May 14, 2014

Thoracic Extension Doesn't = Thoracic Extension

Howdy Folks! Today I wanted to take a quick moment to comment on some discrepancies that I have noticed when hearing people discuss thoracic mobility and the need for thoracic extension. Anyone that is familiar with the Functional Movement System is probably well aware of the lack of thoracic mobility that many people seem to suffer from. This is something that you often see targeted by FMS corrective exercises or may be a common finding during an Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA) for some.

On the other hand, there is the kind folks associated with the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) that are trying to promote thoracic flexion and minimize hyperextension of the thoracic spine. Then I have heard stories from colleagues at PRI courses mention how they are lacking thoracic extension only to be told they have too much. So what is the answer? Do we need thoracic extension? Who is right here?

Well I believe that both of these systems or schools of thought are trying to achieve the same thing, and are essentially saying the same thing despite it sounding different. I am arguing that people are not differentiating between the different hinge points of the spine and the exact levels of the thoracic spine that they are referencing. Look at this first squat picture below. Nobody from either school is going to like this squat form and PRI'ists will notice the excessive thoracic extension from T8 and down while FMS'ers will notice the lack of thoracic extension from T1-T4.

Now if I hit my first sticking point and decide to take another breathing cycle to help draw my ribcage down and promote lower thoracic flexion I am able to come down even further in my overhead deep squat as you can see below in the next picture. However, it is still less than ideal squat form. I still struggle with getting adequate upper thoracic spine extension

Now what happens if we lessen the burden of the upper thoracic spine and by switching this experiment over to a front squat? I am still hyper-lordotic in the lumbar spine and still extend the very last few segments of the thoracic spine.

If I perform another big exhale into the balloon I am able to decrease the lordotic curve, increase thoracic flexion from T8-T12 and my femurs actually break parallel! However, if you look closely you will still see a little bit of hyper-kyphosis in the first few segments of the upper thoracic spine.

In conclusion, I think there is a lot of confusion by some people when they learn about or speak about the thoracic spine between these two different schools of thought. In reality, I think that both schools are really trying to achieve similar things but sometimes there is definitely a lack of differentiation. I also think that these pictures can also help signify the importance of proper breathing, and the power of the diaphragm, obliques and transversus abdominus over form, function and movement. Just some food for thought! Thoughts?


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