A Common Mistake People Make With Thoracic Extension

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Thoracic (mid-back) extension is kind of a big deal.

Without turning this into an anatomy lesson, t-spine extension is important for a variety of reasons. In no particular order:

  • It’s what the mid-back (T1-T12) is designed to do.  However, due to the long hours many of us tend to accumulate at work and at home in excessive flexion (hunched over, rounded upper back), we lose the ability to get into and maintain extension.
  • In short: “good” posture can become compromised.
  • T-spine extension allows us to get into proper positions to lift things – it’s crucial for overhead activities (or elevating the arms overhead in general), deadlifting, squatting, and helping to offset “sheer forces” on the spine.
  • Lack of t-spine extension means you can never be Batman.1
  • Our scapulae (shoulder blades) are more or mess at the mercy of thorax position. For those who present with a more kyphotic/computer guy posture, the “resting” position of our scapulae can be affected (abducted, anteriorly tilted) which can (not always) lead to shoulder ouchies in addition to scapular dyskinesis.

There are numerous ways to address lack of thoracic extension, the most common being foam rolling the mid-back followed by corrective modalities such as:

Bench T-Spine Mobilizations


Rocked Back Extension-Rotations


Side Lying Windmill


We’d then follow all of that with strength-based exercises – cued well – to help “cement” things. Front squats, for example, would be a great fit here. The anterior placement of the barbell forces the upper back musculature to counteract the forward pull to keep the torso upright; in effect nudging trainees into more t-spine extension.

Another popular approach is to use the foam roller in a different way and pepper in some additional t-spine extension patterning.

You all know the drill: take a foam roller, lie on it, and lean back, waaaaaaay back.

Like this:

While intentions are good in this scenario and there is some mid-back extension happening, it arrives at the expense of movement coming from elsewhere…the lumbar spine (often times with the hips coming off the ground) in conjunction with a massive rib flair.

Thoracic movement is much more subtle than people think. I fear this is one of those cases where many people – fitness industry pros included – have grown infatuated with the notion more ROM (Range of Motion) is better ROM.

Not the case.

What T-Spine Extension on Foam Roller Really Looks Like

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  1. For real. Sorry.

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