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!


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