Thoracic Mobility and the Cat-Camel Exercise

Written by

Thoracic spine mobility is important in many aspects of sport performance and strength and conditioning. For most lifting endeavors, we need some degree of thoracic extension (straightening) at approximately the level of the shoulder blades. We also need to be able to reverse that thoracic extension back into flexion, in order to restore the slight kyphotic curve to the thoracic spine and ribcage, which is normal for resting posture.

The Cat-Camel drill is commonly prescribed to restore thoracic spine mobility. In this article, I will go over some finer points and tips for its execution.


For the cat portion of the drill, I will typically cue a posterior tilt of the pelvis (tuck the tailbone under) and rounding of the lower back, in addition to thoracic rounding. This is simply to decrease global tone in the spinal erectors.

Breathe in through your nose, and fill your lower and upper back with air. Try not to shrug towards your ears as you breathe in. As you exhale through your mouth, posteriorly tilt your pelvis and round both your upper and lower back. This is done by lightly pushing straight down with your knees (your hamstrings will activate), and pushing through your shoulder by protracting your shoulder blades. Think about spreading your shoulder blades apart from each other. From here, take a breathe in and fill your upper back with air. Again, do not shrug towards your ears, or alter your position as you inhale. Just let it flow in like water.


This is a demonstration of erroneously shrugging the shoulders towards the ears.

Sometimes, when cueing a posterior tilt and lumbar flexion, the individual will get most of their motion from mid back and down, instead of the upper thoracic spine between the shoulder blades – which is what we are targeting.


Here you see a lot of mid back flexion, but with the area between the shoulder blades staying straighter than we would like.

In this case, don’t focus so much on the pelvis and lower back, and realllyyyyy try to flex that area between your shoulder blades. Think about flexing it one vertebrae at a time.



Here you see an attempt to increase flexion between the shoulder blades, instead of just the midback.

After getting 1-2 breaths in the cat position, you will move on to the camel, which is aimed to extend the thoracic spine. I find that when many people perform this portion of the exercise, it looks like below:


This is fine, as you are still getting some thoracic extension, but mostly what’s happening is hinging at the thoraco-lumbar (T/L) junction, which leads to an excess of lumbar extension. Again, not necessarily bad, it’s just not our particular focus here. Instead, keep your lower back neutral or even slightly flexed, and only arch (extend) through the area between your shoulder blades. You may even get lucky and feel a couple pops, which is always nice. With each camel rep, you can work on extending (arching) one vertebrae lower than the rep before; ultimately leading you to global extension through the entire spine – but hopefully this is a more balanced extension from top to bottom, instead of mostly coming from T/L junction and low back.




Here you see an attempt to arch (extend) between the shoulder blades one vertebrae at a time, while keeping the low back and pelvis more neutral than the previous picture.

Give this drill a try before exercises like bench press and back squat, where squeezing your upper back tight is a key component. With all exercises like these, remember to avoid straining or “trying too hard”. Relax, breathe, and move smoothly. Alternate back and forth between cat and camel for 6-8 reps, come out and repeat for 2-3 sets. Leave thoughts and questions in the comments section.

Don’t miss out

Sign up today and receive our Foundations of Strength & Conditioning eBook for free! Plus get all the latest and greatest Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training content, straight to your inbox.

You may also like

Mobility Myths with Dr. Quinn

Mobility Myths with Dr. Quinn

Move, feel and perform better with these tips from Dr. Quinn Henoch

5 Mobility Rules of Thumb, Part 1

5 Mobility Rules of Thumb, Part 1

These days, “mobility” work seems as popular as actually improving strength and athleticism.  There are many schools of thought and various techniques as to how …

The Scapula and Thoracic Spine:  A Classic Love Story To Improve Your Overhead Position

The Scapula and Thoracic Spine: A Classic Love Story To Improve Your Overhead Position

If an athlete is to have a strong, pain free overhead position, the shoulder blade and the upper back must have a healthy relationship.  Like …

4 Part Shoulder Warmup

4 Part Shoulder Warmup

Get your shoulders moving better and improve their stability for performance and longevity

Explosive Nutrition

Explosive Nutrition

Where are you getting it wrong? Webster’s defines explode as a verb; meaning to expand with force, to burst, as dynamite. In sports, being explosive …

The Best Damn Squat Mobility Article.  Period.

The Best Damn Squat Mobility Article. Period.

  A squat is thought to be a fundamental movement; one that a healthy human being free of injury should be able to perform.  However, when …

5 Movement and Mobility Tips for CrossFitters

5 Movement and Mobility Tips for CrossFitters

Earlier this month, I was given the opportunity to present and coach at a weekend training camp for competitive exercisers. Doug Chapman, coach and owner …

Improving Your Hip Mobility in the Squat: Sidelying Position

Improving Your Hip Mobility in the Squat: Sidelying Position

We define “mobility” as movement potential. It is the combination of many factors – muscle extensibility, soft tissue flexibility, joint mechanics, neural drive, etc. In …

Sign up to our newsletter

Sign up today and The Foundations of Strength & Conditioning eBook for free! Filled with over 145 pages and 40 hours of our best content throughout the years. Plus stay up date with all of our best new content for Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Nutrition, as well as special promotions and deals.

Shopping Cart
There are no products in the cart!
Continue Shopping