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How to Improve Thoracic Mobility

Hang on, that's not right

A few days ago I was asked my opinion on a fellow kettlebell coaches form on the Jerk. I have to admit I was flattered and happily watched the video.

Overall his form was good, I know the lad and I know how fit and strong he is. One of my regular members trained with him over her summer university break as her family live in his area, she had nothing but good to say about his training, and she loves training!

Apologies, this is the rack we're refering to...

His only real issue was getting into a good rack position, which if you’re familiar with Kettlebell Sport is vital for rest, recovery and also for efficient power transfer from the legs into the bells on the launch of the Jerk. If you can’t get the elbows down the body, ideally onto the Illiac Crest, then two things will happen.

  1. You end up Holding the weight as opposed to Supporting it on the bodies structure. This results in premature fatigue in the arms and shoulders.

  2. Power from the leg drive is lost requiring more work from the arms and shoulders.

There can be many reasons for this inability to rest on the hips, it could be girth, it could be tight hip flexors or it could be immobility through the spine, especially the thoracic spine.

If girth is you problem, well the solution is simple, clean up the diet. Hip flexors we’ll look at another day. Our man’s problem is a very common issue for many, not just in the kettlebell community, it is T-Spine mobility.

So what is your T-Spine?

The Thoracic (T) spine is the upper part of the back, it;s where the rib cage attaches. You have 12 T-Spine vertebra and these are supposed to give you the greatest range of motion through the back. Unfortunately, because of our sedentary society, where we sit in cars, on busses and trains to get to work, sit all day at work and then sit on the way home where we sit because we’re tired from sitting all day. If we take the Alternating Joint theory which states that the body is arranged in an alternating pattern of Stability and Mobility. Essentially as follows:

  1. Foot – Stable

  2. Ankle – Mobile

  3. Knee – Stable

  4. Hip – Mobile

  5. Lumbar Spine – Stable

  6. Thoracic Spine – Mobile

  7. Scapula – Stable

  8. Shoulder (Gleno-humeral) – Mobile

This organisation can be rearranged by lifestyle and training habits. For example, if we spend multiple hours seated, our hips are essentially stable (stabilised externally by the chair) so our low back becomes mobile (hence back pain being rife in the office community). Hours spent hunched over a desk, or too much emphasis on pressing exercises will shorten the pectorals pulling the scapula out (often refered to as winging). The chest muscles end up shortened, the upper back muscles end up lengthened, the traps end up bunched and knotted and the end result is usually a forward head posture, inability to raise the arms overhead and a sunken chest. Or to put it succinctly, you look like a an 80year old!

So, first rule:

in the gym, pull more than you push. a 2:1 ratio is often touted, but don’t loose sleep over numbers. On my Boot Camp the guys press heavy, but in between each set they perform a near maximal set of pull ups (bodyweight rows for those lacking strength). If you you overhead press, try doing clean and press instead, this automatically adds a pull, alternate these with a pull up and you’re onto a winner.

Add muscle activation drills for the upper back into your warm up, or better yet, daily routine. Stretch the chest, do it at intervals through the day, in your warm up, between sets and in the cool down. Add in some mobility work for the T-Spine, both passively (on a foam roller or rolled up towel) and actively (watch any Shakira video to see this in action, it’s up to you whether you have the volume on or off……)

This video shows some of the strategies we use to restore the mobility of the T-Spine. While the clip is aimed at the kettlebell lifter, it is not limited to them. Everyone can benefit from a little more mobility in the upper back. Some of the drills are about loosening and activating the muscles surrounding the thorax to allow better movement, others are directly related to creating movement.


Before I sign off, two notices:

  1. We are meeting up for our Wild Geese Xmas party in the Lombard Pub at 8.30pm (ish) on the 17th Dec, all are welcome.

  2. The 12 Days of Fitness Bodyweight Series will be going out from the 12th. Some may remember last years, well this one is even better! To sign up click this link:



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