Lifting and training overhead is cool! Being able to lift heavy from the ground or overhead is a sign of brute strength.
Many people get in trouble when they lift overhead because they may lack the mobility or stability to get into the proper positions.
Here are 2 “Must Have” pre-requisites in order to be able to train overhead.
1. Full Shoulder Flexion
If you want to lift overhead, having full shoulder mobility is a must-have! Don’t get me wrong, there are variations that you can perform if your overhead shoulder mobility is limited.
Overhead pulling variations such as:
Tall Kneeling Batwings
Overhead Pressing variations such as:
Just to name a few.
Having sufficient overhead shoulder mobility is key for performance and decreasing one’s risk for injury.
If you want to work on your mobility, the drills below can help. If not, seek out a medical provider to help improve your overhead position.
Bench T-spine Mobs
2. Sufficient Scapular Upward Rotation
Even if you have full passive shoulder mobility, your shoulders and arms still need to be able to get into an overhead position. One common area that can limit full ACTIVE overhead shoulder mobility is the ability of the scapulae (shoulder blade) to upwardly rotate to allow for the arm to get overhead.
The arm itself will only travel so far without the scapula moving. Either there will be limited motion or there will be an altered pattern of movement. Typically, the scapulae will not upwardly rotate and can cause pinching on the top or front side of the shoulder.
Now, if this happens once or twice, no big deal. But if someone is training through this and continuing to try and work through a pinch, not so good!
To assess how someone’s scapulae move, just have them reach overhead.
We like to see about 50-55 degrees of scapular upward rotation. One quick and easy was is to see if someone has this is if the bottom angle of the scapula gets to the midline of the side of the body. If so, sufficient scapular upward rotation. Also, if if the medial border of the scapulae creates a 50-55 deg angle with the midline of the body/spine.
If scapular upward rotation is lacking, exercises such as:
Back to Wall Shoulder Flexion
-When you arms get to shoulder height, gently reach out in front of your body.
-Continue to reach as you bring your arms overhead.
Forearm Wall Slides
-Slide forearms up the wall.
-When elbows get to shoulder height, think of pushing your trunk away from the wall and maintain pressure/contact with your hands as you slide up.
-As you bring your hips up into the air, think of pushing the ground away from you.
These exercises can help to train your body and scapula to upwardly rotate when going overhead.
If you want to train overhead, make sure you have sufficient overhead mobility and scapular control.
The glutes aka Gluteus Maximus aka "the butt muscles" as well as the other glute muscles are very important for low back and lower extremity health and performance. Often times, athletes and clients have a difficult time using their glutes or feeling an exercise in this particular area.
Here are 3 Tips on How to Improve Glute Activation
1. Find the Outside of Your Heel
This was a cue that I learned from Tony Bonvechio with squatting. It is a great cue for teaching an athlete or client to keep their knees from caving in when squatting without saying “drive your knees out.” It can be a more effective cue to put the lower body in a better position.
With that being said, the major muscles that put the lower body in a better position are the glutes. By using the cue “find the outside of your heel when squatting” it improves activation of the glutes and the muscles that externally rotate the hips and lower legs.
If someone has difficulty with this verbal cue, you can place your hands on the outside of their heels and instruct them to push into your hands with their heels to improve their glute activation.
2. Frog Pumps
This is a great exercise that is a variation from the typical bridge movement. I first saw this from Bret Contreras.
By placing the lower body in a feet together, hips externally rotated position, it puts the glutes in an advantageous position to work since they abduct and externally rotate the hips.
Then instruct the person to keep their feet together and lift their hips up like a normal bridge variation. This can be a great way to teach someone how to activate their glutes.
If that doesn’t work, try placing a band around their knees while doing a frog pump and that can also improve glute activation as well.
3. Exercise Selection
There are various strengthening exercises that can favor glute activation. Anecdotally, with me, I find that doing Front Foot Elevated Reverse Lunges or Landmine Single Leg Deadlifts(SLDL) are great for working the glutes.
Front Foot Elevated Reverse Lunges
Landmine Single Leg Deadlifts
For the Front Foot Elevated Reverse Lunges, it increases the range of motion, specifically hip flexion, for the exercise. The glutes work to extend the hip for terminal hip extension, but they are also active in a deep hip flexion position. When you are in the bottom position of the reverse lunge, the glutes work to bring you out of that deep hip flexion position.
For the Landmine SLDL, the glutes work to extend the hip to bring you back up to a standing position, but also work to control rotation in the frontal plane. When performing single leg work, the trunk has a propensity to want to rotate. The glutes work to maintain a neutral spine when on one leg.
So, if you or your athletes/clients have difficulty activating their glutes, try having them incorporate frog pumps, landmine SLDL/front foot elevated reverse lunges, or “finding the outside of their heels” when squatting.
Here I will be writing and posting about topics ranging from physical therapy, injury prevention/reduction, and strength and conditioning.