If you struggle with shoulder pain or proper positioning during overhead lifts, then THORACIC SPINE MOBILITY something you should take a look at.
T-spine mobility is often overlooked in its importance to obtain proper overhead positioning. Not enough of it and your scapula (shoulder blades) will not be able to tip back enough to get your arms overhead. Often, that results in excessive strain on the glenohumeral (shoulder) joint and can be a factor with pain during overhead activities and missed lifts due to not being able to get into a good overhead position.
So how do you know if you have enough thoracic spine mobility?
Run yourself through this simple test...
So, were you able to get at least 50 degrees of rotation on that test? Not sure what 50 degrees even looks like? Well just imagine in the second picture above that 90 degrees would be If my right shoulder was pointing straight up at the ceiling. Half of that would be 45 degrees. So you want to be just a little past that. You can have a buddy help you with this test and see if with their help, you can rotate any further. If you still can't get 50 degrees, then you my friend have a thoracic mobility limitation.
Here is my favorite way to work on passively improving thoracic extension....
Key points: Exhale before each rep to pull your ribs down and prevent arching your lower back. Move to different segments across your upper back and spend more time on areas that feel more stiff or restricted.
If you don't currently have any shoulder pain, then you can try the advanced version of the last exercise, with a kettlebell or dumbbell to help add some overpressure to the stretch. Be careful not to overdo it with this one, especially if you're new to these drills.
It's important to follow up any passive technique or mobility exercise with some active drills to improve strength in the newly gained range of motion so that you can maintain it and use it!
This next one is a great drill to work on active thoracic extension.
Key points: Keep your abs and glutes tight to prevent substituting with motion from your lumbar spine. You can see that I struggle with getting my arms into a good overhead position and end up having to lift my chest off the bench. Don't be like me. Try to keep your chest down get your arm to be in line with your ear. If that's too difficult, then move your hands a bit wider apart on the PVC pipe. If it's too easy, then move them closer together. You should feel this in your upper back, between your shoulder blades. If you don't feel it there, you're likely not doing it right.
Hope this helps some of you. Go ahead and give these a shot before your next overhead lifting day, and report back to let me know you felt!
Joby Philip, PT, DPT