Trainer performing ViPR stretchOK, so your spine is unlikely to be tangled but, if you're reading this, then it is likely that you're already aware of how important the thoracic (T) spine is to global movement of the human body. You may also be aware of how the T spine can become stiff, sticky and stagnant. In this article, I'm going to try to convince you that it's important to keep your T spine mobile, stable and strong, as well as giving you some ViPR strategies to show how you can achieve it.

The T spine comprises 12 vertebrae, each attaching to a pair of ribs to form the thoracic cage. It is capable of performing six motions: flexion and extension (sagittal plane); left lateral and right lateral flexion (frontal plane); left rotation and right rotation (transverse plane).

Sagittal plane1: 30-40° flexion, 20-25° extension; frontal plane: 25°; transverse plane: 30°

The T spine (as well as all other spinal segments) truly is a tri-planar triumph. What is really interesting about the three-dimensional motion in the spine is that movement will never be isolated in one plane. Due to the anatomical shape of the vertebrae, a movement in one plane will inevitably result in a secondary motion occurring in a different movement plane. This is known as ‘coupled motion’. Paris and Loubert2 defined coupled motions as "combined motions that are mechanically forced to occur".

There are two recognised types of coupled motion in the spine, known simply as type 1 and type 2. An example type 1 motion would be lateral flexion with opposite-side rotation, such as a backswing in golf. An example of type 2 motion would be lateral flexion with same-side rotation, such as swinging back a ten pin bowling ball. I have always remembered this by telling myself that, "during type 2 motion, the movements occur in the same direction 2gether". If we are to maintain a healthy spine, it is important that we recognise and facilitate this coupled motion.

It's clear that this special part of your spine has the potential to contribute a great degree of motion and stability to your every-day movement patterns. Through living a modern sedentary lifestyle and spending excessive amounts of time in slouched sitting positions, the T spine can become stiff and lack the mobility of which it's capable. The T spine does have a natural kyphotic curve, but this curve can easily become excessive and lead to secondary problems. In fact, an increase of just one degree of flexion in your T spine can lead to dysfunction.3 Losing mobility in this part of your back can often mean that other joints have to compensate and are forced to pick up the slack. Over time, this can lead to niggling injuries in joints such as the shoulders or the lumbar spine.

If we're going to enhance our beautiful backbones, there are certainly a few important components that we want to include in our programming.

  1. Mobilise first: It's not uncommon for this spinal segment to become stiff so, before you decide to give it a big workout, butter up your backbone with some subtle mobility exercises.
  2. Include all six spinal motions: To untangle our T spine, it needs to be stimulated in all directions. This must also take into consideration type 1 and 2 coupled motion.
  3. Encourage extension: Our tendency is to fall into flexion and to lose range of motion in extension. Choose movements that encourage thoracic extension.
  4. Drive motion from above and below: Our T spine is just one segment of an intelligent whole. The movements of our spine are commonly driven by the actions of our eyes, hands and feet as part of our integral global movement. Our exercise choices, therefore, should include movements that travel up the spine from the feet, as well as movements that travel down the spine from the eyes and hands.

Below are some example ViPR drills, progressing from the easiest to the hardest.

Kneeling mobility drills

For the following mobility drills, I opted for a kneeling position as a way of reducing supplementary motion from the foot and ankle and, therefore, homing in on mobilising the spine and hips:

Flexion/extension: Holding ViPR in a shoulder carry position, tilt the end of the tube upwards towards the sky and downwards towards the floor.

Lateral flexion: Take a front carry position and alternately tilt each end of the tube sideways towards the ground.

Rotation: Take a narrow grip on ViPR and rotate it around the waist, looking over the shoulder on the same side as you go.

Partially loaded drills

Posterior lateral tilt with same direction overhead reach:
Movement: Overhead reach
Series: Tilt
Hold: On tube
Threshold: 1
Take a static offset stance with the left foot in front (LXX). Stand with ViPR posterior lateral to the left hip and tilt it in the same direction. While tilting ViPR, reach the right hand over the head and in the same direction. Repeat both sides.

Cross-body lateral tilt with overhead reach:
Movement: Opposite lateral reach
Series: Tilt
Hold: On tube
Threshold: 1
Take a wide stance (XWX) and tilt ViPR with your right hand towards your left foot. As ViPR gets lower, reach the left hand upwards into left rotation. Repeat both sides.

Loaded drill

Alternating steering wheel turn at lateral hip:
Movement: Reach
Series: Lift/Shift
Hold: Wide
Threshold: 2
Start in a neutral stance (XXX) with ViPR held outside the left hip and imagine turning it like a giant steering wheel to the right. Repeat outside the right hip and imagine turning the wheel to the left.

By Stephen Tongue, ViPR Global Master Trainer


  1. Neumann (2002), Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System, St Louis, MO, Mosby Inc.
  2. Paris SV, Loubert PV (1999), Foundations of Clinical Orthopaedics, 3rd ed, St Augustine, FL: Institute Press.
  3. Sahrmann (2002), Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes, St Louis, MO, Mosby Inc.