Overhead Lifting Trouble Maker

 

No matter what the implement is that you’re lifting, achieving a solid overhead position can be a challenging endeavor for many of us. One of the common trouble makers that frequently affects effective stabilization and pain free range of motion of the shoulder is the upper trapezius.

So what's the ideal shoulder position during overhead lifting? 

When training with kettlebells in particular, the shoulder position I'm shooting for is one that is not overly packed, nor completely relaxed, nor overly elevated - all these extremes can adversely effect good shoulder mechanics. Instead, what I’m looking to achieve is a stable position where the head extends out of the shoulders creating a neck that looks open and long, where the shoulders are correctly set, and where I’m providing some upward force against the bells.

If the upper traps are overactive, as they can be with people who engage in lots of overhead movements in their work or sports environment, during times of increased stress, when displaying forward head posture*, and/or when the mid and lower fibers of the traps are simply not working well to help stabilize, any effort to lifts loads overhead is going to be a tough one.

*Forward head posture indicates when the ears migrate forward of the shoulder, which often results in shortening of the upper traps and lengthening of mid and lower traps. 

If what’s throwing off your shoulder mechanics is indeed short upper traps, here’s one stretch you can experiment with:

Step-By-Step Stretching of the Upper Traps:

  1. Sit down on a sturdy bench with good, tall upright posture
  2. Grab the edge of the bench with one arm and lean away at the shoulder
  3. Side bend the head and place your free hand on the side of the head corresponding to the trap you're trying to stretch.
  4. Exhale and relax into the stretch for 5 seconds 
  5. Inhale and gently activate the upper trap by hiking up the shoulder and pressing the side of the head into the figures for 5 seconds 
  6. Repeat 3-5x

More Recommendations:

  • This is a contract-relax, 5s/5s, stretch and can be performed prior to training as a corrective stretch
  • If you do not feel a stretch by the time you reach end range, then there’s no need to stretch that side. However, be sure to check the other one.
  • During the isometric phase when you are activating your upper trap, be sure not to fully come out the stretch, rather maintain your newly acquired range of motion and transition into the following exhalation stretch sequence from that position.
  • Be cautious when stretching your neck and coax it gently into releasing. If you feel pain - STOP! You're doing it wrong. 
  • If you feel you need more of a release, I would suggest performing a longer static stretch, however, doing so following training, on an off-training day, and/or prior to bed is ideal. The duration of the static stretch can be 30, 60, 90 seconds, or really until you achieve the desired release. Also, for me personally on longer neck stretches like this, I'll typically just use my breath to deepen it and not always the top hand to assist. 
  • If in a shortened state, stretching this common trouble maker is but one of many ways to improve shoulder function. Depending on your unique case, trigger point release, myofascial stretching, activation techniques, getting checked for an upper cervical misalignment, etc. are all things to explore, but I'd first try some simple stretching and see if that helps.

Stay strong,

Mike

Choosing Your Swing [Intro]

The "proof is in the pudding" as they say - 

Using kettlebells to support my performance related goals, as well as to condition the goals of athletes in varying sports, it's clear as day that this portable tool quickly and safely develops a wide range of abilities. Impressive levels of flexibility, strength, power, endurance, coordination, balance, and more, all in a time efficient manner can be harnessed with this unique implement.

Probably my favorite movement of all time is the swing. I remember some 10 years ago when the only thing I cared about was a big squat, bench press, and deadlift, I used to think, if I were stranded on a desert island and could only perform one exercise for the rest of my life, which would I choose? Back then I would have been quick to respond, “the deadlift!” Well, I have to say over the years and as I've evolved as an athlete and coach, I would like to retract that statement and opt for swings!

Considered to be one of the key fundamental kettlebell movements, swings have benefits that speak volumes, especially if we have an understanding around how and when to use their variations.  In this video, I hook up with Doug Fioranelli of Rise Above Performance Training and introduce 3 swing variations in approximately 3 minutes, all of which I use on the regular. 

  1. Foundational Swing
  2. Strength-Endurance Swing
  3. Olympic Swing*

I'd like to just add that while there certainly are dysfunctional/wrong ways to swing a kettlebell, I’m a firm believer that when performed with proper technique, there is no single, right way - it all depends on our intention and also how we program them. 

*Stay tuned for a follow up video/article on these swings, specifically the Olympic Swing as it gets broken down into further detail.

Stay strong and swing on,
Mike

Floating For Athletes

If you’re an athlete who has yet to experience first-hand what the power of floating can do for you, here is my personal invitation to give this tremendous recovery tool a try. 

A float tank, also known as a sensory deprivation tank, is a vessel that allows you to suspend effortlessly in ~10in of water, comprised of 800-1000lbs dissolved epson salts. The environment in the tank is pitch black and sound insulated(music is an option at many float centers), and the water temperature is heated to the same as your skin, ~93 degrees. In this setting, the forces of gravity are minimized and many of the external sensory inputs we get bombarded on a daily basis are dramatically reduced. The result is a unique experience where a person can rest and heal at a much deeper level.

Watch as I sit down with Adam Marchacos, owner of Come Float With Us and huge proponent of spreading float culture around the country, as he touches on how floating can be incredible for athletes. 

The benefits of floating are vast. Here’s some of what just one hour in the tank can help with:

  • Relaxation 
  • Muscular pain
  • Focus
  • Stress relief
  • Joint pain
  • Mental exploration
  • Meditation
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety 
  • Jet Lag

A few tips to help make your first float more enjoyable:

  • Avoid caffeine the day of
  • Do NOT shave the day of
  • Cover up any cuts with vaseline just prior to hopping in the tank
  • Don’t feel pressured to stay in the full hour, you can hop out any time if you like
  • Don’t worry, you will not feel claustrophobic. There’s plenty of ventilation in the tank.
  • If your local float center offers relaxing music as an option, it'd be worth a trying, however I'd first suggest experiencing a purely silent float. 
  • Take a shower immediately prior (this will usually be a requirement of all float centers).
  • Have fun with it!

Enjoy your float!

Mike

 

Opening Up Your Shoulders, WITHOUT Actually Opening Up Your Shoulders

It might sound somewhat counter intuitive, but the shoulder itself is NOT the only part of the body responsible for getting our arms into a strong and stable overhead position. In fact, in the last 40 degrees of shoulder flexion, it’s primarily the thoracic spine which should naturally move into extension that assists us entering into this end range. If the t-spine become fixated or locked up due to the repetitive nature of sports, or less than desirable lifestyle habits, this can lead to excessive rigidity in this region - hindering our ability to easily and safely lift loads overhead.

Give this Mid-Thoracic Mobilization a go with the following recommendations once your body temperature is warmed up and before you get into training.

  • Use a 4" foam roller positioned horizontally across the base of the shoulder blades to start
  • Inhale as you back-bend over the roller, hold for 3-5 sec at the bottom, then exhale to return to the start position (if this breath sequence feels too challenging to begin, you can experiment with exhaling as you extend over the roller)
  • Perform 1-3 Reps at 1-3 segments
  • Mobilize only those specific points of restriction

Here is a link to where you can find the foam roller used in the video.