If you’ve ever tried to push your big three lifts to the limit (the squat, bench, deadlift), you will have to increase your volume at some point to push past your current weights. An increase in volume with moderate to high intensity (weight) will often leave your upper back, hips, neck, and shoulders feeling restricted due to the increase in volume.
“Why do I feel super tight when I bench?” you ask. Well barring getting a pump before you head down to the Jersey Shore, one reason for this is when you are benching, you are activating the musculature that promotes 1) internal rotation of the glenohumeral joint, or the shoulders, 2) incorrect technique may promote anterior tilting of the scapula, which in turn will promote an incorrect anterior gliding of the humerus during the bench (or push-up).
While discussing the technical aspects of each lift is a bit beyond the point of this article, it does help to realize that appropriate technique will either promote or inhibit your current posture, and eventually strength and hypertrophy goals.
So whether you are pushing your big three lifts to the limit, breakdancing, or playing any other sport, here are three mobility drills that will help mobilize your upper thoracic, and stabilize your new movement. If you’re performing a pretty thorough dynamic warm-up already, these drills will have a breathing twist to facilitate diaphragmatic control of the lungs, to help drive further thoracic extension along with lumbar stability.
Thoracic Extension + Breathing
The norm for this movement is to dip back and forth between the movement, moving up and down. In this variation: I am doing a few things differently:
- Maintaining a static position (reach my thoracic end range)
- Aiming to inhale through my nose to fill up my stomach/lungs with diaphragmatic control
- As I reach maximal inhalation, I will exhale for twice the duration of the inhale while simultaneously “driving” my elbows into the bench and extending through the thoraic.
- Repeat for approximately 5-8 exhalations.
Quadruped Thoracic Rotation + Breathing
This is similar to another drill in which you will”rotate” back and forth, aiming to “open up” the thoracic by rotation. In this case, I will also incorporate breathing to help drive home the point of thoracic rotation while simultaneously increasing oblique recruitment.
- Assume an all fours or quadruped position, aiming for a “big chest” position while on the elbows.
- Rotate to one side, and find your end range for thoracic rotation.
- Afterwards, inhale through the nose, filling up the belly/lungs.
- As you exhale (for twice the duration), squeeze the contralateral oblique, or the downside abs, to help “push” more rotation on the side with the arm up.
- Continue to drive rotation by physically “rotating through your eyes” and driving rotation (in this video’s case to the right elbow).
- Repeat for 5-8 full exhalations.
One side note to take notice of is that during this rotation, you should be aiming to bring the scapula together, while conversely initiating movement into the floor. This will quite literally drive retraction of the scapula on the ribs, along with thoracic rotation by activating the lower trap and rhomboids.
Supine Chin Tuck
This stability drill will help to drive home cervical neck flexion, as opposed to cervical extension, probably the position your neck is in while you are currently reading this article from your home computer/laptop/phone.
- Lay down on the floor, one hand on your chest/ribcage/stomach.
- Inhale, and reach your chin to the ceiling.
- As you exhale (for twice the duration), perform neck flexion until you “feel” movement in the front of your neck, while simultaneously guiding your ribcage down (and squeezing your stomach down as well).
- Repeat movement for 5-8 full exhalations.
I need this exercise as well, as you can see my ribcage struggling to maintain a downward position as I exhale!
One method I’ve been experimenting is repeating the movements in a circuit like fashion, to help drive further mobility and stability. Similar to how you can bench for multiple sets, I applied that mindset to the warm-up. Perform these three drills for a 5 minute mobility circuit over and over, and see how much faster you move (due to the circuit nature), how much your breathing is in check (due to the inhalation and exhalation demands), and how much better your thoracic rotation is (after choosing these big rock dynamic warm-up exercises).
Perform these dynamic movements before you play your sport, or hit the gym:
Repeat circuit 3x or within 5 minutes.
- Thoracic Extension + Breathing – 5 full exhales
- Quadruped Thoracic Rotation – 5 full exhales/side
- Supine Chin Tucks – 10 full exhales
Keep it funky.