“The overhead press is the WORST movement when it comes to an individual’s mobility.”
Whether used as an assistance lift or as your “bread and butter”, a strong overhead press can develop a great core, strong subscapular region and improve your delt/tricep strength and stability.
There are many limiting factors for the overhead press and being that it involves overhead extension, lats, triceps, and the posterior delts are just a handful of the muscles that can be limiting your ability to maintain a neutral spine throughout your overhead press work. A lot of these are some fairly simple stretches, but one muscle group is a bit of a bear from the others. The triceps can tend to really limit a strong lifter in their overhead game and cripple one of the most important parts.
Lock It Out
A great way to alleviate tricep tension is to perform a very simple myofascial roll out of the tricep through various degrees of activation. All you will need is the bar you are pressing and a shoulder level rack.
- With the bar racked… lean over the bar with 1 arm, hand supine (facing upwards) and the top of the tricep at the posterior delt pressed into the bar.
- From here, begin cranking your arm through extension, so basically doing a bicep curl with the bar into your tricep. You should feel the tissues in your tricep moving as you flex your bicep.
- Crank this motion for slow reps of around 20, then work your way down the tricep. I usually like to work three points… top, middle and towards the elbow and keeping it very slow and steady.
With range of motion freed up, to lock out the bar it is just as important to have the foundations in the thoracic spine to maintain it overhead. A heavy press bears down on the shoulder girdle which is supported by the subscap region, lats and traps, to name a few. Strength in this region is key to supporting large loads whether they are for jerk presses or strict military work. To do this we want to isolate this region the best way possible.
Stiff arm pulldowns are a great way to activate everything within the thoracic region and isolate it. To perform these bad-boys, I would recommend a light fat bar and bands over the lat pulldown machine.
- Hang your bands from a pull up bar either single or doubled if you want to be a monster about it. Remember… weight is not the key here, it's isolation.
- With the bar fed through your bands and well centered, keep your spine neutral and arms extended fully overhead in a shoulder-width grip.
- From here, perform a “reverse shrug” pulling your shoulders from a shrugged position down to a neutral one with a big squeeze and pause at the bottom.
The Concentric Phase
Last, but most certainly never least, is the concentric phase of your movement. I feel this portion is about as well practiced as flossing. You can recommend it and recommend it but it never gets touched. I will tell you one thing… you will work on it once you can’t stabilize through it though! For your overhead press or even bench press, one point that will cause plenty of issues at one point or another is the wrist, bicep tendon and posterior delt.
“Any of these 3 goes out, and your negative phase will turn into a real bad time.”
Excessive tension can result in some major issues, but there is one movement that can nip all 3 in one simple movement. While standing fully neutral, get a dowel or piece of PVC in hand. Usually the ones they use to teach weightlifting pulls or most people use to cause shoulder impingement work great (sorry, too blunt?!).
- Grab on to the bottom portion of the object holding it up like a sword. Flex your bicep and bend your arm allowing the top of that object to rest on the back of your shoulder.
- Once there, turn your wrist and move that object next to your bicep and grab the opposite end with your open hand.
- While gripping ends with your hands, externally rotate your arm by gently torqueing on the mobility object.
- Remember to keep your upper arm parallel with the floor, elbow up and grip tight. This should not hurt or affect your spinal alignment. Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat with the other arm.
Once your overhead mobility improves, it can become a deadly strength movement to build almost anything that’s shoulder or core dominant as well as improving your spinal health for your squat and deadlift. From beginning to end, all overhead movements should maintain a neutral spine without any overextension or sloppy twists/turns. Healthy presses lead to a healthy shoulder. “Boulder Shoulders” here we come!
Prepared by Rob Saeva CPT
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