I digress. Onto what I really want to talk about: Thoracic extension. The reason why some people, when they "lack it" and "can't snatch," or "avoid overhead positions," or some other excuse because they prefer to avoid proper, progressional loading specific for adaptation to a demand, or you know -- the SAID principle. Strength and conditioning, rehabilitation, and general exercise is based on this principle, yet it gets casted aside by bright colored tubes, spikey dog toys, a row of glued together rollerblade wheels that are rebranded as mobility tools. Ryan DeBell from The Movement Fix has a great joke about all of this, I'll let him tell it when he comes to Anchored Strength and Conditioning on July 30, 2017.
The only issue is, our thorax wasn't really meant to extend. A study of CT imaging of the thoracic spine in flexion and extension showed that total movement was about 1-4 degrees at each segment with a total angle of 8 degrees in extension and 40 degrees in flexion. Keep in mind, this is over a span of 12 vertebrae. Not to mention this study's simulation of the rib cage and its role in compressional force transmission and decrease in spinal flexibility. Interestingly, that aforementioned study also classified 10 degrees of thoracic extension as "hyperextension."
That all being said, what do we as strength and conditioning coaches mean when we say, "chest up!" or "proud chest." Hopefully it can be as eloquently as Kevin Hart says it:
The reason was simpler than we thought: there isn't much there.
Instead, focus your energy on doing weighted drills towards the positions that you are wanting to achieve: your maximal extension and STAY THERE. Back to that silly ol' SAID principle. The link above from Quinn is also another great example of one using the coupled motion of shoulder flexion and thoracic extension that was mentioned in this study. The same study also notes that functional extension is only around 13 degrees (spread out over 12 vertebrae btw.) Interestingly, this study studied unilateral shoulder elevation and observed coupling of thoracic rotation and lateral flexion, rather than extension.
Playing devil's advocate, I think the foam roller is a great tactile tool that can allow you get more feedback on where you want to actively move around or towards.
So you're probably thinking, what now? Am I ever going to be able to go overhead? The answer is yes! Progressing your movements and actually doing them will be the best start. Activation and strengthening will be the only way you can stimulate a real lasting change. In the video below, we show a few different activation and strengthening exercises you can plug into your warm ups, super set into your warm up sets, or drills in between your lighter training days.