Thoracic mobility is always a hot topic, and rightly so. For the barbell population, sufficient thoracic mobility is a MUST in order to prevent shoulder and neck pain and achieve correct overhead position. While thoracic extension is surely important, it's often hammered to the ground while thoracic rotation drills go by the wayside.
If you're someone who smashes your thoracic spine into extension repeatedly without any results, maybe it's time to start prioritizing thoracic rotation. In fact, the natural position of the thoracic spine is actually FLEXED, so we should be more concerned with putting an athlete in the appropriate amount of flexion vs. trying to vigorously extend this structure anyways.
Once an appropriate amount of thoracic "flexion" is achieved, it's time to hammer rotation. Here are three of my favorite and EFFECTIVE thoracic rotation drills.
Side-Lying Thoracic Windmill
The side-lying thoracic windmill is my first, go-to exercise to increase thoracic rotation. To perform, lie on your side with your top leg bent over a foam roller. We do this to help minimize the amount of lumbar rotation occurring. Once you're in position, take your arm up overhead, palm up, and allow your scapula to fall to the floor. Taking the scapula to the floor ensures that we are actually getting thoracic rotation vs. solely shoulder rotation. Perform for 10-15 reps each side. Because gravity is helping you on this one, it represents a great first step to increase thoracic rotation.
Kneeling Rotation with PVC Pipe
The kneeling rotation with PVC pipe is a great thoracic rotation drill, as it mimics the squat rack position and is performed in an active manner. Once mobility is unlocked via the side-lying windmill, it's time to own that mobility by actively moving through it. With this drill, the scapulae are locked down, so we can be sure that we aren't "cheating" via shoulder rotation. Be sure to wedge a foam roller between your glutes and your calves to help minimize lumbar rotation. Again, perform for 10-15 reps to each side to increase thoracic rotation.
Often times thoracic rotation is limited more to one side vs. the other. Enter the thoracic whip. Popularized by Dr. Erson Religioso of Modern Manual Therapy, the thoracic whip is a great "reset" drill to help maintain increased thoracic mobility gained by spinal manipulation, mobility drills, or soft-tissue work. To perform, whip INTO the side of decreased mobility 10x throughout the day or prior to your workout to promote symmetry and thus performance! For more info on the thoracic whip check the video out here.
Thoracic mobility is very important for the barbell athlete. It is required for shoulder and neck health and to help achieve proper overhead position. While thoracic extension drills are surely important, many beat their t-spines into extension repeatedly with little results. If this sounds like you, STOP and give these three effective thoracic rotation drills a shot!