T-Spine Mobility for the Beefcake (aka the Strength Athlete)
Updated: Mar 24, 2021
By Lindsay Hall
T-spine mobility, or thoracic spine mobility, is necessary to effectively perform any overhead lift. Think about the axle clean and press, log clean and press, mouser block, or circus dumbbell. A lack of mobility in the spine when you lift your arms overhead results in compensation at other joints, which makes the movement less efficient and may contribute to some common injuries seen in strongman. These injuries are associated with pain in the lower back, neck, hips, shoulders, and/or elbows.
How do you know if you have issues with t-spine mobility? Here’s a simple test.
T-spine mobility test.
Start by kneeling on your hands and knees. Put one arm up behind your head, and then rotate your shoulder and torso on that side toward the ceiling (see photo below). For an overhead athlete, it would be ideal if your arm would point straight up to the ceiling. Does yours?
If your arm cannot reach this position, try the steps outlined below, then retest your rotational ability.
T-spine mobility protocol.
I’ve worked closely with a physical therapist (PT Evan Hauger of Kime Performance) to address various injuries I sustained over the last few years. He’s developed a set of steps to effectively address t-spine mobility in a person with well-developed musculature (aka “the beefcake”--probably you if you're reading this). The steps listed below take about 5-10 minutes.
Tissue Work: Loosen up “tight” muscle that can hinder movement around the shoulder. I like to focus on the lats and pecs. This can be done with a lacrosse ball, foam roller, or a massage gun. I’m partial to the massage gun for this part of the process.
Stretch 1: Thoracic Bridge. (See link). This is one of my favorite warm-up exercises, and it’s especially useful for folks sitting at a computer for long hours of the day.
Stretch 2: Pry Bar. This stretch uses a PVC pipe or similar tool. Check out the video below.
Own the position: Once you finish the second stretch, immediately perform a couple of heavy windmills or arm bars. This will help you own the additional mobility you just gained. Keep moving through that range of motion.
NOW... go put heavy stuff over your head.