, really work on pressing your hands through the ground, pushing your chest away from your hands. At the same time, use your thoracic paraspinals (the muscles that run along your upper back) to pull your spine into more extension.

PROGRAMMING: 15-20 repetitions holding each rep for 2-3 seconds, 3-4 days/week

2. Brettzel

The brettzel is one of the more complex thoracic spine mobility exercises we utilize. It is definitely not for everyone as it may cause some pain/discomfort in some people’s lower back. If that is you, check out our other thoracic spine rotation stretch below that is less advanced.

PRO TIP: Do not push through any pain or discomfort with this exercise. Focus on your breathing. Prior to each repetition, take a deep breath and then fully exhale while pulling yourself into the stretch.

PROGRAMMING: 5-10 repetitions per side, 3-4 days/week

3. Elevated Prayer Stretch on Bench

The elevated prayer stretch is fantastic for improving thoracic spine extension while also working on shoulder flexion mobility. With this exercise, really focus on moving through your upper back in between your shoulder blades.

PRO TIP: Think about reaching your elbows off of the bench towards to ceiling while simultaneously pulling your chest closer to the ground. Really focus on using your thoracic spine paraspinals to extend your upper back. Do not jutt/push your neck forwards towards the ground.

PROGRAMMING: 10-15 repetitions holding each rep for 2-3 seconds, 3-4 days/week

4. Kettlebell Pullover on Foam Roller

This is a common thoracic spine mobility exercise commonly seen performed in the CrossFit world. Unfortunately, too many people perform this drill without much success because they execute it improperly. This is because when most people extend over the foam roller they let their ribcage flare upwards as well.

PRO TIP: Lock your ribcage down with your abdominals. Take a big diaphragmatic breath and brace your core 360 degrees. Maintain this stacked ribcage and pelvis position while extending your spine and pulling the kettlebell over the foam roller.

PROGRAMMING: 5-10 repetitions, 3-4 days/week

5. Thoracic Spine Rotation with Rib Pull

The thoracic spine rib pull in the sidelying position is one of our favorite exercises to improve thoracic spine rotation. The rib pull aids in more rotation in the upper back and the locking the knee to the foam roller helps eliminate movement from occurring in the lower back.

PRO TIP: Do your best to move only through your upper back in rotation. Squeeze your top knee into the foam roller to lock your lumbar spine down to prevent movement from occurring there. Prior to each repetition, take a deep breath and fully exhale while rotating and pulling your ribcage to the ground. As with all exercises, this should not be painful.

PROGRAMMING: 10-15 repetitions per side, 3-4 days/week

And there you have it, our top 5 thoracic spine mobility exercises!

If you continue to not have any luck with your thoracic spine mobility after diligently following these exercises, then reach out to a qualified healthcare/movement professional. Mobility exercises should be individually prescribed to you and your needs, especially if there is pain or discomfort involved.

If you need assistance finding a physical therapist or chiropractor who understands movement and strength & conditioning locally, then reach out to us. We’re happy to help you!

Top 5 Shoulder Mobility Exercises

Top 5 Shoulder Mobility Exercises

Top 5 Shoulder Mobility Exercises

Poor shoulder mobility is one of the most common mobility restrictions we see, second to poor hip mobility. While shoulder mobility is definitely of utmost importance for overhead athletes and overhead lifting, it is also extremely important for the everyday person. In fact, a lack of shoulder mobility can lead to issues up and down the kinetic chain, in particularly neck and mid-back pain.

Unfortunately, we see far too many athletes, weekend warriors, and everyday gym-goers waste their precious time foam rolling and performing drills that only result in temporary neurological changes in their shoulder mobility. We do not want temporary changes. We want long-term changes. Changes that translate into our everyday lives and improve our performance and lifting. Thus, the exercises we perform should provide these benefits.

If you want these long-term changes that translate into improved long-term mobility, performance, and pain-relief, the exercises should be active in nature. These 5 shoulder mobility exercises are active mobility exercises that will take you to the next level.

1. Shoulder Internal Rotation Sleeper Stretch

The sleeper stretch has been around for quite some time and is often demonized by some healthcare and rehab professionals for its “safeness” and effectiveness. However, with the proper set-up and execution of the exercise, the sleeper stretch is an extremely safe shoulder mobility exercise to utilize to improve the mobility of your posterior shoulder joint capsule. The sleeper stretch will not only improve your shoulder internal rotation, but will also improve your overhead mobility (shoulder flexion).

If you lack of shoulder flexion, and also lack shoulder internal rotation, this is the place to start. Work on improving your shoulder joint capsule mobility and your overhead positioning often clears up.

PRO TIP: Do not push into any pain or pinching with this stretch. You should feel the stretch in the posterolateral part of your shoulder. You should not feel anything in the front of your shoulder. The isometric contractions within this exercise are the game-changer and provide strength in your newly acquired range of motion. These isometric contractions provide the long-term changes in your shoulder internal rotation mobility.

PROGRAMMING: 2-3 repetitions per side, 3-4 days/week

2. Shoulder External Rotation Americana Stretch

The Americana stretch, like the sleeper stretch, is one that you must execute safely and properly to get the benefits you are looking for. When done properly, it is one of our favorite drills to improve shoulder external rotation by working on the anterior shoulder joint capsule.

Again, if you have a lack of shoulder flexion and external rotation mobility, then this is the place for you to start. Target the shoulder joint capsule and overhead positioning often improves.

PRO TIP: Do not push into any pain or pinching with this stretch. You should feel a stretch in the anterior shoulder. You should not feel any pain or pinching in the back of your shoulder joint. As with the sleeper stretch, the isometric contractions are the game-changer to improve your shoulder mobility for the long-term.

PROGRAMMING: 2-3 repetitions, 3-4 days/week

3. Elevated Prayer Stretch on Bench

The elevated prayer stretch on a weight bench works shoulder flexion mobility while simultaneously improving thoracic extension mobility. Both are pivotal for shoulder mobility and shoulder joint health for the overhead athlete, weightlifter, and everyday person.

PRO TIP: Do not push into any pain or pinching in the back of the shoulder or even in the spine. Really use your thoracic spine paraspinals (the muscles along your upper back) to pull yourself into extension. Do not shove or jut your neck forwards, keep it in line with the rest of your spine.

PROGRAMMING: 12-15 repetitions, holding at the bottom for 2-3 seconds, 3-4 days/week

4. Scapular Joint Circles

Abnormal scapular rhythm, or a lack of scapular control altogether can greatly affect your shoulder mobility. In fact, too many people still adhere to the “keep your shoulder blades down & back” myth that is plaguing the fitness world. Your shoulder blades HAVE TO MOVE and upwardly rotate for you to achieve full shoulder flexion that is pain-free. Working on controlling your scapulae by rotating them around your ribcage in open and closed-chain positions will help you get some movement and motor control back into your scapulae.

PRO TIP: Make sure you are only moving your scapulae around on your ribcage. Do not substitute thoracic spine flexion for shoulder blade protraction. Also, keep your elbows locked out/straight during the entire exercise.

PROGRAMMING: 10-12 joint circles in each direction in both open & closed-chain positions, 5-6 days/week

5. Shoulder Joint Circles

Ever wonder why you have to stretch to regain ranges of motion in the first place? Likely because you “overuse” one part of your range of motion and “underutilize” the opposing ranges of motion. For example, we often take our hands in front of us and overhead (shoulder flexion), but when is the last time you took your heads to your sides and reached straight back and upwards as far as you could (shoulder extension)? If you have not used your shoulder extension range of motion in 6 months, 5 years, or 20+ years, why would you expect to still have that range of motion?

Shoulder joint circles are a great way to not only maintain your shoulder joint ranges of motion, but also work on expanding and strengthening the outer limits of those ranges.

PRO TIP: This is something that should be done daily to remind your brain and body that you have access to all of these ranges of motion. If you do not use them, you lose them. Make sure you are not just haphazardly going through the motions; create tension throughout your entire arm and fight through your ranges of motion.

PROGRAMMING: 10-12 joint circles in each direction, 5-6 days/week

6. BONUS: Supine Kettlebell Pullover

The supine kettlebell pullover is one of our favorite shoulder mobility exercises for a couple reasons: 1) the movement is an eccentric-dominant one that really elongates the tissues while simultaneously building strength & mobility and 2) it incorporates core strength/stability and really hammers the core-shoulder-connection in the overhead position.

PRO TIP: Perform the kettlebell pullover with a properly pressurized and braced core. Slowly pull the bell over your head as far back as you can, stopping before your back starts to arch off of the ground. Each eccentric pullover should be at least 3-5 seconds in duration.

PROGRAMMING: 5-10 repetitions, 3-4 days/week

And there you have it, 6 of our top favorite shoulder mobility exercises.

As always, if you continue to have trouble improving your shoulder mobility after diligently utilizing these exercises, then reach out to a qualified healthcare professional who understands movement, mobility, and strength training. Again, none of these exercises should cause any pain at anytime. If you need help finding a local physical therapist or chiropractor, or you want to schedule an online consultation with us, send us an email. We are happy to help!

Thoracic Spine Extension Mobility

Thoracic Spine Extension Mobility


The upper back is often neglected when it comes to mobility training. Yet, most of us are stuck in thoracic flexion and could work on improving our upper back extension. This movement is one of our favorite movements to perform for working on thoracic extension.

Find a bench, couch, box, or other object that is a few feet tall. Kneel on your knees in front of the box, place your elbows on the box, and shoot your hips backwards toward your heels, extending through your upper back. You should feel a good stretch in your lats and triceps as well as feel some movement occurring in your upper back.

Play around with what feels good stretch duration and rep wise. Maybe it feels good to rep it out 10-15 times only holding the stretch for 1-2 seconds. Maybe it feels good to hang out for 20-30 seconds and do less reps. Listen to your body and give it what it wants.

Thoracic Spine Rotation Tripod Exercise

Thoracic Spine Rotation Tripod Exercise


Thoracic spine rotation is a very important range of motion! All too often we see patients with very stiff upper backs that lack not only extension, but also rotation range of motion. If you’re lacking rotation in your thoracic spine, something will compensate for that lack of range. So fix it before something becomes a problem!

A great movement to work on opening up your upper back and improving your thoracic rotation is the tripod thoracic rotation exercise.

Achieve a half-kneeling position. Place the hand opposite of the leg in front on the ground about shoulder width apart from the front foot. From here, with your free arm, rotate through your upper back, reaching to the sky. Allow your neck to rotate and eyes to follow your hand towards the ceiling. Next, rotate the opposite direction, reaching your arm through your arm and leg. Rep this movement for 10-12 times and repeat on the opposite side.

Spinal Mobility

Spinal Mobility


The cat-cow is an amazing exercise to get our spine moving and keep our spinal joints (and discs) healthy. Today we talk about how we can upgrade the cat-cow to get even more benefit from the already amazing exercise.

Did you know that we have 24 vertebrae in our spine? 7 in our neck, 12 in our upper/middle back, and 5 in our lower back. Did you know that each of those vertebrae have individual joints and muscles between them? If you didn’t, now you know. And believe it or not, we should be able to actively move and control those vertebral joints with those muscles.

Instead of repping out the cat-cow quickly and only moving your spine at a few spinal segments, spend some time trying to move each of your vertebrae on their own. Taking time to slowly and controllably move your spine will result in muscles being used that haven’t been used in years. And joints to move that may have never moved. So take the time to enjoy the movement!

A great starting point is moving your spine in 3 segments: your upper, middle, and lower back. After a few repetitions, try slowly moving each of your vertebrae one at a time. With practice, this movement gets easier and your range of motion improves.

Remember, movement is what keeps your joints and discs healthy, so get those spines moving!

Spinal Flexion

Spinal Flexion


They’re supposed to be able to move into flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation. And a combination of those motions! Without the ability of our spine to move in these directions we’d be pretty stiff.

We’re not sure about you, but we don’t like being stiff.

We make sure our spines are moving in all directions, #everydamnday. It feels good. And it’s actually good for your spine’s health. After all, movement is what keeps those spinal joints (and discs) healthy!

Now, if you’re in pain and flexing your spine is painful or makes the pain worse, then maybe you should avoid spinal flexion. TEMPORARILY.

Find a healthcare provider to help you get your spine feeling better. But you better believe that once it’s pain-free, you better start moving it again!

Be a movement optimist. Don’t be afraid to move your spine in any motion. It’s supposed to move!

With that being said, who’s a proponent of the Jefferson Curl? What are your thoughts?


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