You know the puppet strings that hold up Pinnochio by attaching to the key parts of his back? (Of course you do.) Well, they work to pull him upright so that he stands straight, with his shoulders back, in perfect posture... much like what your T-spine does for you.
Short for “thoracic spine,” your T-spine is the middle and upper part of your back, and works as the foundation for all kinds of different movements. That’s why in so many warm-ups, instructors have you do T-spine stretches—they essentially get your body opened up and primed to move more efficiently. “It’s important to stretch or mobilize the T-spine before working out so that your whole body has more freedom for functional movement,” says Lara Heimann, physical therapist, yogi, and founder of Movement by Lara. She points out that this part of your spine is restricted a lot of the time, especially in extensions and rotations, which means that your lumbar (lower back) or cervical spine (the neck) will then try to compensate, which isn’t good.
Since hunching over our phones and desks keep our T-spines compacted all day long, it’s important to do the work to lengthen them before jumping into a workout. “With so much social media, computer work, and sitting hunched in crowded subways, our upper body gets really tight,” says Ally Berlin, trainer and founder of Body by Ally Berlin. “I always do T-spine stretches in my class before I start the upper body portion—it’s great to restore mobility in your back and shoulders. You want to be warmed up with your best posture!” To stretch out your T-spine for yourself, try one (or all) of the three exercises below.
1. Thoracic rotation: This one is Heimann’s favorite T-spine stretch. Start in a lunge or low lunge with your knee on the floor and left foot forward, and bring your knuckles together in front of your body, keeping your elbows bent and straight out to the side. Rotate your ribs to the left and back to center, squeezing your knuckles against each other for support. (You can also do this with your arms outstretched.) Repeat five to 10 rotations with an upright spine, then switch directions and front foot.
2. Side-lying T-spine opener: Berlin recommends these stretches, which involves lying on your back on the floor, arms outstretched to each side. Pull one knee up to the other side of your body, holding the knee down with your hand on that side. Take your other arm from the ground, twisting to your knee, then back. Repeat on the other side.
3. Quadruped thoracic rotation: Starting in a quadruped position, take one hand behind your head with your elbow bent to the side. Lift your torso as you look up at the ceiling, then twist the elbow to the floor, looking toward the ground. Repeat on the other side.