These 3 Popular Thoracic Mobility Exercises WON’T Fix Your Hunchback

They'll help, but they're not enough. Find out what you actually need.

By Coach E

thoracic spine exercise for hunchback

If your posture is hunched over, the most popular exercises for thoracic mobility aren’t enough to fix it. Why? Read on to find out and exercises that will get you the lasting results you’re after.

T-Spine Troubles

Hunchback posture, or thoracic kyphosis, is a common problem. The midback or thoracic region of your spine (T-Spine) naturally has an outward or kyphotic curve to it.

Over time, with gravity weighing down on your spine PLUS the huge amount of time most of us spend hunched over our computers and phones, a hunchback can develop.

Hunchback posture, or thoracic kyphosis, is a common problem. The midback, or thoracic region of your spine (T-Spine) naturally has an outward or kyphotic curve to it.

Image by weillcornellbrainandspine.org

If you act before you let the years add up, you can do a lot to correct it. That is – if you choose the correct strategy.

The problem is, a quick Google search will likely lead you down a limited path. I see 3 exercises for thoracic mobility that are constantly prescribed as a way to fix hunchback.

YouTube stars, chiropractors, bloggers, personal trainers… everyone seems to love these moves.

Don’t get me wrong – I like them too and prescribe them, but don’t stop there.

They are limited in what they can do for you as there’s a major deficiency with these 3 exercises and one key reason why they won’t give you the lasting effect required to fix kyphotic posture.

The 3 Not-So-Perfect Exercises for Thoracic Mobility

If you’ve ever searched for posture exercises online, chances are you’ve come across these 3 moves.

First up is the Foam Roller Extension.

For this exercise you lay down over a foam roller, lean back to find some extension in the T-spine, then move to another segment and repeat.

For this exercise you lay down over a foam roller, lean back to find some extension in the T-spine, then move to another segment and repeat.

Second is the 4-Point Thoracic Opener.

For this move, you come into a quadruped position, then take one hand behind your head. You reach that elbow up and out, then cross it under your body and stretch in the other direction.

Lastly there’s the Cobra Pose (as the yogis call it) or McKenzie Extension (as physios call it).

You lay on the floor and press your arms into the ground, straightening your arms and lifting your chest up.

A popular thoracic spine exercise - the Cobra Pose (as the yogis call it) or McKenzie Extension (as physios call it). You lay on the floor and press your arms into the ground, straightening your arms and lifting your chest up.

The Problem With These Popular Choices

Again, I’d like to clarify: it’s not that these thoracic spine mobility exercises are bad. If you’ve been doing them and they feel good on your back or help you feel loose, by all means, keep it up.

These exercises, especially the foam roller extensions, are totally reasonable ways to bring a little mobility to your spine. You might get a little crack or a stretch, and those are good things.

But here’s the problem and here’s why these moves won’t fix your posture: these exercises are all passive.

This means they don’t involve ACTIVELY training the deep spinal extensor muscles that are responsible for getting and keeping you in an upright neutral posture.

Increasing strength, endurance, and control in these deep muscles – muscles that become weak and inhibited through time and poor postural habits – is absolutely required to create a lasting solution for hunchback.

Your thoracic spine is made of 12 vertebrae. We tend to think of the spine as a single unit, but really, between each of these vertebrae is an individual joint. And at each of these individual joints are muscles responsible for extending that joint.

Your thoracic spine is made of 12 vertebrae. We tend to think of the spine as a single unit, but really, between each of these vertebrae is an individual joint. And at each of these individual joints are muscles responsible for extending that joint.

A primary muscle responsible for this movement is the multifidus. Most people call this muscle a “stabilizer” and while it does provide stability, it also contracts and shortens to cause extension of your thoracic spine.

A primary muscle responsible for this movement is the multifidus. Most people call this muscle a “stabilizer” and while it does provide stability, it also contracts and shortens to cause extension of your thoracic spine.

But when you spend 8 hours a day, every day, hunched forward over your computer, those muscles get lengthened. They start to shut off and over time, you lose strength and control in the very muscles that will pull you out of this posture and KEEP you out.

That’s why these 3 popular exercises for thoracic mobility won’t cut it and won’t fix your hunchback.

If you’re looking to really fix your hunchback posture for good, you’re going to need to find a way to activate those muscles.

You’ve got to rebuild your neuromuscular control over your spinal extensors. Then you’ve got to build up their strength and endurance so they can hold you upright all day long.

What to Do Instead

I’ve got 2 great exercises that will help you restore proper posture and rebuild your spinal muscles’ ability to extend.

First, check out this Thoracic Spine End Range Expansion Sequence.

Don’t let this one fool you – it might look simple, but you’ve really got to focus on the little details to get it right.

This exercise will help isolate and fire up your multifidi at individual levels.

Thoracic Spine Exercise #1: horacic Spine End Range Expansion Sequence - this exercise will help isolate and fire up your multifidi at individual levels.

Check the comments on this video – at the time of publishing this article, the video has over 20,000 views and some really great stories in the comments about how it’s helped people improve their posture.

The second exercise you should incorporate is the Extended Shoulder Crossover.

You might be tempted to say, “Um, I don’t need a shoulder exercise, I need something for my back.”

Hear me out. This is a functional integration exercise that solidifies postural changes by combining them with functional movements.

Thoracic Spine End Range Expansion Sequence - this exercise will help isolate and fire up your multifidi at individual levels.

And remember – your shoulders play a pretty crucial role in posture too – just think about how rounded forward they get when you’re hunched over your keyboard.

This exercise has you train your shoulders through their full range of motion. But, in order to do that, your thoracic spine has to be neutral and stable.

With this move you’ll train multiple joints at once and integrate complex movements into your training – this type of functional integration is true to how you actually move your body in real life. To create lasting postural change, you need to be able to maintain it while you move your limbs around in space.

So skip over those 3 tired moves. Instead, try out these alternative exercises for thoracic mobility to get your multifidi fired up and working functionally.

They’ll help you rebuild strength and control in your spinal extensor muscles so you can make a lasting change and fix that hunchback for good.

About the Author

Eric Wong (aka Coach E) is the founder of Precision Movement and has a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Waterloo. He's been a coach since 2005 and spent his early career training combat athletes including multiple UFC fighters and professional boxers. He now dedicates himself to helping active people eliminate pain and improve mobility. He lives in Toronto (Go Leafs Go!) with his wife and two kids and drinks black coffee at work and IPAs at play. Click here to learn more about Eric.

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