The Internal Power Training Blog

Check out the latest info and research from Coach Chris' explorations in the Subject of Internal Power.

Thoracic Mobility Bookmark

Thoracic mobility is a big subject in the health and fitness world at the moment, mainly due to the modern problem of back problems linked to working at desks or in set positions throughout the day.  However, back health and mobility was well and truly on the radar of the old Internal Arts Masters. Although at the time of their creation this modern phenomena may not have been present, the Internal arts and practices also placed great importance on mobility of the spine.


In arts like the old styles of Xin Yi we find that spine mobility is one of the primary components for their particular flavor of Fa jing (explosive release). They will work on flexion and extension in their fundamental practices, freeing up and conditioning the tissues associated with the back to create a high level of mobility and strength like that of a strong, well made Long bow. In other styles like Ba Gua the ability to undulate the spine is fundamental to the evasive movement skill the style is famous for. Further, in some of the Xing Yi systems the ability to produce a 'spine wave' for methods like Pi Quan is fundamental.  So it can be said that the mobility of the spine is of great important in internal training.

One of the reasons it is so prevalent in the internal systems is that it allows action at the level of the dan tien to travel up the back efficiently and split to the hands, utilizing the 'through the back' connections discussed previously. If the spine is ‘fixed’ or immobile this force will not be successfully transmitted through the connective tissues, instead The back becomes like a solid stick or pole.  This idea of the solid pole can be utilized in some methods where we deal with rotation on a transverse plane, but for spiraling, waving, anything on the sagital plane (often collectively known as the Dragon Body) or for the sensitivity and changeability most common to the Internal Arts, a fixed spine can severely limits our potential and capability.


So we can say that thoracic and Thoracolumbar Mobility are fundamentals that all Internal Arts practitioners should be aiming to achieve. But there is also an important health consideration in the effective and correct use of the back and the position of the spine.

As mentioned previously, a bowed thoracic spine and the practices that can create this, can have some advantages for upper bridge connection, but can also cause some problems relating to health. Healthy backs and a good posture are not only relevant to the aches and pains created by misalignment and poor posture. They are in fact also closley related to our available lung capacity and our ability to breath naturally and fully. People with a centered posture and healthy backs display a greater level of rib mobility and therefore an increased lung capacity than those who have a collapsed chest and deeply bowed spine.  

A study on the lung volumes of women with Thoracic Kyphosis is a good indicator to the problems of a kyphotic posture on our breathing.

RESULTS: Vital capacity, inspiratory capacity, total lung capacity, and lateral expansion of the thorax were lower in the osteoporosic group (P < 0.05). There was a significant negative correlation between kyphosis angle and inspiratory capacity, vital capacity, and lateral expansion of the thorax.

CONCLUSIONS:  Lung volumes and rib mobility were significantly impaired in women with thoracic kyphosis.

Culham EG1, Jimenez HA, King CE.

Link to study

The lack of breath capacity is something that perhaps many do not consider when thinking about the position of the spine and its overall health. But these findings are a stark reminder that the body is a single unit and every system, if it displays dysfunction, will have an effect on the others.

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