The upper (thoracic) back is an area that can become brutally stiff in tactical (police and military) athletes wearing body armor, as well as combat and strength athletes. While you can go out and pick up various products on the market designed to target the thoracic spine and increase mobility, it’s easy to make a peanut yourself that can be tossed into your gym bag and added to your workout. Although I prefer using lacrosse balls, if you are very tender and sensitive, you can also make your peanut out of tennis balls. As you’ll see in the video, it’s easy to make your own peanut.
A peanut is probably best known for a crunch variation popularized by Mike Boyle to help increase mobility in the thoracic spine.
Start by finding your bottom set of ribs, then place the ball just above that so one half rests on either side of the spine. Use a small mini-crunch movement and return your head to the floor after every mini-crunch. Hands should come forward at a 45 degree angle. Perform around 5 or so crunches, and then slide down about a half roll and work your way up to about the level of your shoulders. Stay out of the cervical and lumbar areas; this is not what is trying to be targeted.
The peanut has a myriad of other uses. It can be used for self-massage – it is smaller and easier to pack than a foam roller, and can work out knots that the bulkier foam roller cannot reach. And the peanut shape makes it more stable than traditional self-myofascial release with a single ball. It can also be used to help stretching. Muscles rarely become tight uniformly from origin to insertion. Rather, they tend to develop tightness in local areas. By putting the peanut right under where the tissue feels tight you can stretch the limiting tissue more effectively.