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Try to lift your arms straight over your head without bending your elbows. Do you feel tension in your back? If so, you may have t-spine mobility issues that can hurt your game and lead to injury.
The t-spine is the middle section of the back where the ribs attach to the spine. It's designed to provide a high degree of mobility, but if it is compromised, a cascade of problems can occur. (Read How to Build Scapular Stability.) For one thing, it can cause your lower back—which is meant to be stable—to become mobile. It must then deal with the force of your entire upper body, along with new movement that it's not meant to handle. Second, it can impede skill mechanics, decreasing strength, power and accuracy in these movements. Finally—and most concerning—it can place excessive stress on the shoulder, which can lead to injury down the line.
So it's important to find time to improve your t-spine mobility. All you need is five minutes two or three times per week. If your coaches don't value this critical aspect of training, show them this article. Hopefully it will convince them. (Learn about soft-tissue care.)
Incorporate these modalities into your warm-up to start improving your t-spine mobility today.
- Lie with a foam roller under your back.
- Roll slowly over your shoulder blades and vertebrae. Do not roll your lower back.
- Focus on tender spots. Shift your body to each side to hit different muscles.
- Vary your arm position from hugging across your chest to behind your head and overhead.
Thoracic Two-Tennis Ball Mini-Crunch
- Tape two tennis balls together.
- Place the balls at the level of your lowest rib, where the thoracic spine meets the lumbar spine. The balls should sit over the erector muscles.
- Perform mini-crunches, lifting one vertebra off the ground at a time. Lift your hands forward at a 45-degree angle. Return your head to the floor with each rep.
- After 3-5 reps, move up to the next vertebra (toward your head) and repeat until the tennis balls are just below your neck.
- Lie on your right side with a foam roller under your left knee.
- Bend your left leg to about 90 degrees and keep your right leg straight.
- Extend your arms in front of you with your hands together.
- Keep your hips and lumbar spine stable by pressing down on the roller with your leg.
- Rotate along your thoracic spine until your upper back and top arm are flat against the ground (or as close as you can manage) to form a T with your upper body.
- Rotate back to the starting position.
- Perform a set on the opposite side.
Sets/Reps: 2x12 each side
Watch this video from SMARTER Team Training for more info on thoracic mobility.
Editor's Note: Coach Taylor has developed the SMARTER Team Training Audio Interview Series, dedicated to promoting critical thinking, reason and public understanding of prudent, purposeful and productive strength and conditioning practices for clients and athletes. Listen to episodes featuring some of the best experts in the fields of strength and conditioning, personal training, sports nutrition and sport psychology here.