using the acumobility ultimate back roller to work trigger points in the back and shoulders for triathletes

Upper Body Mobility Strategies with Professional Triathlete Angela Naeth

Fix your Knee Pain in the Squat with Rich Borgatti Reading Upper Body Mobility Strategies with Professional Triathlete Angela Naeth 7 minutes Next Fix your Turkish Getup and Overhead Positioning with Mike Perry

We recently had the huge honor of working with multiple 70.3 and Ironman champion Angela Naeth. In addition to her many triathlon accolades (she placed 8thin Kona this past year!), she also holds a masters degree in Physical Therapy.  We thought this would be the perfect opportunity to break out common movement patterns related to swimming/biking/running.  This is the first installment of a two-part series we worked on with Angela.  This first blog looks at the role limited thoracic rotation/ shoulder/ neck mobility plays in every aspect of triathlon, and how you can address it with consistent and targeted active mobility work!

Naeth thoracic mobility from Brad Cox on Vimeo.


Assessment 1- Neck Rotation/Flexion

You can do the first assessment standing or kneeling.  You will stack yourself straight, shoulders over the hips and sink the shoulders back and down. Rotate your head to one side and then bring your chin down to your clavicle. It is common for those that spend a lot of time in a hunched over position (think cycling or sitting at a desk for long hours) to want to shrug their shoulder to reach their chin to compensate for restricted mobility in the neck. As you can see in the video, Angela is unable to reach her chin to clavicle on both sides. This restriction will ultimately impact her ability to drop her shoulders down, fire her lats and breathe through the diaphragm – all very important factors that will impact the efficiency of her running stride as she comes off the bike. 

Assessment 2 - Active Thoracic Rotation Test 

Begin on hands and knees, then sink your hips back into lumbar lock position. Bring one elbow down between the knees so the forearm is lying on the ground facing forward. The other arm will be placed on the low back. Rotate the thoracic backwards toward the ceiling. You will see that Angela will try to shift the lower shoulder outwards to make up for restricted rotation (it would be ideal when performing this assessment to have someone stand right beside the lower shoulder to prevent them from shifting outwards). When performing this assessment, you would like to see at least 50-55 degrees of rotation. Angela is restricted on both sides, but considerably more so on the right side. This makes sense as Angela says she consistently is rotated to her right side during her swim and bike. Again, this will impact her swimming stroke and running stride which rely heavily on thoracic rotation. 

Corrective 1 – Neck Mobility

This release is the big bang for your buck. It’s quick, easy and you can do it anywhere! Start at the upper part of the SCM muscle (below your ear) with your Acumobility ball.  Apply gentle pressure into the neck (Note: you do not want to apply deep pressure to this area of the neck), rotate the ball and then take your neck through range of motion (rotation, flexion, etc). The mobility comes from twisting the fascia and then taking it through range of motion. Do this on both sides. 

Corrective 2 – Serratus, Lats, Triceps Mobility

Next we are going to use the Ultimate Back Roller to open up the lats, serratus and triceps.  While side lying, place the back roller under your lat/serratus anterior.  With the back knee bent, stabilize the opposite hip and fire the glute working the sling pattern relationship between the shoulder you rolling out and the opposing glut/hip.  Roll through the serratus and lats and when you find a tight spot, flex and extend your arm overhead.  If you had very limited rotation in the Assessment 2, this will be challenging at first but the more you do it the easier it will get.  Opening up this area regularly will be critical for swimmers, cyclists, and runners. Work 45 seconds on each side.

Corrective 3 – Mid back Mobility

Place the back roller in the mid back (spine should nicely fall in the gap of the roller) and spend 30-40 seconds rolling out the mid back. Next we pattern overhead extension. With the roller at the lower end of the mid back knees bent and core/hips engaged, take two Acumobility balls and crush the balls with your hands creating tension. Next reach overhead with both arms and release the tension. Bring arms back towards center, crush the balls and reach overhead again releasing the tension. With this drill, we are building stability in the core and glutes AND we are opening up thoracic extension. 

Corrective 4 – Upper Thoracic Mobility

Lying down face up and knees bent, place the balls on either side of the spine under the upper traps. Flex your upper back forward and hug your chest. Then lift your arms straight overhead and drop them, then butterfly them forward. Anyone with a tight upper back (who doesn’t?!) will find this equally tender and relieving. Do these several times.  Next with knees bent and the acumobility balls on either side of the spine and under the upper traps, come up to a bridge pose. Complete the same butterfly motion (flex the upper back, hug the chest and then lift your arms straight overhead). 

Unify + Re-Assessment

After completing our correctives, we are going to reassess the active thoracic rotation. But this time we will add fascial tensioning to achieve some gains in the end range of motion. With an Acumobility ball in each hand, get into the same assessment position as before., Go through thoracic rotation creating tension by crushing both balls and breathing deeply. Once you reach end of range, release the tension and breath out creating a little bit more range of motion. Of course, there are plenty of other correctives that would be helpful including pec major, pec minor, lats and abdomen.  It’s important to see the amount of change you can create in such a short amount of time using very focused and specific correctives that cue stability at the same time as working mobility.

Give these a try and let us know how they work for you!


Big thanks to Angela for coming by our clinic to shoot these videos and to our partner TOPO Athletic for introducing us! When not training or racing (or doing mobility work;), Angela is running an awesome community she created for girls and women of all ages in endurance sports. We love the mission of this organization which brings women from all over the globe to support and inspire each other in their triathlon dreams. Check out their amazing work here iracelikeagirl!