One in four Americans sit more than eight hours a day. All that hunching in front of a screen wreaks havoc on your middle and upper back. “When we lack mobility in the thoracic spine, it affects a whole host of things, like shoulder and neck movement and even breathing,” says Meghan Wieser, a Maryland-based physical therapist and certified CrossFit trainer. That means your lungs have less space to expand for deep breaths and you’re more prone to injury. Wieser recommends these exercises to address forward, backward, and rotational spinal movement. Do them two to three times a week to loosen up.
Child’s Pose Twist
What It Does: Improves rotational mobility.
Start on your hands and knees, shift your hips onto your heels, and rest your torso on your thighs. Keep one arm extended, with palm and forearm firmly planted. Bring the other hand to the small of your back with your palm up, or to the back of your neck with the palm down. Slowly rotate your upper body toward the bent arm, keeping everything still below your waist. Note how far you can twist, and back off if you feel cramping between the shoulder blades. Take three to five deep breaths on each side, rotating more with each exhale.
What It Does: Improves thoracic extension (how far you can bend your spine backward).
Sit on a bench with your feet flat on the floor and your knees at hip height. Wrap your arms around your torso and, leading with your head and shoulders, arch back as far as you can. Stop when you can’t drop any farther without bending into your lower back. Take a few deep breaths here.
What It Does: Improves thoracic extension; loosens tight muscles.
Sit on the ground with your feet flat and your knees bent to 45 degrees. Lie down over the roller so that it’s perpendicular to your spine, under your shoulder blades. Interlace your hands at the back of your head and bring your elbows toward each other while lifting your hips. Slowly roll up to the base of your neck, then back down to below your shoulder blades. Breathe deeply and repeat several times.
What It Does: Gently stretches the spine; improves thoracic flexion (the ability to bend your spine forward).
Start seated in a chair with your knees at 90 degrees, your feet flat on the floor, and your spine upright. Slowly roll your head and neck downward, vertebra by vertebra, until you can’t drop any farther without moving your lower back or hips. You should feel tension, not pain. Hold this position for a couple of breaths.
What It Does: Improves flexion and extension.
Start on your hands and knees. While inhaling, gently drop your belly toward the ground, lift your chest and chin, draw your shoulder blades together, and look upward. Then exhale and actively push the ground away, arching your back like a cat, drawing your belly button toward your spine, and creating space between your shoulder blades. Alternate between the two positions for 10 to 20 repetitions.