Are you one of those people who likes to do overhead barbell pressing… but has no business pressing a barbell overhead?
How do you get your arms overhead? How do your clients get their arms overhead? Do you have the range of motion to do it safely? Or are you just overloading your back and irritating your shoulders?
I don’t want to sit here and pretend to tell you that I have the magic answer. It doesn’t work like that.
What I CAN offer you, however, is some insight on some of the things that have seemed to work for me… even the things that are a little counterintuitive.
Today we’ll discuss some things that have helped my clients safely perform overhead work.
You might try some passive lengthening of the lats and pecs. This is like stretching, but we can also cue the rib cage and pelvic position that will allow someone’s body to rest, recover, and be more flexible. Here’s a walkthrough on how to do a lat hang.
Here’s another exercise I use probably more often — the pullover. This one is great because we take the mobility that you DO have and we impose fitness atop it. The positions are still important here (if mobility is your goal), but now we can start to load muscles. Harness the power of your flexibility.
Sometimes you’re fighting an uphill battle. Some people will never get “full” (180 degrees) shoulder flexion. Or at least they shouldn’t spend the rest of their lives striving for it. Here’s an exercise I might try if someone is very limited — supine breathing with band pulldown. This shortens and activates the lats, but allows you to cue the rib cage and pelvic position that allows the body to relax. You may actually see improvements in shoulder flexion from just this.
You may get more out of going unilateral. Let your client use all of their mental efforts to get one side of the ribs down. This is also a good way to bypass that pesky rectus abdominis that likes taking over, placing more immediate emphasis on the obliques and transversus abdominis. Here’s a progression of PNF patterns I might use.
I like horizontal reaching stuff, too, because of how the serratus anterior can inhibit the lat and pecs. Push ups are great.
I loooove lower body movements for addressing upper body limitations. If the pelvis is tipped one way or the other, the upper body HAS to follow. Else you lose your balance. Everything matters!
Some Example Cases
I had a guy reach out to me on Instagram just the other day to ask about his shoulder. Severe limitations with even the smallest shoulder movements. I probably wouldn’t be doing much shoulder stuff with him.
I had a guy that wasn’t getting much out of isometric breathing positions. Put him on his back and made him rotate his lower body and he gains 25 degrees of shoulder flexion. Why? Who knows. Maybe he just needed some movement. Maybe he needed something more challenging on his core to really feel his abs. Maybe doing one at a time allows him to get more flexion overall, albeit one side at a time.
Watch Cody in the kettlebell pullover video. He gets his motion back instantaneously. He had a positional bony block, not an anatomical bony overgrowth block.
Teach a lady with a stiff neck how to deadlift. Then her neck is no longer stiff. She has to be very particular about her deadlifting position. The lower body is still important!