All About T-Spine Mobility

T-Spine Mobility

So, let’s pick up where we left off: retraining the central nervous system.

This retraining not only happens with the mobilization of tissue, it’s developed by positions to increase range of motion followed by corrective exercise. 

We first began with some self-soft tissue mobilizations points, including the pectorals, erector spinae/rhomboids, and latissimus dorsi. Soft tissue mobilization used on its own is all well and good, but in order to really create change, those target tissues must be put through increased ranges of motion. Without reinforcing tissues through range of motion, you will never gain that range of motion, affecting not only your lifts, but your posture while coaching and throughout the day. 

However, if after gaining that range of motion, you do not train your muscles to fire in that new increased range, you will never maintain that gained range of motion. If your body is unable to maintain proper posture, no matter what it is you are doing, your body will adapt to the poor posture most likely leading to chronic pain issues. As said before, not every athlete that comes in will need to increase their mobility, but the majority will. As for corrective exercises, don’t worry, that’s coming.

 Today, our focus is on increasing thoracic spine mobility.

Why Talk T-Spine?

Thoracic spine mobility is going to be important in just about every movement. Whether you’re squatting, Olympic lifting or performing wall balls, your t-spine is going to be a major factor in your ability to keep your chest erect. Now, that’s not to say that your hip flexors and calves don’t play a roll, because they do, but for the sake of simplicity, we will break it down one part of the kinetic chain at a time. 

The thoracic spine, also known as the mid back, consists of 12 vertebrae, and is mostly responsible for rotation of the spine. If you are unable to obtain the range of motion needed from your t-spine, your body will start to compensate in other areas, and may require more range of motion from an already unstable joint, ultimately leading to either acute or chronic injury of both involved and uninvolved segments. 

Even if we are not physically adding load and are just demonstrating movements ourselves, without the ability to keep our bodies in the correct position with the desired range of motion, we will continue to place added stress and load to those involved body parts. The more you continue to create poor movement patterns, the harder it will be to retrain the central nervous system to get out of those poor patterns potentially effecting your ability to demonstrate proper form and ultimately leading to potential injury.

The following t-spine openers will show the most impact during the warm up or part of a personalized corrective exercise program. Incorporating t-spine work requires very little equipment and is quick and easy to perform with your athletes. The first opener we will perform will be referred to as “rainbows.” 

Rainbows

You begin side lying with one knee propped up on a foam roller. Reach both arms out in the same direction of the leg propped on the roller. Once in position, rotate your top arm up and over your head, tracing a “rainbow” with your fingers maintaining contact with the floor. Once you reach a “T” position with your arms, hold for two seconds and then re-trace the rainbow, maintaining contact with the floor and your knee on the roller, returning to the starting position.  Perform five times on each side.

A similar variation would be to perform the movement in a half kneeling position using a 1/4 foam roller. Stand next to the wall, and place your knee closest to the wall on the ground, place your foot firmly on the ground in a half kneeling position and place the foam roller between your hip and the wall, applying light pressure. Place your outside hand against the wall and your inside hand right above it. While keeping the pressure on the foam roller and keeping your hips square, make a “rainbow” with your inside hand, rotating your torso. Once you make a “T,” remake the rainbow and return to the starting position. Perform five times on each side

Supine

In conjunction with these two openers, there is a very easy way to get a self-manipulation you can perform by yourself with a foam roller. Lay perpendicular on the roller, placing the roller below the inferior angle of your scapula. Perform a “crunch” three to four times and then move up a segment and repeat until you’re about 1/2 to 3/4 up the medial border of your scapula. Once you can no longer perform the crunch, reach your arms up over head and roll over the roller the length of your scapular, trying to maintain extension. Don’t be surprised if you hear and feels some pops.

Quadruped Rotation

Another easy t-spine opener is what I refer to as quadruped rotation. Begin on all fours and place one hand behind your head. First, start with taking the elbow of the hand toward the opposite arm and then pull that elbow toward the ceiling opening your chest as much as you can. Hold for about three seconds and then return to the starting position. Perform five times on each side. 

Seated

The best part about these last two is that they can be performed almost everywhere. Let’s be honest: coaching CrossFit is likely only one of our many “hats.” As we are wearing our other “hats,” we can also perform these openers in a seated position at our desk or where ever we are. 

Thoracic with Band

For our last opener, we will just need a long stretch band. Attach one end of the band to the lower part of the rig and stand next to it. The band will go behind your back and around your outside arm. 

While on hands and knees, pull away from the attached end and place the back of the hand of the outside arm on the lower back. Allow the band to pull open the outside shoulder as the torso rotates open. Try to hold the opener for one minute on each side.

Time to Recap 

Why do we want to increase thoracic spine mobility? By increasing mobility in our t-spine, we not only improve our overhead movements but all the movements required in CrossFit.

Remember, CrossFit is made up of functional and fundamental movements that are not only required in CrossFit but are required in life. By improving our movement patterns, we increase our ability to demonstrate, lift more and ultimately function better in everyday life. These openers can be utilized during a warm-up immediately following self-soft tissue mobilization. Our bodies are one kinetic chain and one kink in the chain will affect every part of that chain. 

Mobility is just one way we can improve our kinetic chain and ultimately our functional movement patterns. 

Rubie Gaudette
Rubie Gaudette MS, LAT, ATC, CSCS, CF-L1. Rubie is an athletic trainer at IMG Academy where she works with the boys soccer program on prevention, mobility, rehabilitation and return-to-play protocols. She received her Master’s Degree in Athletic Training from Western Michigan University. She is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the NSCA and is also a CrossFit Level 1 trainer. Contact her at rubie.gaudette@gmail.com.