Thorax?? What’s a Thorax??
In martial arts and most athletics in general, mobility is key. Improving ranges of motion will for allow for better velocity on your striking and increased positional ability in grappling.
When we think about mobility we always tend to think in terms of shoulders and hips but we tend to neglect a missing link situated right in between those 2 locations.
T-spine or Thoracic spine
The thoracic spine is the longest region of the spine, and by some measures it is also the most complex. Connecting with the cervical spine above and the lumbar spine below, the thoracic spine runs from the base of the neck down to the abdomen. It is the only spinal region attached to the rib cage.
Your rib cage acts as the base of support for your shoulder blades. Your shoulder is inherently unstable as it’s only bony attachment to your body is at your sternum. Therefore, there are a lot of muscles (17 to be exact), that attach to your shoulder blade to keep it stable and attached to your body. As with any appendage in the body, you want to promote proximal stability for distal mobility. Meaning that if you want to be able to throw a punch or kick to a good end range of motion or to be able to bridge an opponent of of you with optimal power improving you T-spine mobility will help in both of these situations.
Thoracic mobility and it importance in striking
As we understand the human body works most optimally while generating torque and rotation through a spiral pattern. In striking the power is generated from the floor through the feet generating to the hips, then shoulders. More times then not we tend to neglect a very important step in this mechanism, that being the thoracic spine which similar to a drive shaft from a transmission to power the wheels to move. Improving this range of movement will not only add to the improvement of the required rotation of that action but will also decrease the level of compensation that might effect posture during the end range of that movement. This will increase your movement efficiency and allow for increased work output as certain compensations are deleterious to form that allows increased output.
For example, You’re throwing a cross (backside straight punch) and you’re t-spine mobility is shortened or you are simply un aware of it’s function in this. In order to hit the target you will have to lean past your base making throwing the next punch in the combination less effective but also increasing the amount of effort you are using per strike. You are more likely to get fatigued then an athlete who has a more efficient movement pattern while striking.
On top of this, a lack of proper form will decrease the amount of power in your strikes.
Thoracic mobility and its importance in Grappling
Let’s take the use of this to the ground.
Bridging is a very important skill in Wrestling, Jiu jitsu, and Judo. Being able to generate power to sweep or get an opponent out of a dominant position is extremely important and again we are talking about a ballistic rotative movement that we are generating power from the floor and through the body in order to efficiently complete this task.
Lack of mobility and again lack of movement awareness in the T-spine can make this a difficult and daunting task. The hips my fire but without proper rotation through that mid spine we will not be able to make the optimal amount of space required to hip escape and get out from underneath our opponent.
Remember, We are not looming to launch the person on top straight up but at an angle allowing us to recompose our position to one that is better in the positional hierarchy ( from being stuck in full mount to half guard to example).
Mobility exercises and movements that increase T-spine mobility
Starting with extension- Using a foam roller place it mid spine facing the ceiling.
Feet flat on the floor with your knees bent, lacing your fingers behind your head and bring your elbows together in front of you and take a deep inhale, as you open your elbows out to the side exhale and allow your mid spine to arch back letting your head drop towards the floor. You should start to feel a little muscular tension in your upper back at the end range of motion in this. Do this for 10 to 15 repetitions.
The best stretch in the world!!!!-
Called “ the Pinwheel” or the “dragon lunge” we use this on a regular basis in our Odd Object Playground Movement prep.
Starting in plank position with your heals together and hands directly under your shoulders, step you left foot directly outside of your left hand. From hear taking you left hand reach toward the ceiling keeping your eyes on the left hand and letting your “spine follow your eyes” and pressing firmly into the floor with your right hand reaching through your left finger tips and inhale. At this point bring your left elbow to wards the floor as close to the inside of your left foot as possible then reaching back to the ceiling inhaling deeply while doing so. Repeat this for 3-5 times on each side. This is in itself an amazing tool and active stretch for warming up.
Upper body 90/90-
Laying on your left side keeping your knees together and drawing them up to your chest extend both hands directly in front of you out with the left arm on the floor and the right arm on top with your palms together. Exhaling,Taking your right arm reach first toward the ceiling and then behind you trying to touch the floor with the back of your right hand then return to the starting position. Be sure to keep you knees high to your chest to make sure the movement is coming from the T-spine and not the hips.
Half kneeling medicine ball throws- One of our favorites!! Setting up next to a wall in a half kneeling position right knee on the floor and left foot flat on the floor. Left foot should be on the side of the wall with a lighter Med ball (2-8lbs is sufficient) keeping the ball close to your chest and rotating away from the wall drive your right shoulder back toward the wall and release the ball. Catching the ball on the rebound repeat this 10 to 15 reps per side adding in some alternating one hand planks with this can make it a really awesome and challenging core training session combining both ballistic rotation and stability.
The Turkish get up-
This is a stable for us at PCC. It is a complex carry that we teach regularly and is a required movement for all of our competitors. It requires muscular endurance, alignment, and mobility. At this point I will state that we are not going to write a full description of the movement as we would rather that you come to class and learn it in the most power application in order to really understand it so that you can keep it in your tool box. There are few movements that deliver results in the way this does.
Another tool the we use on a regular in the OOP classes that utilizes both tis pine mobility and power. On top of that it’s a hell of a metabolic tool that is fun, safe and challenging.
Grabbing the rope with you left hand as close to the the pulley mechanism as possible drive your elbow past your torso ,Think about putting it in your same side back pocket bringing you left thumb to your chest and reaching up the rope with your right hand grab on and do the same. Repeat for 15-to 25 repetitions making sure to maximize the rotation through the mid spine and keeping your feet planted and square for this version of the exercise.
Wrapping it up
In closing we encourage you to explore what we have brought forward hear in order to improve not just your time in the gym but to improve your life outside of it. Increased Thoracic mobility will have an effect on everything from exercise patterns to breathing patterns so we absolutely welcome question on this topic if you care to reach out to us and as state these concepts are things that we steadily employ in our Odd Object Playground class which is 6 days a week in our schedule. We invite you to come and be a part of it so that our coaches can help you to improve on what ever your goals are.