De-Rustifying Your Spine: The Second Greatest Warm Up Drill of All Time

Quick Tips

de-evolution of the desk jockey

Isn’t this the truth?

I would say that the following drill is the greatest of all time, but I can’t.

That honor goes to the old lacrosse ball on the feet trick.

However, I am probably incorrect in saying that the drill that I am about to share with you is a “release” per se.

It’s actually a mobility drill, but every time I work it into my warm  ups (almost every workout), I feel like I have released built up pressure from my thoracic (mid-back) spine.  It’s crazy.  When you start paying attention to your body and what it needs, most of us will find that we can benefit greatly from a simple mobility drill like this.

Here’s the drill…

—>  Tennis Ball Thoracic Extension/Flexion

Find two tennis balls (or buy some tennis balls) and tape them together to form a “peanut”.  Set the peanut at mid-back, with your spine rested in between the “valley” created by the taped tennis balls.  You may feel extremely… “locked up” at first.  Fear not.  Move within a comfortable range of motion.  Typically, this “locked up” sensation will alleviate after the first few repetitions.  Exhale and wrap your spine around the ball as you fall into extension.  On the crunch up (flexion), take a belly breath and repeat the exhalation once again, moving back into extension.  Rinse and repeat.

Awesome drill for those who sit a lot.

Movement cues:

  • Start at the mid-back and work up to just below the top of your shoulder blades.
  • Roll in half turn increments on the tennis ball peanut as you make your way to the top.
  • Keep your butt and as much of your lower back pressed firmly against the ground.  Hinge around the tennis balls.
  • Perform 5 hinged crunches, 5 overhead extensions and 5 alternating arm raises at each level.

How often should you work this drill throughout the week?

In my personal opinion- and it will vary from person to person- I think that the following a mobility plan based on your age is a great recommendation.  It would look like the following:

Mobility per week chart


Closing Thoughts

The key with this mobility drill is to get aggressive with it.  By aggressive, I am not saying to gore yourself on the tennis balls and be ruthless with your crunches.  I am saying that it’s important to accumulate some repetitions as you slowly move the peanut up your spine.  Work through the 5 rep recommendation (multiplied by the 3 exercises per level) and be diligent with it.

Just to reiterate the movement of the tennis ball, I give it a half roll starting at the mid-back, moving all of the way up to the top of my shoulder blades.  It’s incredible how “locked” up our bodies can become and this mobilization is fantastic for helping to relieve some of the effects brought on by poor posture and sitting.  There is other work to be done beside mobilizing, but this is a great place to start.

This drill addresses primarily flexion and extension through the hinging effect.  Remember that your spine also rotates and flexes laterally, and we can chat about some simple drills to work through for regaining rotational/lateral flexion freedom in another post.

We sit way too much.  We sit in our cars, sit at our desks, at the dinner table and then on the couch.  Then, then the day is over, we head to bed for the night and lay in less than desirable postures.

Please don’t feed me some bull crap about not being able to avoid sitting.  I get it.  Just as we are all too busy to workout, I get that too.

The point is that you’re becoming aware of simple home remedies that can help to off-set some of the undesirable effects of growing your butt cheeks to the chair.  It takes all of 2 minutes to work through the tennis ball thoracic extension/flexion mobility drill.  2 minutes.

Screen Shot 2013-04-04 at 6.38.35 AM

Seeing is believing.  This is not a good posture to take to the gym. 

We have to make a conscious effort to unwind these issues before they manifest themselves into disaster… ahemmm… injury or degeneration.

Maintaining joint mobility is important for long-term health, so don’t give a weak effort on this.  Moving the way that your body was designed improves performance and appearance.  Steal some tennis balls from your neighbors garage, a local high school or just buck up and buy a fresh can of tennis balls for $5 or so.  It’s worth it.


Cheers to re-greasing that rusty spine!



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