In the last blog post on the thoracic spine and trunk we talked about mobility and the movements of the thorax. We need the rib cage and thoracic spine to be able to move in triplanar fashion depending on the exercise, most sports and daily activity need this movement to be efficient. If there is not efficient movement ability of the thorax other muscles will compensate for the lack thereof.
As we are trying to gain more mobility of the thorax for optimal function we must first be able to create a stable system in the human body to be able to obtain the appropriate range of motion. The planes of movement that we focus on with the thorax are the frontal plane, sagittal plane, and the transverse plane. The ribs and thoracic spine are in constant movement during the gait pattern, rotating, moving forward and back, internal and external rotation. The ribs help create a stabilizing effect on the thoracic spine and if we have poor rib movement and function that can lead to poor thoracic spine movement.
The major stabilizers of the thorax are the abdominals that attach to the ribcage and the pelvis, when contracted these muscles help stack the rib cage over the hips creating alignment throughout the system. This stack position is the desired position for movement patterns and exercise to ensure proper mechanics and movement of hips and appendicular skeleton. The abdominals that we want to focus on are our internal obliques, external obliques, and the transverse abdominis. These muscles specifically work on stabilizing the ribcage, they also help with flexion, lateral sidebending and rotation of the trunk, they also prevent hyper extending of the thoracic and lumbar spine which while under load can lead to injuries and poor muscle patterning.
When training the abdominals to act as a ribcage stabilizer we need to take into effect our breathing, when we exhale fully you should feel your ribs drop down, when we inhale they should expand, when performing an exercise, the desired position for trunk stability is in the fully exhaled position with rib cage and sternum down. With the next breath that comes in one must be able to keep the rib position and take an inhale, the breath in will try to pull the ribcage up, into rib external rotation, and will lengthen the abs which decrease the stability of the trunk.
With decreased activity of the abdominals this gives the spinal erectors (muscles of the lower back) the ability to activate and pull us into extension and lead to lower back activation and possibly lower back tightness and issues.
Exercises that are thorax stabilizing are anti- rotation holds, planks (front, side, tall), and anti extension holds. But before you get into the holds above, one must first learn how to master the breathing components and keeping the abdominals engaged. Our go-to exercise for this is the DEADBUG, because of its ability to keep the lower ribs depressed and breathing in while moving arms and legs. Use deadbugs as an activation exercise to create a sense of stability before your lift or run.
2 sets of 10 reps each leg
The next ab work that we want to get into are the anti extension exercises, for this we use a plate reach in the supine position.
2 sets of 5 breathes (inhale through the nose as you exhale feel the ribs depressed and move toward the hip)
Finally our anti-rotation hold is to prevent the twisting of the trunk and spine, this exercise will turn the obliques on to resist the band or cable pulls from the side.
Anti-rotation Core banded or cable press
2 sets of 20 second hold