Achieving a perfect overhead position in weightlifting is not an easy task. The grip used to perform a “clean and jerk” or “push press” or the slightly wider grip used to complete a “snatch” or “overhead squat” requires a tremendous amount of mobility, strength and neuromuscular control. Here are four easy methods to improve the overhead position and the stability while overhead:
The Box Stretch
A common limitation in overhead mobility is tightness in the Latissimus Dorsi (aka the lats). The lats connect from the shoulders to the middle and low back. The lats are used in almost every movement a weight lifter and/or Crossfitter performs, including pull ups, deadlifts, and toes to bar. A great way to stretch the lats is via the Box Stretch. It can be performed with a box at any height; however, a taller box allows you to get a deeper stretch with less strain on the spine. Maintaining a neutral spine and keeping your neck relaxed is crucial for proper performance. When in the position shown in Figure 1, expect to feel a strong stretching sensation in the sides of the back and under the axilla (armpit area). Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and perform for three rounds while maintaining normal breathing.
PVC Pass Through Stretch
The PVC Pass Through Stretch is a dynamic stretch of the shoulders, which helps to stretch the muscles of the chest, back and shoulder at different points in the movement. Start with the arms in a wide, snatch-like grip position. As you gain more shoulder mobility, you can move the hands closer together to increase the intensity of the stretch. The complete pass through is a simple sweeping motion from front to back of the body seen in Figures 2a, 2b, 2c. The stretch can feel intense but should not be painful. Performing two sets of 10 repetitions prior to any snatch, clean, or overhead squat can reduce tension in the shoulders and upper back, and prepare you for overhead exercises with heavier load.
Overhead Assisted Squat with Band on Rig
As you see the flexibility in the upper back and shoulders improve, the next step is to improve the stability in the overhead squat position. A banded overhead squat will help ensure good form and muscle activation, which is required to prevent injury for any weighted activity. Attach a thin Rogue band to a rig while keeping the other end around your wrist with the hand overhead. Maintain this position while performing a simple air squat (Figure 3). Actively pressing the back of the hand into the band throughout the movement will engage the shoulder and spinal muscles and will properly engage the deep core. This position also will help open up the hips, which will translate throughout the workout. Perform ten slow, controlled repetitions with the band on each side.
Overhead Kettlebell Press
Practicing your pressing motions with lighter weights prior to pressing with heavier loads enhances dynamic joint stability and reduces risk of shoulder injury. An overhead kettlebell press with light weight activates the muscles that surround the shoulder girdle while engaging the deep core, and prepares your body to take a greater load leading up to a lift. Pressing with no more than a 15-pound kettlebell, with hand on handle, approximately ten times will enhance the strength potential in the overhead position.
The exercises mentioned above provide a firm foundation for enhancing mobility, strength and control in the overhead position. If you experience pain during any overhead exercises, hold off on those movements and consult with a physical therapist. If you are having any issues with your weight training, schedule a movement assessment with us today!
Dr. Nancy Pickett is a Physical Therapist and Certified Athletic Trainer at One on One Physical Therapy, a multidisciplinary private practice in Atlanta. She is a Certified Orthopaedic Specialist, has a Master’s in Sports Medicine and enjoys working with all types of athletes, particularly Crossfit and weight lifters. She has developed a huge passion for functional fitness for anyone at any stage in life. Learn more by visiting www.onetherapy.com or email Dr. Pickett at Nancy@onetherapy.com or call 770-500-3848.