Overhead Mobility-how’s yours?

Written by Michael Miller
Are you struggling with shoulder pain? Having trouble locking a barbell out overhead? We’ve all been there before, so what do we do? The logical conclusion most of us come to is to work on our shoulders. Tons of foam rolling, extra shoulder stretches, and a painful amount lacrosse ball use. But is this really hitting the root cause? The answer is most likely no.

While it certainly is possible that your rotator cuff or some other musculature in the shoulder is responsible, the more likely culprit is your Thoracic Spine. What is the Thoracic Spine? It refers to the upper and middle back and joins the cervical spine with the lumbar spine and consists of twelve vertebrae (T1-T12).
So how does my thoracic spine affect my mobility overhead, don’t my shoulders do that? The shoulder is most definitely involved in overhead mobility, but as it is the most mobile joint in the body, it is not likely that the shoulder is the tight spot. It is more likely that the shoulder and the rotator cuff are the victims in this scenario, and the perpetrator is a lack of extension at the thoracic spine.
 So how do we increase our ability to extend in the thoracic spine and get in a better position overhead? The first stop on our journey will be foam rolling our mid and upper back. We want to take care while rolling to actually work out the thoracic spine and not our low back. So while you are rolling out your mid and upper back, be sure to keep your rib cage down and your stomach tight.
This will keep us from hyper-extending our low back and will focus more of our work where we want it to be.
Step two will be stretching the area using a bench and pvc pipe. We will approach the bench in a quadruped position and place our elbows shoulder width apart on the bench. With the pvc in our hands we will rock our hips back and press our chest towards the ground. As you do this, slowly bring the pvc over your head. Be sure to breath into the stretch and then return to the starting position.
The last step is utilizing our newly found mobility with strengthening exercises. While there are many exercises that we could use, today we will be utilizing a resistance band. Start with the band anchored at knee height and assume an athletic posture.
With arms fully extended and shoulder width apart, begin to raise them overhead. Extend your arms as far behind you as possible, without letting them separate farther than shoulder width. Perform three sets of twelve reps.
Utilize this protocol three days per week in addition to your normal warm up routine.
Authored by: Michael Miller, Head Coach

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