Improve Your Shoulder Health and Overhead Pressing

Everybody Loves a Good Arm Day

You get your pump on and build those guns for the cut off tees. Far too many athletes experience pain when lifting overhead though. The shoulder is a mobile joint, allowing us to reach overhead, reach behind our back, lift a barbell, walk on our hands, etc, but with this mobility often comes some inherent decreased stability.

Lifting our arms overhead is more than just the shoulder moving. The scapula has to upwardly rotate, the thoracic spine has to extend, and at end ranges the clavicle has to rotate backwards slightly and slide down on the sternum.

With limitations in any of these motions, you’ll have limitations in your overhead position. Meaning, you either won’t be able to get your arms fully overhead or you’ll find a way to compensate with motion somewhere else.

Curious if you’re compensating to bring your arms overhead?

Try sitting cross-legged up against a wall with a neutral lumbar spine and head against the wall. Bring your arms out in front, palms up and bring your arms overhead without letting your head come off the wall and without your ribs jutting out.

If you’re unable to perform this, you would probably benefit from working on mobility. Two exercises we like are:

Supine eccentric shoulder raises


Scap down dog

Returning to Overhead Pressing

In conjunction with working on mobility, it’s important to continue building strength, especially as you increase your range of motion. You want to be able to own that new range by actively moving into it and strengthening it.

A good place to start with overhead pressing if you’ve had or are having pain is the landmine press. It allows you to press overhead, reinforces scapular upward rotation, and decreases the amount of flexion, which often is a tolerable position for athletes with shoulder pain.

If things are going well with the landmine press you can try moving to a barbell wall roll. Again, this requires slightly less flexion in the overhead position and continues to reinforce upward scapular rotation through serratus anterior activation to keep the barbell in contact with the wall. You can even play around with your hand position to find a placement that is optimal for you.

The next step you could take would be trying a barbell slide on a squat rack. The scrape press increases the amount of shoulder flexion from the wall roll, provides some inherent stability for the shoulder. Again, you can play around with hand placement, weight and even tempo to tolerance.

If all of this is going well, it might be time to try out the barbell press again!

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