Thoracic spine, or upper and middle back, mobility is often underappreciated when it comes to sports. Basketball is a very demanding lower body sport and mobility is geared towards the lower body. As a result, the mid/upper back is not prioritized and addressed enough. If you’re having any pain, send us a message or take a look at our friends’, The Prehab Guys article.
In basketball, you must have great thoracic spine extension and rotation for various movements on the court. When you jump for a block or rebound, adequate thoracic mobility, specifically extension, is needed to reach high. Similarly, when performing a crossover dribble, adequate thoracic rotation is needed to move efficiently and decrease low back stress.
Why do you need to improve your back mobility?
1. Increased Vertical Jump Reach
One subtle way to improve your vertical jump reach is improving your upper back mobility. Therefore, improving upper back mobility will improve your shoulder range of motion, and will allow you to reach higher.
2.Improve Movement Efficiency and Performance
Being efficient means having maximal productivity with minimal wasted effort. Having adequate spine mobility will allow your arm and legs to move with greater ease. Therefore, you will be able to change directions, jump and reach with less effort. If you are moving with less effort, your productivity on the court will be higher. As a result, you will have more movement efficiency and an advantage over your competition.
3. Improve your posture
Thoracic spine mobility is huge when it comes to posture. Most of the time, student athletes are sitting down at their desk while in class or at home doing homework. Furthermore, sitting for prolonged periods of time with bad posture leads to a stiff upper back. Stiffness will lead to issues discussed throughout this article. Therefore, combat poor posture by improving upper back mobility by performing mobility drills and avoid prolonged sitting.
4. Decreases Low Back Stress
Adequate thoracic spine and hip mobility are crucial to decreasing low back stress. If you have stiffness in your thoracic spine and hips, these joints cannot help off load your low back from forces from everyday life and basketball activities. For example, everytime you walk, run or jump forces are transmitted from the ground, through your legs and into your spine. Therefore, we rely on our muscles and soft tissue as a collective group to absorb those forces. Check out some of our full body mobility exercises.
How do you improve your back mobility?
1. Gain More Range of Motion
One of the crucial ranges of motion we need to address is thoracic spine extension. As mentioned early in the article, thoracic extension range of motion is essential for overall reach height. One of our go-to ways to improve extension is self-mobilization using a foam roller.
The other crucial ranges of motion is thoracic spine rotation. We like to address the thoracic rotation from the top-down and bottom-up. Top-down initiates movement from the neck and shoulder, and segmentally working down to the low back. The goal is to feel each segment move until you have reached the end of your available range of motion. This is accomplished via openbooks. Furthermore, bottom-up initiates movement from the hips and low back, and segmentally works upward. This is accomplished via leg rotations
2. Improve Muscle Flexibility
There are numerous muscles that will influence thoracic spine mobility and limit your overall reach. Therefore, we decided to focus on two muscles that we commonly see in basketball players that lack the most flexibility. These muscles include your latissimus dorsi and pectoralis major/minor. To address lat tightness, we like using a kneeling lat and 3-way child pose stretch.
Finally, to address the pectoralis muscle group we like performing angles and holds on a foam roller. Certain positions will bias the different fibers of the pectoral muscles. As a result, wherever you feel the most tight, is where you should spend more time. Both exercises improve flexibility and thoracic spine extension, which are essential for reaching higher.
3. Optimize Motor Control
After achieving more range of motion and muscle flexibility, the goal is to maintain that new mobility. The concept of “if you don’t use it, you lose it” is applicable to this situation. Therefore, we implement exercises to activate and strengthen muscles in your new available range.
First, to work on mid/upper back extension and reaching over head, we use the kneeling wall lift-off exercise. Kneeling will prevent movement in your low back, so movement is mostly from the mid/upper back and shoulder mobility. Furthermore, we activate the lower and middle trapezius muscles to achieve and maintain your new mobility.
Second, to work on rotation from the bottom up, we use the arm bar thoracic spine rotation exercise. A lot of moving parts are going on in this exercise; therefore, the coaching cues are provided in the video below! It is crucial to learn how to control your spine mobility from the bottom-up and top-down.
Finally, to work on rotation from the top down, we use the quadruped thoracic spine rotation. Sit back on your heels to lock out your low back, similar to the kneeling lift off exercise. Furthermore, when you rotate, you should feel your back muscles activating to access your new range of motion. This is a great exercise to maintain your thoracic spine rotation mobility.