Both the upper body rolling pattern and the thoracic spine rotations are ground-based patterns designed to unwind stiff and tight tissue, improve multi-segmental movement to the spine; as well as to calm and restore the body’s natural to breath deeply (which in turn helps to improve the relaxation response).

Why is rolling important?

Upper body rolling pattern is the first pattern performed in neurodevelopment. For example as infants, when we hear mommy, but can’t see her we discover that we can roll around and move from one side and the other. Our heads and eyes direct where our body naturally wants to go and it’s how we get from our back to our front. This of course then leads into getting from A to B – crawling and walking.

The upper body-rolling pattern becomes the first time we learn to truly use our inner unit/core as infants. We stabilize our center of gravity and learn how to rotationally get around. As adults, this pattern is often forgotten, when addressing lack of mobility in the thoracic spine, and tight tissues of the chest and back it can be used as a great tool. The soft rolling patterns can be used as mobility drills, but they also require a certain level of motor control. If the thoracic spine is very limited, this will be hard to achieve without compensation. This is where the thoracic spine rotations come in to play.


Mobility before stability

Adequate mobility is first and foremost when addresses movement dysfunction and in restoring movement competency. Yet, as adults through the invention of the chair, long bouts of sitting through school, work, driving and bipedal motion, we naturally lose the ability to properly move segmentally in our spine optimally. We may feel a dull ache in the lower back, strain the neck, or feel heavy in the mid section due to compressive forces of not being able to move freely.

One of the pre requisites for the upper body-rolling pattern is ensuring there is adequate mobility in the thoracic spine. Most often this area needs a little restoring so that the muscles and connective tissue of the thorax, ribcage, deep spinal muscles can effectively rotate, move and extend.


Form and Function of the T-Spine Rotation:

This T-spine rotation series features 3 progressions, designed to re open and re connect with the breath while encouraging 3 specific vectors of force (1) hip stabilization (2) thoracic mobility and (3) fascia opening of the superficial front and deep arm lines.

This video series presented focuses on three self-managed exercises designed to improve thoracic mobility, scapular gliding and opening of the breath. These can be used together as a sequence or independently for movement preparation and decompression post workout.

For all three progressions there are 3 distinct focuses:

(1) ensure there is downward activation of the knee; the knee should drive down into the foam roller to ensure lumbar lock and limit extension.

(2) ensure there is downward activation of the shoulder in contact with the floor. This ensure stabilization of the thorax.

(3) as you open your wing, ensure your head and eyes move to the direction of the arm. Your head is an extension of your spine.

T Spine Rotations

Video reference here:


Form and Function of the Upper Body Rolling Pattern:

Flexion Pattern:
Ensure when starting this drill you lay on your back in supine with feet and arms shoulder width apart and the head in contact with the floor. The lower body should remain motionless until the upper body pulls the lower body over. Think of flexing the nose into armpit, as the arm rotates across, pull from the back and ribcage through the exhale.

Extension Pattern:
Ensure when starting this drill you begin by laying on the floor prone with the feet and arms shoulder width apart and the forehead on the floor. Much like the flexion pattern, start by moving your eyes and neck into extension, look behind as the arm follows pulling the lower body across.

upper body rolling pattern flexion2

Video reference here:

Watch the videos for specific movement and cues on how to perform these two corrective exercises. To know more about whether these drills are right for you, consider getting a functional screen first to assess your needs and mechanics stressors.

Happy Rolling!

About the Author: Sarah Jamieson

Sarah Jamieson has written 155 posts on this site.

Sarah is the owner and head movement coach at Moveolution; a Vancouver based consulting company focused on the integration of movement and recovery science. Bridging the gaps between the clinical and performance fields Sarah’s passion stems from lifelong passion of Yoga, Jujitsu, and Qi Gong; which she integrates into her coaching practice. She is a full time social change maker, a ‘run-a-muker’ of everything outdoors and repeatedly engages in random acts of compassion.

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