The thoracic spine is designed for rotation. It's supposed to rotate more than your lumbar spine, but for the majority of people, it's the opposite. Why? Lifestyle choices lead to posture that feeds thoracic spine dysfunction. Hunching over your cell phone and rounding your shoulders increases your thoracic curve, making efficient rotation damn near impossible.
Rotation takes place in the transverse plane. The transverse plane is made up of the two planes of motion: sagittal (front to back) and coronal (side to side). Every tissue in the human body has a transverse plane bias because movement in this plane is not energy expensive. The transverse plane mitigates and generates power. When you lose your ability to move in the transverse plane, you take more motion from the other two planes (think knees caving in during a squat or excessive forward lean in a squat). Why does this matter?
BECAUSE YOU LOSE STRENGTH WHEN YOU DON'T OWN THE TRANSVERSE PLANE.
A Safe Body is a Mobile Body
If you can't move in one place, your body will make you move in another. It will take the path of least resistance. Loss of thoracic motion bleeds excess energy into the neck and lower back, and they begin to hurt.
Every joint in the body must be mobile and stable. The amount of mobility and stability your joints have depends on the environment you are in and the role they need to play. If the body feels safe, it will grant you more movement. If it feels threatened, it will restrict movement for self-preservation.
One of the simplest and most effective ways to make your body feel safer is to move it more on the ground. The ground provides more points of stabilization via body parts contacting the surface. How stable are you on two feet as compared to hands and feet on the ground?
The Diagonal Sit With a Twist
Vladimir Janda stated, “Functionally, muscles work together in slings, chains, and loops.” You want to incorporate as much of your body as possible in a stable environment by tapping into spirals and chains. One of my favorite ways to wake up these spirals and chains to gain more efficient rotation is the diagonal sit with a twist.
Here's how to do it:
Foam roll your thoracic spine.
Sit with one leg in front of the other keeping the ankle, knee, and hip of the back leg in line.
Keep the front leg perpendicular to your body.
Align the elbow below the shoulder.
Rotate top shoulder towards the floor.
Extend top shoulder and contract the latissimus and glute as you exhale.
Repeat fifteen times, controlling the movement each way.
Switch to the opposite side. One side will usually be tougher than the other.
Regain Rotation for Healthy Movement
The neck and lower back are more common sites for injuries than the mid-back, but it's not their fault. You have twelve vertebrae in your thoracic spine that rotate two degrees per segment - that's 24 degrees total. The lumbar spine has five segments at two degrees for a total of ten degrees. Where would you like to move from?
The diagonal sit with a twist works your cross-body patterns, restoring healthy movement in the thoracic spine by connecting shoulder to opposite hip. Do this exercise before every workout. Be mindful and pay close attention to where you feel tightness or restriction. Stick with it for a month and notice how it affects the quality of your workouts and your general well-being.