The upper back (aka thoracic spine) can be home to many kinks, knots, and “tight” feelings. This creative warm-up uses a block to unkink the links of the thoracic spine with gentle movement that may feel more satisfying than a typical back stretch.
Here’s the strategy: Rather than directly stretching the upper back, we leverage a “sneaky” twist via the floor.
How are we using the floor to do this, you might be asking?
We use the floor to gain leverage via a closed-chain movement. A closed chain movement is when either the feet (in the case of the hips) or the hands (in the case of the shoulders) are fixed, or, in contact with a firm surface, like the floor. Via the firm immovability of the floor, it pushes back against us so that we might feel more of a connection to movement the joints above it, even those that are not closest to the floor, like the hips, shoulders, and in this case, the upper back.
In this example, the hips are closed chain because the feet are fixed to the floor. In not-as-strict-of-terms, the shoulders are closed chain via the elbows’ connection to thighs. The kinetic chain reaction of movement travels from the floor to the knees—which alternate between bent and straight. This leads to rotation of the pelvis (via the hip joints). Rotation of the pelvis also influences rotation through the spine, and because the elbows rest on the thighs, the upper back, especially, experiences this movement leveraged from the ground.
The result? Your upper back whispers, “crickle crackle, crickle crackle” gently in your ears. This translates to “thank you” for those of you who don’t speak upper back yet. 😊
The block adds a constraint. Don’t let it fall. In this way, it helps you keep your rib cage more still so that movement is isolated more into the vertebral joints rather than the entire torso. Do you feel the upper back spiral? It’s small but mighty.
Follow these steps to explore:
- Come into a hip hinge with your knees bent. Rest your elbows on your thighs as though you are leaning into a table.
- Reach your chest toward the wall in front of you and broaden it wide—the “chest proud” position.
- Then, keeping your elbows pressing into both thighs (closer to your knees than your hips), straighten one knee back behind you.
- Your pelvis will rotate toward the straight knee, which will bring the lower half of your thoracic spine with it into rotation.
- Don’t let your chest rotate! (AKA, keep your upper thoracic vertebrae still. AKA make it task-based and don’t let the block fall off your upper back!)
- Re-bend that knee, then switch. Bend the opposite knee straight back behind you, keeping your chest square to the floor as your pelvis rotates the other direction, bringing your lower thoracic vertebrae with it.