Lots of you have been pinning me in my DMs asking about upper-back mobility exercises for stiff back.
First and foremost it is useful to understand where the so called “stiffness” is coming from. One of the most common reasons is due to our constant use of laptops and phones which means that our head is often tilted forward, much more than we actually realise.
This can reinforce bad postural habits and can cause pain/stiffness in the upper back.
It is very important to integrate T-spine mobility in your workout routine to help improving your posture as well as performance. To lift weights overhead or deadlift, improving flexibility in this area will help you with form and technique.
It is also very important that you execute the mobility drills correctly – hence this article – as many of the drills and exercises prescribed to people in order to gain more extension are executed so poorly, or altogether wrong, that some people would spend years “chasing their tail” and no seeing improvements.
Here is a drill you can easily introduce in your fitness routine.
Thoracic Spine Foam Roll
Great exercise to start your warm up with.
- Lay on your back with the foam roller at your shoulder blade height
- Bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the mat
- Place your hands behind your head to support your neck
- Slightly round your lower back by crunching your abs to avoid arching your lower back
- Leading with your head, slightly arch your upper back around the foam roller
- Return to the starting position
- Repeat for ten reps
- Keep the movement small – your mid back doesn’t allow for big ROM – avoid to flare your ribs too much as that might mean that you are arching the lumbar Spine
- Keep your abs engaged for the same reason
- Don’t go lower than your shoulder blades with the foam roller or you will end up stressing your lower back
Cat and cow
- On the mat start in table top position: palms under your shoulders and knees below your hips.
- Pressing your palms on the floor, slowly round your entire spine, vertebrae by vertebrae including your neck, until you reach a rounded position
- From this position, slowly arch your spine in the opposite direction
- Repeat for ten reps
- Try to avoid to focus on one area of the spine only
- Perform the movement as slow and controlled as possible
Quadruped Thoracic Rotation
After working on rounding (flexion), arching (extension) of your T-Spine is important to also work on some rotation.
- From your All 4s position press your butt slightly towards your hills
- Place one hand behind your head with your elbow wide open.
- From this position, rotate your chest aiming the elbow towards the ceiling, turning your head and neck as well
- Now get the same elbow to almost reach the opposite arm (on the floor)
- Repeat for eight reps each side
- Keep your back rounded to avoid over-extension
- For the supporting arm, you can place either your hand or forearm on the ground depending on your ROM
- For the hand on the rotating side, you can place your hand behind your head, – my personal favourite – behind your back, or straight in the air, whichever feels best!
Now that you worked on mobilising the T-spine is time to workout. Make sure to include in your workout program exercises which target the mid back muscles, like Row variations, Pull Ups, Chin Ups, Bench Pulls etc
Mobility of your thoracic spine is important, but so is strength and muscular endurance.