I recently threw a quick compilation of some very basic t-spine (thoracic spine) and hip mobility drills, that I had actually shot for a client with chronic back pain, up on Instagram. In my opinion, the basics should be the base of any program. Fancy, exotic stuff is fun…but like that fancy, exotic one-nighter you had in Thailand…what can be fun for a moment can burn for you a lifetime. But I digress… Based on the IG response, I figured I’d post a quick overview of how to perform these (and hopefully get you or your client out of pain, and moving better!):
If you’re any good at math, there are four drills covered here (I counted five, but I live my life in single, triple, and five-land…powerlifting problems).
1. Leg-lock Glute Bridge, (upper left corner above). It doesn’t get more basic than this. For many beginners or those who have recently recovered from an injury, flat on the ground is a great position to begin movement. This move gets the glute going (hip extension) while stretching it’s antagonist, the psoas (hip flexion). As almost everyone reading this probably knows, the psoas is one of those both commonly and chronically shortened muscles in both athletes and desk jockeys alike. To perform this exercise, lay on the ground with knees bent. Then pick up one knee and hug it tightly to your midsection. Brace your midsection and press through the foot on the floor to raise yourself up. Pause, then lower yourself. I suggest repeating this for 5-8 reps on each side 2-3 times around.
2. Half-kneeling Hip Stretch, (upper right corner above). This move is very similar to the first. And in fact is great when done sequentially following the Leg-lock Glute Bridge. To perform this one, start in a half-kneeling position (like a lunge), with both knees angled at 90deg or so. Get “tall” and take a deep abdominal breath. While pressing into the top of the lead knee, causing the abs to brace, glide forward while remaining tall (e.g. not bending forward, and keeping the hips and knees moving together simultaneously). Pause for a moment, return, reset and repeat. Same advice here on number of sets and reps per side.
3. Prone Thoracic Extension, (lower left corner above). The thoracic spine is another area that desk jockeys and athletes could both give some more love. Much like the “Sphinx Pose” in yoga, this exercise will target mobility in your upper back — an oft-neglected area that can quickly lead to both shoulder and lower back injuries, particularly if a poorly moving t-spine is paired with overhead pressing movements. To perform the Prone Thoracic Extension, lay on your belly and place your elbows just slightly above/ahead of your shoulders. Pack your chin (i.e. give yourself a “double-chin” — hey, better from this than from your Bacon of the Month Club subscription), take a deep breath in, then begin pulling the ground towards you with your elbows as you arch up, while keeping your belly on the floor (which, if you do have a Bacon of the Month Club subscription, should be fairly easy). Pause for a moment, reset and repeat. Be sure not to look up and alter your neck position. Same ideas as above here; 5-8 slow, controlled reps for two sets should do the trick.
4. Segmental Thoracic Extension on Foam Roller, (lower right corner above). This one may look like the easiest of these four exercise, but oh, how the eyes deceive! (Ya know, kind of like they did when you were having that fancy, exotic one-nighter in Thailand, but I digress…again.) The key here is keep the ribs down and not extending the neck so that only your thoracic spine is extending. I know this sounds easy, but I assure you it is not — especially the keeping your ribs down part. To perform this exercise, start with a foam roller placed perpendicularly under your mid-back. Brace your head in your hands, pack your chin, and fold your elbows in. Take a deep breath in, and while releasing it (or after you have released it), extend backwards with only the upper back moving. One of the best ways to check your form on this one is to take a video of yourself doing it. If you see your lower back arching and/or your ribs poking out into the air, it means that the extension is coming from your lumbar spine, not your thoracic spine. And if you see your neck extending, well that just means you didn’t read what I wrote. On this exercise, try to move the foam roller up about an inch after each rep until you reach your upper back, just a few inches shy of where your neck begins. I would perform this drill twice around as well.
These exercises can be done as a circuit or individually. They also can be performed between sets of your strength training…though they are best done before you get started.
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