Upper Body Warmup Essentials: Thoracic Extension

February 26, 2011

in Fixing Your Body, Fixing Your Shoulders

In my opinion, the most important thing someone can do to improve their appearance, beyond gaining muscle and losing fat, is to fix their posture. Good posture is impressive visually, and it also portrays confidence and vitality.

Unfortunately, poor posture is very common in society. Desk jobs, gravity, age, and plain old muscle weakness are the primary culprits. Many guys who only train the beach muscles–chest, shoulder, arms– also tend to have bad posture.

When someone has poor posture, you’ll generally find that:

1. Their chest and shoulder muscles are tight.

2. Their upper back muscles, primarily the middle and lower traps (the muscles between the shoulder blades responsible for good posture) are weak and stretched out.

3. They have lost range of motion in the thoracic spine. The thoracic spine is what we call the upper back. When we get stuck in poor posture– shoulders and head slouched forward– we often lose our ability to get back into good posture because we lose flexibility and range of motion of the thoracic spine.

Lean your upper body forward. That’s flexion. Now, straighten back up. That’s extension. Extension is what we must train.

People with poor posture live their lives in flexion. This is a recipe for upper body dysfunction, and usually a major culprit in rotator cuff tears (to explain why will requires a post of its own).

The recipe for fixing poor posture is:
1. restore thoracic mobility so that you can stand up straight.
2. Strengthen the postural muscles through targeted muscle activation exercises and rowing movements.

Here is the single best exercise for restoring thoracic mobility.

I start just below my shoulder blades and then move my body forward, one vertebrae at a time. I lean back into extension for a few seconds at each stop. I have my clients do this movement every time they lift weights. We usually go through the process two or three times.

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