Golfers can come in all shapes and sizes.
Just take a look at a PGA tour event and you will see some guys that are long and lean, short and strong, and some that look nothing remotely close to athletic.
Yet they are able to have enough success to continue to compete and keep their cards.
How does this happen?
Simply put, they are in shape for golf while they might not be in shape for anything else.
They can swing, putt, and walk the course while shooting birdies and pars. If you asked them to sprint 400m then there would be a serious problem.
Despite being big guys, golfers have some qualities that are necessary to success on the course.
One of them is great mobility through the thoracic spine.
These guys are able to achieve things in their hips and backs that would put most people on the ground.
Their range of motion through the upper back is high which is important for performance and injury prevention in golf.
What is the T- Spine?
The spine has 3 segments (not including sacrum) cervical, thoracic, and lumbar. In simple terms the cervical is the neck, the thoracic is mid to upper back, and the lumbar is the low back.
The T spine is special because it allows more motion than the lumbar spine does.
The lumbar spine has only about 2 degrees between segments give or take whereas the thoracic spine can handle upwards of 9.
This is why the low back is built for stability and we need to rotate through the t spine.
Limitations in the T spine can have negative consequences on the back swing.
The turn of the swing, after the takeaway, is directly affected by mobility in the upper back.
A limited turn affects the downswing, impact, and the follow through.
Mostly, a shortened total backswing is the result. This means that the ball is not going to go as far.
It also can throw off the mechanics of the rest of the swing.
The body is going to do its best to find the range of motion needed. In this case the shoulders and low back/hips will be those spots.
If the shoulder becomes the spot to find more rotation then it is going to dip during the down swing.
This can lead to massive slices, pop ups, and hooks.
A proper upper body turn eliminates some of those issues by creating total body stability and a good axis to rotate through.
When the T spine is limited it can try to find range of motion at the lumbar spine.
Again the lumbar spine is not meant to rotate which means a low back injury is brewing.
Rotational low back pain is especially concerning for a golfer because it is not going to get better, unless golf goes on vacation for a while.
Increasing T spine mobility allows the lumbar spine to do its job as a spinal stabilizer.
Lower handicap golfers are able to maximize core stability at impact and the low back cannot be rotating to accomplish that.
Improving T Spine Mobility
1. Core Stability
Training to keep the spine in neutral allows the thoracic spine to rotate freely.
If the lumbar spine cannot stabilize then efforts to free the T spine will be wasted.
Exercises like pallof presses, side planks, and deadbugs fit the bill.
2. Kneeling Thoracic Rotations
Try to point the elbow straight in the air while turning the back towards the wall. Do not move with the low back.
3. Side Lying T Spine Rotations
This is a progression of the kneeling rotation. It is important to brace your core though.
Pretend that someone is going to punch you in the stomach which forces you to brace all of your muscles.
Brace, breathe (to reduce over bracing), and then perform the movement.