Effective exercises to add mobility and strength to thoracic extension (upper back area). Important and beneficial for everyone to do.
If you want to improve your posture, fix a hunched over posture or increase your overall fitness and athletic performance, then working on your thoracic spine will be immensely helpful.
Thoracic spine in plain terms means the middle-upper spine. In this video and article we will work on the thoracic extension (the opposite movement: spine flexion often isn't a problem because that's how people sit).
Thoracic extension extends the spine and as a result straightens your back which will then create the good posture. You will work the muscles such as the erector spinae and lower trapezius.
In all of these exercises right execution is the key to success. It's important to only move the upper back and keep the lower back in place.
A lot of people can extend from the lower back (lumbar spine) but lack range of motion and mobility in their upper back (thoracic). When you always extend from the lower spine, your thoracic spine may never fully develop (and this is indeed the case for many).
Building mobility in the thoracic spine will directly transfer to better posture and improved performance in sports, martial arts and movement.
Working on thoracic mobility can also reduce or help with lower back pain because a strong thoracic spine will take strain off your lumbar spine.
These mobility videos are also amazing for the spine:
For a structured mobility program, see Movement 20XX. M-20XX consists of many different types of mobility training and has the most well-rounded approach to develop good structural balance in the entire body.
Take a pistol grip and start from a hunched over stance where your arms are pointing downwards. Keep your lower back flat and only extend from the upper back. Your arms should naturally lift to about horizontal level.
Thoracic raise is an excellent exercise to start with and here you should primarily learn to control the thoracic spine. You can later make the exercise harder by adding weight, but the priority should be in learning to control the spine.
Common mistakes include using too much of your lower back to generate the movement. Your arms shouldn't lift any weight either - the thoracic spine does all of the work.
Start with no weights and focus on slow and controlled movement. Pulling your stomach in can help with keeping your lower back flat and stationary.
Upper Back Extension & Thoracic Deadlift
Upper back extension is another phenomenal beginner-level drill to add strength and mobility to the thoracic extension.
Similar to the thoracic raise, your lower back should stay neutral and stable. You should avoid lower back movement at all costs because the purpose here is to isolate the thoracic area.
Your scapula will likely move and that's fine unless you are using too much of scapula to generate movement. You should have the mind-muscle connection with the thoracic spine.
Once the upper back extension becomes a natural pattern for you to do, you can increase the resistance with weights and perform thoracic deadlifts.
However, it's a massive mistake to use weights too soon. You need to first learn the movement pattern and develop control over the range of motion. Using weights too soon will hinder your results, not increase them.
Slow tempo and control are the keys here. The hardest progressions like thoracic swings should only be done once the control is impeccable.
Sitting Thoracic Extension
Sitting thoracic raises will eliminate the lower body and thus allow you to better isolate the thoracic area.
There are two ways to do sitting thoracic raises: weights in front of you or weights on your back. Both are great and offer slightly different challenges (do both).
Using a stick can help to activate the thoracic spine because it will help you better feel the arch in the back. Once the stick is mastered, weights like barbells can be used.
Keep the lower back in place and focus on the upper back. Slow and controlled execution is always the number one priority in mobility training.
Great video! I’ve suffered from tight shoulders and inability to push elbows through whilst doing the power hangs. This has helped remedy it.
Thank you Chetan, glad to help!