How To Improve Thoracic Mobility With Movement

I had a great question from a subscriber yesterday about how to improve thoracic mobility…

“How do you increase thoracic spine mobility for back bends and contortion. Especially when your lower back and shoulders want to do all the bending?”

Before talking about how to target the thoracic spine with mobility exercises it’s important to understand why we move the way we do.

How We Move

When we move, our body doesn’t really know how it moves, it just moves. As movement is largely subconscious and task based (ie. sit, walk, run) if left un-coached our body will just figure out a way to move and so sometimes the body will produce a good movement (let’s call this talent) and other times it may not be so good.

leahQuite often when performing a movement you’ll find that the body will develop range and skill in one part of the body and not so much in another.

An example is a hyper-mobile lower back and tight hips. This kind of thing usually comes about because the body simply follows the path of least resistance and through repetition just learns to work that way.

Better Movement Through Skill Development

In order to complete the same movement task differently, the movement skill in question needs to be changed.

This doesn’t have to be as hard as it sounds – sometimes coaching is all you need to change a movement and then practice is needed to reinforce the new skill.

Often though, if you’re well practiced in performing a certain movement in a certain way, unpicking your habitual skill can be tough and sometimes you may need to break a movement down into chunks and focus on the individual components of the movement.

For example, if you’re performing a back bend and you get your range from your shoulders and your lumbar spine, then your thoracic spine and hips are probably contributing less.

With an exercise like this, coaching probably isn’t going to help so performing exercises to encourage the desired motions at the thoracic spine and hips before hand would be a good strategy.

You need to teach your hips and thoracic spine that it’s ok to extend more and you need to teach your lumbar spine and shoulders that they don’t need to do all the work!

You may also need to perform a movement that encourages movement at the thoracic spine and hips while simultaneously preventing movement at the lumbar and shoulders.

Movements Of The Thoracic Spine

A video posted by SportFunction (@sportfunction) on

The thoracic spine likes to flex, extend, rotate and laterally flex and can move in a variety of combinations of these movements.

A good way to drive motion at the thoracic spine is with the arms and rotation is a good place to start as this movement is less available at the lumbar spine.

Targeting The Thoracic Spine

In the movement in the video Leah is performing a left thoracic rotation with a step forward from left leg. The step forward with the left leg rotates the pelvis right and the right arm rotates the rib cage left, creating an opposite direction movement at the thoracic spine – the most aggressive of stretches, targeting the obliques and lats.

The elevated arm helps to keep the thoracic spine in extension and the scapula depressed which helps keep the movement in the thoracic spine and avoids bail out motions elsewhere!

Try the movement as part of your thoracic mobility routine!

Book A Movement Assessment

If you’d like to learn exactly how you move and how to move better fill in the form below and to book a Movement Assessment…

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    “I came to Pete for help increasing my overall mobility, which would improve my performance. Pete has helped change the way I look at my training and has encouraged me to explore movements that I usually would have avoided. He gives constructive feedback when I send him progress videos and appreciate his honest and approachable style of teaching.

    I would (and have), recommend him to anyone looking to improve themselves at any level.”

    Leah Rose – Dancer