Everyone's probably got a tighter rib cage than they should. This has a big effect on the rest of your body and on your health. In this post, I'll discuss what muscles support the ribs and breathing, why its bad if they're tight, and how you can open them up.
WHAT ARE THE RIBS
The ribs are part of a larger area of the body attached the thoracic spine (the middle part of the spine, sandwiched between the neck (cervical) and low back (lumbar spine)). Your ribs connect to your spine in the back and are connected in the front by the sternum.
The muscles between your ribs are called the intercostal muscles. These muscles create a bellow to expand ribs to help with breathing if insufficient capacity through the diaphragm is not achieved. Other muscles help open the rib cage including your pecs, your lats, your serratus muscles.
WHY ITS BAD YOUR RIBS ARE TIGHT
I'm sure you've heard that tight hip flexors lead to low back pain. Think of your ribs as the upper body's equivalent to the lower body's common ailment.
Your ribs get tight from sitting, being hunched forward, and not working them enough in purposeful movement. Suppose your ribs have a bellow range of 0-100, where 100 is the full movement (and hence full breathing). Over time, that range gets shortened to 80, then 70, then 60. You can still breath, you're living, you're fine, but your ribs are harder to expand because those muscles get tighter and tighter.
If your ribs are tighter, then your thoracic spine is tighter and it hard to get rotation and flexion in the 360 direction it was designed to.
If your thoracic spine is tight, then your shoulder blades will have trouble getting their full range of motion.
If your shoulder blades don't move well, then your arm mobility is going to be limited.
If your arm mobility is limited, guess where the body will find mobility to reach something overhead?
Your Lower Back.
HOW CAN YOU OPEN YOUR RIB CAGE??
So if sitting hunched forward shortens your rib cage, you need to move in the opposite direction -- get that rib cage out of its comfort zone. Here are five things you can do to open your rib cage!!
Try this out for size -- lay face down, put your arms above your head, and breathing in as big as you can into your nose, breathing into your belly first then expanding your chest as much as possible. When you're doing the movements below try breathing as big of a breath as possible.
Try doing this at home. You'd be surprised at how many clients I've got that have no idea how to move their spine intentionally. On the "cow", try pointing the label of your shirt to the wall in front of you by pulling your shoulder blades toward your spine as much as you can. On the cow, I'm not too worried about the "booty pop" of the lumbar spine popping up. Just looking for thoracic extension.
Side Lying Windmill
A common fault on these is to let the shoulder rotating around dump forward, thus taking the weight, pressure, and stretch off the pec and rib muscles. THIS ONE FEELS GREAT!!
Thoracic Extension Over a Foam Roller
For this one, think about gluing your lower ribs to your hips by squeezing your abs real tight. Once you have that tension, rotate the top of your shoulders toward the ground -- it should feel like your upper ribs are getting a stretch between ribs. If you don't keep those abs tight, all the movement will come from your lumbar spine! You probably won't hit those big breaths on this stretch! That's aight -- I'll let it slide.
Thoracic Extension Over a Bench
For this one, get a good stretch through your lats then move your body through some cat cows. Stay tight through your abs and try to push your head/torso through the "window" created by your arms. Be sure to hit the breaths on this one!