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Difficulty with Overhead Lifts in the Gym?

“Andy, I can’t seem to break through a plateau with my snatches even though I continue to progress with load in all my power lifting! What’s the deal?!” “Any time I am working on overhead squats, I can’t keep the bar over my head as I get down in the squat; even with a light weight!” “I get pain in my shoulders with overhead press, push press, and jerks. Is that normal?!” These are statements and questions I get from my clients and athletes quite often. If any of these questions resonate with you, you’re in the right blog! Read on…


Now it would be naïve for me say there is one fix for all these overhead difficulties. There are a lot of structures involved in overhead positioning including shoulder joint, upper spine, shoulder blade and all the surrounding soft tissue structures. But over the years I have discovered some common trends with the functional athlete and their limitations with overhead lifts. And Typically, it’s a mobility limitation that is not allowing the athlete to get in an optimal position overhead.


So how do you know if you have optimal mobility to perform these over head lifts without compensating? Check out the self-assessment below and test your self out!

Were you able to pass the overhead test? If you weren’t able to pass the test with EASE, then keep reading. The following exercises will help you fix it!


This first exercise will address restrictions in the Latissimus Dorsi (informally known as the Lats) and the Teres major.

This next one still incorporates the lats; working on eccentric lengthening. Check it out!

Finally, let’s address limitations with thoracic (upper back) extension. Try the stretches below from a post on my instagram page.


Thoracic Mobility


Make sure to use the self assessment to retest your mobility after doing the exercises to see if your motion improved. If it improved, great! If not, your limitations may be more complex and I would recommend you reach out to your physical therapist to get a full evaluation. Also, shoulder pain with overhead activity is not normal. You should not have to live with it. AJ Physical therapy can help solve your problem without pain killers, injections or overpriced imaging!


I am happy to answer any questions you might have so please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. Phone number is 423 243 0394. You can also email me at andyjohnsondpt@gmail.com. If you found this blog helpful, please do me a favor: “like” the blog and then share on social media with others that might get value from it!


Andy Johnson PT, DPT, OCS

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