In runners, a tight thoracic spine can hinder taking a proper breath and loading the core.
Typically the thoracic spine is stuck in a forward position ( mostly form sitting all day) which limits the body from sitting in a proper upright posture. Proper posture allows the body to take a full inhalation. Try sitting slouched and taking a deep breathe. Now, sit up straight and take a deep breathe. Notice the difference between the two. Being in a slouched position while running will limit your ability to inhale which hinders performance.
Having proper rotational mobility also helps to load the core. The arm swings backwards as the leg drives forward. A rotational stretch is then placed on the core. This stretch helps to provide energy to the opposite leg to help drive it forward. When the core is not properly loaded, it places an extra rotational stress to the low back leading to pain. Poor loading of the core can also lead to improper running mechanics contributing to different injuries throughout the body.
The ScienceThe spine has motions which are coupled. When the spine is straight, side bending one direction will cause a rotation to the same side ( Type 2 motion). When the spine is extended, side bending one direction will cause a rotation to the opposite side (Type 1). These movements are hardly noticeable but necessary for proper mechanics. In running type 2 motion occurs. When you are landing on your left leg, gravity pushes down on the right shoulder. This will cause your head to be tilted. To get your head pointed straight, your body will have a slight lean to the left. Side note-When the glutes are weak causing an extreme pelvic drop, the spine has to excessively lean to compensate which leads to injury.
|When gravity pushes on the R shoulder |
L: Shows the spine without a lean
R: Shows the spine with a lean
At the same time, the right arm swings forward to generate a left rotation. The left lean of the spine and the right arm drive to the left causes a type 2 motion of the spine. Where you place your legs is also important. Mobilizations in a staggered stance verses a squat stance most replicates how the body is moving while running. When the right leg is forward, the right arm swings backwards while the left arm swings forward. The arms are used to drive rotation in the thoracic spine.
MobilizationOne of the exercises to loosen up the thoracic spine is to foam roll. However, this only mobilizes the joint in one dimension. Imagine a drawer which is stuck. Do you keep pulling it straight out or do you wiggle it all directions until the drawer opens. I don't know about you but the later has worked for me.
At 3DRunner we're going to mobilize the thoracic spine functionally in all 3 planes of motion.
As you can see with my left hip forward, I have slightly less rotation. After the mobilizations, my spine has increase mobility.
Type 2 motion Stand with the right leg forward and left arm next to your ear. Use your right arm to swing backwards. The backwards arm swing will gently mobilize your spine. Try swinging at different angles. Keep the same posture, right arm slightly behind, reach left arm upward towards the ceiling.
Type 1 motion Stand with the left leg forward and left arm next to your ear. Use your right arm to reach forward. With this mobilization, it is more effective to reach as oppose to swing. Reach at different angles. Keep the same posture, right arm forward, reach left arm upwards towards the ceiling
Perform 10-20 of each then switch sides ( right leg forward, right arm next to ear and left leg forward. right arm next to ear)
Mobilizations for the thoracic spine will improve your posture resulting in better core recruitment and breathing to enhance running performance. Improve mobility will promote proper running mechanics to decrease injuries.