6 Ways to Improve Thoracic Mobility

I have some great information for you today on thoracic mobility.

But before we get to the great info and exercises, I wanted to say thank you.

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Now to today’s article, from Conor Nordengren:

Today’s general population is plagued by numerous inefficiencies of the upper extremity that are contributing to less than optimal function. In this article, I’d like to focus on three common problem areas: the thoracic spine, serratus anterior, and lower trapezius.

Following the joint by joint approach, we know that the thoracic spine requires mobility, namely extension and rotation. If there isn’t sufficient mobility in the thoracic spine, problems may arise along the kinetic chain. These problems include, but are not limited to, impaired function of the glenohumeral joint as well as compensations in the lumbar spine. As Mike Boyle stated in Advances in Functional Training, “The important thing about t-spine mobility is almost no one has enough and it’s hard to get too much.” In other words, it is a good idea to include some dedicated thoracic mobility work in your comprehensive program, whether you lack mobility in that region or not.

Two muscles I’d like to address are serratus anterior and lower trapezius. These muscles remain largely dormant in today’s population, yet play an important role in shoulder function. As a society, we tend to suffer from dominance of upper trapezius, the rhomboids, and levator scapulae, a condition which Shirley Sahrmann calls, “downward rotation syndrome.” Serratus anterior and lower trapezius are typically weak, but these muscles warrant attention as they serve to upwardly rotate the shoulder girdle and are vital to proper functioning of the scapula and glenohumeral joint.

I’d like to show you some relatively simple drills that will help improve your thoracic mobility and activate and strengthen serratus anterior and lower trapezius. I prefer to perform these drills as part of my warm-up or as “filler” exercises throughout my training session. Several of these movements give you a good “bang for your buck” and address many common problem areas at once. Beyond just improving function of the upper extremity, these drills will also have a favorable effect on your posture, which in turn will lead to higher quality workouts and a higher quality of day-to-day life.

Bent-over Thoracic Spine Rotation


This drill focuses on rotation through the thoracic spine. Whenever I use it with clients, many of them remark on how “good” it feels. Begin with your hands supinated and your hips back. Rotate through the chest as you raise one arm out to the side with the thumb up, following your hand with your eyes. Be sure to keep your spine in neutral throughout.

Quadruped Extension-rotation


The quadruped extension-rotation, as its name implies, improves both thoracic extension and rotation. Begin with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Keeping your spine in neutral, bring your elbow towards your opposite knee. Reverse the motion and come past the starting point while following your elbow with your eyes.

Forearm Wall Slides


Forearm wall slides work on activating serratus anterior and improving scapular upward rotation. Start with your elbows flexed 90 degrees, forearms parallel to the wall, and shoulder blades retracted. Protract your shoulder blades so your forearms are flat against the wall. Slowly slide your forearms up the wall until you hit your end-range and then reverse the motion. Be sure to keep your head and neck in neutral!

3-point Extension-rotation


This drill is a progression from the quadruped extension-rotation. It accomplishes the same things, but also activates serratus anterior and works on core and lumbar stability. Have your feet wide, make sure you rotate through the chest, and really brace that core to prevent lumbar hyperextension!

Scapular Wall Slides


The scapular wall slide improves activation and strength in the lower trapezius. Begin with your buttocks, upper back, and head in contact with a wall. Keep your hands back, raise them overhead until you hit your end-range, then slide your arms down the wall, pulling your shoulder blades down and puffing your chest out. Be sure to keep your chin tucked throughout.

No Money Drill


Not only does the no money drill activate and strengthen the lower trapezius, it also works on scapular stability and glenohumeral mobility. Have your back against the corner of a wall or post, with a shoulder blade on each side of the corner. Again, there should be 3 points of contact with the wall or post: buttocks, upper back, and head. The elbows should be flexed to 90 degrees with your hands supinated. Start by retracting and depressing your shoulder blades while externally rotating your shoulder, moving your hands away from each other. Don’t force the range of motion and when you hit your end-range, reverse the movement and return to the starting position. Keep your chin tucked!

These drills are simple, yet effective, and may turn out to be harder than they look! I hope that you will add some of them to your program and see their value in improving upper body function. Good luck!

Conor Nordengren

Before I go, if you like the info above, then get Muscle Imbalances Revealed – Upper Body Edition where Tony Gentilcore, Dean Somerset and Dr. Jeff Cubos will be sharing their tips, tricks and exercises when it comes to upper body training. Including a lot more stuff on mobility and SMR.

Conor Nordengren is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) accredited by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). He is a graduate of Stonehill College, where he majored in Health Sciences with a minor in Business Administration. At Stonehill, Conor was a two-year member of the men’s basketball team. He completed internships in physical therapy and also worked as a physical therapist aide. Upon graduation, Conor interned at Cressey Performance in Hudson, Massachusetts, under widely recognized strength coaches Eric Cressey and Tony Gentilcore. During his time at Cressey Performance, he had the opportunity to work with a variety of clients including athletes at the professional, college, high school, and junior high school levels. Conor is now a strength and conditioning coach at Dynamic Strength and Conditioning in Nashua, New Hampshire where he is dedicated to helping people of all ages and ability levels achieve their fitness goals. You can read Conor’s blog at www.conornordengren.com .