Is it me, or is posture getting worse these days?…I might be a little biased, but it seems like a good portion of people I see have what I call “Mr. Burns posture”. If you grew up in the 90’s, then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. If not, then please scroll down the page. Oh that sexy rounded back look!
Tight thoracic spines (upper back) are everywhere these days. I see them all over the street, and all over the gym. From little old ladies, to bros that spend too much time on the bench press, its a problem….Well today, that all changes! We are going to dive in and look at why we have this problem, and some exercises to fix it!
Lets talk about what exactly the thoracic spine (T-spine is). The T-spine is made up of 12 vertebrae (T1-T12) on on your spine. Think of it as your upper to mid back region. Its sits in between you cervical spine (neck) and your lumbar spine (low back). The T-Spine spine plays a big role in the stability of your spine, so by nature, it is a little tight to begin with. Your lumbar spine and cervical spine, are much more mobile. Ever seen a back bend in Yoga?…yeah you ain’t doing that at your T-spine.
Many people have what is known as kyphosis, or a forward rounding of the spine (see Mr. Burns). This is caused by many factors, including increased used of cell phones and an increase in sedentary jobs. Another factor is exercise programs that are too focus on on the anterior chain, or the front of your body (i.e., bench press).
Your program should be balanced and mostly made up of compound exercises, that emphasize both pushing and pulling movements, to ensure that you have structural balance. Mobility should also be emphasized, to ensure that your spine stays moving.
How Can We Fix It?
One of the best ways to improve your t-spine is simply to be aware of it. This is especially true if you have a sitting job. Simply a second several times throughout your day and consciously think about your posture. If you find yourself slouching, then fit it!…Having that type of mind awareness will help instantly improve your posture.
Besides simply being aware of the problem, we also must have exercises to help fix the problem. These exercises are easy to do, and can be done at home, or at the gym.
The Cat/Camel or Cat/Cow as its often called is a common stretch that will see used in yoga, or other similar classes. I see this one being done at gyms from time to time. However, most people rush through it. They flex and extend their spine rapidly, and completely miss the point. The goal here is segmental mobility, so this one should be done nice and slowwwww.
- Goal: Segmental Mobility of the spine
- Reps: 5-10
- Start on all fours (quadruped) with kneed under hips and hands under shoulders.
- Start rounding (flexing) your spine towards the ceiling, while taking a deep inhale.
- Think about rounding 1 vertebrate at time, finishing with chin tucked and head down
- Reverse the movement by exhaling your breath and arching (extending) your spine 1 vertebrae at a time.
- Think about dropping your chest to floor, and finish with your head and eyes up .
Sidle Lying T-Spine Rotation
This exercise is another good one. It not only works on t-spine mobility, but with the position of the top leg, it also incorporates a little stretch at the hip as well. Be sure to keep hips stacked, in order to really keep the lumbar spine as uninvolved as possible.
- Goal: T-spine rotation
- Reps: 5-10
- Start by lying on your side with your knees slightly bent and the palms of your hands together.
- Straighten your top leg and bring it about hip height.
- Bring your top hand across your body.
- Have your eyes follow your hand and make sure to keep your leg in position.
Elbow Drive T-Spine Rotation
This exercise is one of my absolute favorite mobility exercises! As with the previous exercise, the key with this one is to focus on T-spine mobility, and not involve the lumbar spine. With this one, you will likely feel one side thats more restricted than the other one. Identify that side, and do twice the reps.
- Goal: T-Spine Mobility
- Reps: 5 on the easier side, 10 on the more restricted side
- Start in the quadruped position.
- Rock your butt back to your heels and reach out with one arm on the floor.
- Place the palm of your hand on your other arm on your ear (earmuffs!).
- Drive that elbow up under your body.
- Then drive it up to the ceiling and have your eyes follow your elbow.
As I mentioned before, tight t-spines are a problem for many people. But its not a problem that can be fixed over night. It takes time and diligence. But if you do these exercises, your spine will feel better and our posture will improve.
So take 5 minutes out of your day and get moving…after all, you don’t want me to catch you slouchin’ on the streets!!