Correcting the Foam Roller Thoracic Extension

While we may not yet fully understand the exact mechanism behind self myofascial release (SMR) – which as trainers we tend to collectively label as “foam rolling”, often regardless of the implement used – what we’re pretty sure we do know is that performing some SMR generally helps people feel and move better. As such, it’s common practice for trainers and strength coaches to include a short SMR/foam rolling/soft tissue work section in their clients’ programs, typically allowing 5-10 minutes at the beginning of the session, before moving onto some mobility work, some type of dynamic warm up, then into the training proper.
One particularly part of the foam rolling series that causes confusion and I often see performed incorrectly is the thoracic spine. This is usually because people tend to be unsure as to whether this is actually SMR, or a mobility drill. In my view it’s both, and in the video below I explain in more detail how to get better results from doing both, rather than missing out on everything from either:


Thoughts, questions, hate mail, or anything I missed? Feel free to drop a comment below. 
And of course, sharing this article will naturally help you jump the queue in your wait for karmic justice to start paying out.

10 thoughts on “Correcting the Foam Roller Thoracic Extension”

  1. Excellent video! Can you say from your personal experience how the grid roller (used in the video) is superior to any other foam roller on the market? I read the description in the Perform Better catalog but would like to know if you think spending the extra $40 is worth it. Thank you Will.

    1. Thanks Linda!
      Personally I like the Grid a lot, for a couple of reasons: It’s denser than a standard foam roller, so outside of a rank beginner, most people will get more out of it. Most will progress past a standard foam roller within a few weeks, months at most. Also, the Grid being short and hollow makes it a travel option. Price-wise, alternatively you could of course buy a piece of 90mm PVC pipe cut to about 60cm from your local hardware store for about five bucks! That works fine as well, for almost everything EXCEPT this t-spine extension – I don’t like the idea of loading bony prominences directly onto the pipe. Plus it can sometimes slip.
      Hope that helps.

  2. Great post. Came across this when looking for a vid to refer to a friend who I thought could benefit from some thoracic rolling. Even taught me a thing or 2 about tightening up my technique. Thanks.

  3. Hi Will- thanks so much for this clear and easy to understand video- clarified my understanding of the two different techniques. I also cue my clients when mobilising t-spine, not to use the neck instead- many people seem to extend the cervical spine, in mistaken belief they are extending the thoracic spine.

    1. Thanks Gill. I agree, the cervical spine – much the like the lumbar spine – will often be moved excessively in this drill. Most likely due to the relative stiffness of the t-spine. I’ve found that pulling the elbows forward while bracing the head in the hands tends to rectify this.

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