How to Improve Your Thoracic Spine Mobility and Hit the Ball Farther

Most golfers realize that a bigger shoulder turn, both in the backswing and follow through, should translate into more distance on their drives.

But once golfers realize the club shaft isn’t parallel to the ground at the top of their backswing they fight their lack of rotation by the only means they have been taught.

More swing practice.

I fell into this trap myself. Several years ago I became aware I was losing distance on my drives.

At the time, my only solution was to try to lengthen my swing by raising my hands higher, force myself to rotate more, and pound balls down the range.

The human body is an amazing piece of engineering. In times of need, it will find a way to get the job done.

Even if the solution will cause long-term problems.

In the end, my practice routine was pure disaster.

Short-term Fixes Don’t Last

I hit some good shots on the range. But when I took it to the course I was hitting balls left, right, thin, and fat.  When it was all said and done, my scores were worse than before and my lower back hurt.

If you want to increase rotation in your backswing get off the range and into the gym.

Instead, spend a few minutes each day improving your thoracic spine mobility.

Here are two easy exercises that will help T-spine mobility, they’re called open books and reach backs. 

Thoracic Spine Mobility

One of my promises to you is not to load up this website with anatomy jargon.  

So if you want to skip the anatomy Click Here.

But it is important to know that the spine has three major regions.

These regions, from the head down these are the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar regions. Each vertebra is identified by the letter of the region and a number. So you have C1 to C7; T1 to T12, and L1 to L5.

There is also the Sacral region (tailbone) and those vertebrae are fused and do not rotate.

The regions are shown in the image below. The cervical region is shown in yellow, the thoracic in blue, and lumbar in red.

In the golf swing, the thoracic region or the T-spine, should provide the most rotation. The lumbar (lower back) does rotate but shouldn’t be a major contributor to swing rotation. Same with the majority of the cervical area, head rotation does occur between the C1 and C2 vertebrae. 

Since most spinal rotation occurs in the T-spine region you need as much thoracic spine mobility as possible to have a good swing.

Losing Thoracic Spine Mobility

Because of our increasingly sedentary lifestyle, such as television watching, working long hours at a computer, or repetitive exercise or work that use a pushing motion more than pulling many people have what is called upper cross syndrome.

UCS causes a stooped posture, rounded shoulders, and a forward bent neck. Golfers with that posture most likely have the C-posture swing characteristic. The curved spine greatly reduces the amount of spinal rotation and limits the ability to create a good turn in the backswing.

UCS is caused by an imbalance of muscles in the upper back and chest area.


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Other Causes of Shorten Backswing

Lack of T-spine mobility isn’t the only cause for a shorter backswing.

Other causes that affect the length of your backswing are the inability to separate movement between the lower body and upper body, tight lat muscles, or not having the full range of movement in your neck.

But regardless of those other limitations, if your T-spine can’t rotate, it will be hard to lengthen your backswing. 

For that reason, it’s a good idea to do the following exercises to increase thoracic spine mobility and be assessed by a TPI Fitness Professional to see if you have the other limitations. 

The Exercises

To increase your T-spine mobility there are two exercises that I really like. Actually, there are more than two, as the second exercise can be modified in about four different ways. Those exercises use different muscles and help lock the lumbar spine down so all of the rotation is focused on the T-spine.

Open Books Exercise

Open books is a great exercise. It is one of the first exercises that I wrote about because it helped me increase the length of my backswing while stayed in posture.

The exercise requires no equipment (well nothing except some pillows) and gravity.

That said, there’s a specific way to do the exercise, and not following the recommended procedure can diminish the effectiveness of the exercise.  

Since the exercise is straightforward, watch the video first, listen to the tips, and I’ll summarize the main points afterward. 

Main Points to Follow for Open Books

Find something, a medicine ball, a box, pillows, your dog, spouse, something that allows you to support the upper leg parallel to the floor. Any other angle and your lumbar region will be more likely to rotate. 

Not only that, and Jesse didn’t mention this at the start of the video, but make sure you don’t rock your ass backward. 

For a visual, you should be able to take a construction square and place it over your upper leg and down your back to form a right angle. Keep it that way throughout the exercise.

Try not to over rotate your arm and lose your lower back posture.

As your hand goes back, follow it with your eyes.

Don’t rush the movement. Slow and steady is best.

Now breath deep.

Notice that you can rotate further now. Pause and breathing a couple more times.

Once you have reached the limit where your knee wants to come off the support, or you find your back leaning, stop and hold that position for a second or two.

Don’t forget to roll over and work the other side.

Reach Backs

The next group of exercises I like to call reach backs. Some people call them quadruped thoracic external/internal extensions, and others call them rock backs.

The first is too technical and the second gives the wrong impression. I don’t want you to rock backward, I want you to reach with your elbow. That’s why I like to call them reach backs. 

Watch the video, then I’ll explain the variations and body positions that will maximize the effectiveness of the exercise. 

That video showed internal rotation with the hand upside down in the small of your back. 

The next video shows external rotation with the hand resting (not pushing) by the ears. Also, notice that dude isn’t leaning back on his heels. I think it is very important to sit back on your heels as it locks the lumbar spine down. 

Main Points for Reach Backs

Lean back on your heels. If you can rest your butt on them all the better. If you can’t reach your heels with your butt, sit back as far as possible. 

Keep your lower back and ass in one position, don’t roll to the side, or lean forward when you lift your elbow. Keep the lower body stable and in one place.

Tighten the core, and start the exercise but crunching down under your body. Hold the tension in your abs and lead your elbow up to the ceiling with your eyes. Unlike open books where you followed your hand with your eyes, here you allow your elbow to follow where your eyes are looking. 

Don’t over rotate. You might not be able to rotate very far, that is ok, keep at it.

Exercise both sides of your body. 

Reach Back Variations

Both the internal and external rotations can be completed in the half-prayer position. The full prayer position is where you are keeping your butt on your heels but the hand on the floor is way out in front of your head instead of beneath your shoulders. 

Your back is like a ramp. 

To get into the half-prayer position, place your plant hand several inches in front of your head. Do the exercise the same way. You’ll find reach backs much harder to do in the half prayer position, and you’ll feel different muscles pulling at full extension. 

Increasing Your Back Swing

Open Books and Reach Backs will help increase your thoracic spine mobility and help stretch out tight chest muscles. 

The exercises are easy to do, require no equipment, can be done anywhere even if you travel, and are good to do before you play a round of golf to warm-up your T-spine.

Remember to consult a physician before starting any fitness program. 

To maximize your results, it is always best to consult with a TPI Fitness Professional to make sure the exercises are right for you. If you’d like some advice or a consultation, drop me a line!


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