“I Need to Improve My Overhead Press” – then, Let’s Fix It.
As we all know, the modern world has done us zero favors in the posture-department. Work the 9-to-5 and want to get in shape by going to the gym after work? Well, I feel sorry for you. All of the sitting, being hunched over with your neck sitting forward, and your hips in a constant state of flexion is going to do wonders for your doctor’s salary (’cause you’ll be in and out of his office for pain medication like it’s nobody’s business).
So how about we prevent that from happening and work on correcting some of postural dysfunction that will hinder our physical ability in the gym, shall we?
Today, we’ll look at what can go wrong with one very popular strength exercise – the overhead press.
Being a true-to-life lift that requires whole-body stabilization and brute strength, the overhead press is not something to be overlooked in someone strength program. However, if we want to properly utilize this exercise without running to injuries, we’ve got to look at what common postural issues will do to screw up the movement, and how we can fix it.
How Bad Posture Can Ruin the Overhead Press
So here’s a simple diagram of the overhead press – one with good posture, and one with bad posture.
The stick figure with good posture is pressing the weight directly overhead in a straight line, whereas the stick figure with bad posture is pressing a bit in front of the body. This is because of common dysfunctional patterns – namely, over-kyphotic posture. Basically, this means that the upper-part of the spine (AKA the thoracic spine) is rounded forward a bit excessively.
Why this prevents us from pressing directly overhead is actually pretty interesting.
The arms connect to the body via the shoulder joint. One part of the complicated shoulder joint that forms the “link” between the arm and the body is the scapula, more commonly know as the shoulder-blade. Through muscles and attachments, the arm attaches to the scapula, and the scapula attaches to the ribcage and spine, forming an intricate piece of human-machinery.
The red bar is the shoulder-blade, and the oval is the ribcage. Notice how in the badly-postured stick figure, the shoulder-blade is tilted more against the ribcage. If you were to fix your posture, you shoulder-blade wouldn’t wing out as much, like in the stick figure on the left. Let’s see how this affects overhead pressing.
The scapula is supposed to tilt in the other direction and flatten out against the ribcage when we raise our arms overhead. Notice how we can’t bring the scapula down fully in the stick figure on the right, because the hyperkyphosis flattens the scapula early on in the movement and limits the range-of-motion.
When we have excessive rounding of the thoracic spine, movement of the scapula is impaired, thus the movement of the arm overhead is impaired.
What we’ve got to do in the case is mobilize our spine in the other direction, which is known as thoracic extension. This video shows how to mobilize the thoracic spine.
After we’ve restored mobility, we also have to work on muscle activation. We should work on activating the serratus anterior – it is the muscle that is attached to the scapula and ribcage, and aids in “flattening out” the scapula during overhead movements.
Wall slides help to isolate and activate the serratus anterior.
One final thing that we can work on is flexibility for the lats. The latissimus dorsi is a huge muscle that to our arms and to our spines. It’s function is broad, but it terms of overhead pressing, it resists the motion of our arms going overhead.
And That’s How You Fix Your Overhead Press
So there you have it folks. Mobilize your thoracic spine, lengthen your latissimus dorsi muscles, and activate your serratus anterior. Then, you will be able to overhead press properly. For more mobility tips, I recommended checking out Kelly Starret at mobilitywod.com.