Press Reset, Improve your Overhead Position

Over the last two to three months I have been working on improving my overhead position. Shoulder mobility and the ability to press overhead or feel comfortable while doing so is closely connected to the thoracic spine and ribcage position. Poor movement in the thoracic spine will only mean poor movement at the shoulder position. If lost, it’s important to try to gain back some of that ability to reach overhead while having your ribs, diaphragm and hips stay as close to “neutral” as possible without being in extension.  So how do we shift back to neutral? We need a reset.

Most of the time a prescription of t-spine rotations or side lying rotations etc etc will be given to improve t-spine mobility/overhead position. These may not do any good if the person is already stuck in extension.  As Dr Quinn Henoch states “It’s really hard to achieve a motion that you have already maxed out”.

Flexion is your friend. In the words of Christopher Walken on Saturday Night Live, “I have a fever and the only prescription is more flexion”.

Okay, maybe it was cowbell – not flexion.

According to the Postural Restoration Institute incorporating their prescribed breathing techniques will allow people “to inhibit over active muscles and bring the muscles to a normal resting position”. This is exactly the type of reset a lot of people need and these breathing techniques (discussed below) can help alleviate a lot of aches and pains due to the body being in extension for most of, if not all of the day.

As you can see from the diagram below, a lot of the general population may resemble whats going on in the left side of the illustration. In extension, possible low back pain, flared ribs, a tilted pelvis, poor anterior core stiffness are all common in people who resemble this model.  Athletes worldwide take up a position of extension in sports all the time and it can be a very powerful position to be in, however, living there for your entire existence takes a toll not only on your muscular system but also your central nervous system or CNS.

ribs diaphragm comparison
Courtesy of JTS

Ideally we want to know what neutral is and be able to get there at rest.

Hello PRI breathing drills!

According to Mike Roncarti, a strength coach who won an NBA championship with Golden State and is currently the physical preparation coach with the Atlanta Hawks;

“See if you can at rest get to neutral and can you actively control joint positions in three planes so we’re not going into extensor tone which up regulates all the muscles in our body”.

Being in extension can come about from poor posture, bad habits, an overload of stress, not knowing what an optimal resting position looks like etc. Mike sums it up with;

“We can up regulate tone in our body by creating systemic stress and extension causes that”.

Basically, in order to move optimally your body needs to be in a relaxed state. If your CNS is on code red all the time that optimal movement will not happen.

If we compare the above pictures of Eirinn in extension on the left and in neutral on the right to our skeleton friend higher up the page there are some clear differences. As shown on the right side above, Eirinn’s pelvis and diaphragm are parallel to each other and there is more “slack” if you will in the posterior chain. This is represented in red on our skeletal friend. This slack allows the body to rest more efficiently and also opens a window to move optimally.

So, how do we apply this to improving our overhead position?

4 Steps to an Improved Overhead Position

1 – Breathing

First know how to breathe. Make an apical expansion, don’t take an apical breath.

Second, use these drills to reset.

2 – Unloaded Shoulder Elevation

Take a deep breath as the hands are under the shoulders, exhale as you slide to the top. As you raise your hands off the wall, ensure your abs are stiff and your ribs are down.

3 – Tissue Lengthening

While executing the lat band stretch, inhale through your nose and exhale through pursed lips as you would with the breathing exercises in the first step. Six to eight deep breaths here and relax on each exhale.

I now use “tissue lengthening” to describe the lat band stretch as it fits better than “stretching”.

4 – Loaded Overhead Position

The unilateral overhead carry is demonstrated by my client Pete above. With a lot of work we have enabled Pete to be able to get to neutral and as a result you can see he can execute this loaded position while maintaining a neutral position.

Try out steps one to four for an improved overhead position. Breathing drills can be incorporated even if you don’t need to work on your overhead position. Try them out.

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