The Secret To Improving Thoracic Mobility: Thoracic Extension [2nd Edition]
[Updated 12th September 2016]
Many people struggle with overhead positions. The prevailing mindset is that increasing thoracic rotation will help the overhead range of motion for Presses, Snatches, and Get-Ups.
What is seldom talked or thought about is the fact that you need to increase thoracic extension as much, or more, as rotation. Doing this enables you to free up the scapula and lift the arm overhead, effortlessly.
The best way that I’ve found to do this is by mobilizing the T spine.[bctt tweet=”The key to thoracic extension is to keep the ribs from moving and the lower back rising”]
You can begin with a foam-roller. You may have tried this exercise before and not got anything out of it. Why? Because when you put the foam roller under your shoulders and went into extension, your rib cage also flared up.
The secret is to keep the ribs from flaring by contracting your rectus abdominis, your core muscles, and by pushing down on the ribs, muscularly, as you go back into extension.
So start by putting the foam roller directly below your shoulder blades. Roll down your core, hands behind your neck, then slowly reach back, as if you’re doing a Snatch or an overhead movement of any kind. Brace down your abdominals and your ribs and don’t let them go as you slowly try to rotate around the foam roller.
It’s going to be a very small movement at first. Don’t worry about that. Do worry, however, about the ribs moving and the lower back rising. Keep them stable. Once you get any kind of movement, do three to five deep, diaphragmatic breaths. On the exhalation, really let the extension happen.
Practice until you’ve got this down pat. Then shift from the floor to standing. Use a stick stretch or just reach your arm overhead and do the same thing. Again, the area below the thoracic spine, the lumbar spine, must remain still.
It’s just like when you’re doing a Brettzel. The reason the legs are pulled into that weird configuration when you do Brettzel work is to lock down the lower back, enabling you to work on increasing your rotation in the thoracic spine. It’s a similar situation here.
Keep the ribs braced and the abs contracted as you bring your arm overhead and reach for that Snatch or Press position. In doing this, you’re transitioning from a mobilization exercise into the actual overhead pattern. Whether you’re using a stick, a strap, or even just one or both arms at a time, keep doing deep diagrammatic breathing.
A good overhead reach is important in our training, and I get how frustrating it can be not to feel like you’re moving forward. Yet if you work on these exercises at least once a week you’ll see the benefits. Just remember to lock down the ribs and lower back as that’ll help you isolate the thoracic extension, contributing immediately to a better overhead position.