3 Mobility Drills for Solid Overhead Lifts

These exercises will build the foundation for lifting heavy weight overhead.

If you are working on overhead pressing or jerks, you need flexibility of the thoracic spine and shoulders. Attempting these lifts without full range of movement is asking for injury.

In the video below I will go over three exercises to help you increase range of motion in your spine and shoulders. Most of you will benefit from these mobility and stretching drills, especially if you sit in front of a computer or behind a steering wheel for too many hours in the day. This pattern begins in kindergarten when we start sitting for many hours, and it leads to us living slumped in chronic flexion. This causes flexion in the thoracic spine (t-spine), shoulders, and lumbar spine in teens and adults.

Your thoracic spine and shoulders build the foundation for a rock-solid overhead position.

Alignment Basics for Overhead Lifts

Remember, weight drives straight down from the overhead position. Ideally, the weight is over the shoulders and bearing down through the hips and feet, which should all be aligned. In this optimal position, the force of the weight passes down through the body, out through the feet, and into the floor.

If the t-spine is not able to fully extend while pressing or jerking, the shoulder cannot go into full flexion. This will cause you to push the weight in front of your head rather than overhead (or back for a jerk), adding stress to the shoulders. The stress from the weight will bottleneck in the shoulders (and/or low back) instead of traveling down through the feet.

Since many people tend to hyperextend their low backs to compensate for shoulder immobility, the low back often receives load stress generated by poor mechanics. As you can imagine, these negative effects are amplified by increased load or repetitions.

Assess Your Mobility

You can quickly check your mobility by using Grey Cook’s overhead squat drill from FMS. If you cannot keep your arms over your head with this screen, you do not have enough flexion in the shoulder to perform a jerk or a double weighted press with two kettlebells, two dumbbells, or a barbell. However, you can perform a one arm press or jerk with a kettlebell or dumbbell. This exercise requires less flexibility and can help groove the movement pattern.

Another great test for shoulder mobility is Grey Cook’s wall slide. If you cannot slide your arms along the wall without pushing forward or extending in the mid to low back, you need to work on mobility and flexibility of the shoulder. If you are unable to perform this drill because your upper t-spine is fixed in a flexion pattern, you should not perform overhead presses or jerks, as your risk of injury is high.

If either of these drills causes you trouble, get the issues fixed before you get injured. Watch the video, perform the drills carefully and regularly, and let me know if you have any questions along the way.

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Photo courtesy of CrossFit, Inc.

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