The upper/mid-back (thoracic spine) are typical areas of stiffness in athletes and gym enthusiasts.

A double leg squat assessment is all it takes to reveal thoracic extension limitations. Many times you’ll see that athletes are unable to keep their upper backs erect as they squat down low. The shoulders collapse forward, the upper/mid-back rounds, and the chest cavity caves in. A similar phenomenon occurs in yoga during poses including Chair Pose and Squat Pose. More times than not, the “collapse” is due to an inability to maintain extension through the mid-back.

Poor thoracic extension not only looks ugly, but is also does ugly things to the shoulders. Thoracic spine extension is a major player in shoulder health, so it’s wise to bring awareness to it. Starting your Greenville gym workout by warming up and priming for thoracic mobility, especially prior to a heavy lift day, is a great place to start.

Here’s 7 thoracic extension mobility poses/exercises you can practice at the Greenville health center to facilitate upper body extension, which will better your shoulder mobility and enhance actions like overhead barbell movements. Bottom line: If you fall into the brutally stiff category, these yoga poses are definitely calling your name.

1. Cat/Cow Exercises

These exercises are great to integrate into your pre-lifting, warm-up routine at the Greenville sports club. Feel your outer body relax as physical and/or mental stress and tension dissolves.

2. Upward Facing Dog and/or Cobra

If you’re new to the practice, Cobra is definitely a more accessible, intelligent place to start, as it’s more gentle on the lower back. Only once you build the appropriate level of strength, intelligence, and mobility, should you move into Upward Facing Dog, a very deep backbend.

3. Low Cobra (Sphinx)

Low Cobra is one of the more mild of backbends. As such, it’s accessible for all levels of yogis. Really lift your chest (pull the sternum forward and up) and lengthen your spine to create more openness in your front body and more extension through your back body (the mid-back region especially).

4. Camel Pose

As a more advanced backbend, Camel Pose may need some adjusting. Explore modifications and variations to keep your lower back healthy, while you open your chest and shoulders.

5. Yoga Strap/Towel Shoulder Opening Exercises

Prior to a heavy lifting workout at the Greenville health club, grab a yoga strap (or towel), and enjoy moving your upper body in all directions. 

6. Saddle Pose (Virasana)

Promote thoracic extension using a prop of your choice as an access point to facilitate segmental extension. Let your head and upper back sink back perhaps using a block or a bolster or foam roller as an access point. To get more bang for your back, reach your arms up over your head. The key here is relaxing your spine over your choice prop in several different segments along the thoracic spine to really deepen the release and increase the mobility in the vertebral joints of the thoracic spine.

7. Downward Facing Dog

Once you get into this pose, let the mid-back sink to the ground, allowing gravity to assist the pose. Hold the pose for 10 to 15 breaths, allowing the thoracic spine or mid-back to sink lower with each exhale. If you feel your mid-back rounding, bend your knees aka Relaxed Dog. Keeping the knees bent, pivot at the hips and lift the tailbone high to find greater extension through your entire spine.

Athlete or not, if you’ve ever experienced neck pain, lower/upper/mid-back pain, shoulder pain, and/or even headaches, you may want to integrate thoracic extension exercises into your regular Greenville athletic club routine, so you can do what you love and stay healthy doing it.

Also, don’t forget to check out our Greenville Yoga class schedule!