Friday, April 10, 2015

Want to Increase Your Overhead Press?

The wise-man built his house upon a rock, right? Why? Because if he built it on sand the house wouldn't have the required support to stay strong. Simple concept. So how do you build a strong foundation for your shoulders?

Your shoulder joint, or your glenohumeral joint, is controlled and moved by numerous muscles which are your deltoids, pec major, lats, rotator cuff, bicep brachii, tricep brachii, coracobrachialis and teres major. Some of those muscles will play a role in creating the movement that makes up the movement path of an overhead press. What we are concerned with though are the muscles that will help stabilize your "scapulothoracic joint" however.

I put that in quotation marks because it's not your typical joint consisting of two bones held together by ligaments. The scapula isn't connected to your ribcage by ligaments, but they interact so it's called a joint.  In order to generate a decent amount of force in our glenohumeral joint we need to have our foundation that is our scapulothoracic joint to be held solid. What can make this complex is that we still need our scapula to move as our arm moves upward. Upward rotation of the scapula makes up one-third of the required movement needed to get our arm up overhead. We need to have stability throughout the entire movement path. The scapula typically wants to tip, or flair out to the sides, or people try to squeeze them together which prevents the upward rotation. We need a nice controlled upward rotation.

The starting point for this control starts with strengthening the middle back (i.e. middle trap and rhomboids) and external shoulder rotators (infraspinatus and teres minor). That combination of weakness and imbalance is a common pattern caused by postural distortions. We slouch, we constantly work with our hands out in front of us, and we care more about our bench press numbers than we do about how much we can row. That is where my first recommendation comes in, check-in with your row. Can you pull what you can push? There are recommendations out there that take it steps further and recommend that you can pull more than you can push, even well beyond 150% of what you can bench press. I'll leave that to you. My experience has shown that clients can pull a fraction of what they can push, so that's why I start there and ask you to do a quick check-in.

Next step is to strengthen the support muscles while introducing the movement. There are two ways you can do this. One way is the Prone Military Press- use a light enough weight that you can keep form- we want you to be able to keep your arms in line with your body, which means not allowing your arms to internally rotate and your humerus from horizontally abducting.


The other way is a banded military press with the resistance coming from the front. In this video I also add in an external rotation at the start.

Once you feel like you have good control of this movement you can progress to the next step which is adding some resistance in the actual press. Keep the weight light enough that you can still keep the control you felt in the earlier versions.

Everyone is going to need a different amount of time to progress so I can't give a good general recommendation on how long you should do this. Listen to your body and don't let your ego get the best of you. Do your sets until you feel like you did every rep with quality, not just until you can do 1 decent rep out of the set. Continue your pressing program so you don't lose ground, but add this in as a finisher or as a reminder to your system before you start your sets.

Good luck, I hope to hear about your new found gains and PR's!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Lift You Should Be Doing - Front-Racked Step-Ups

This weeks "Lift you should be doing" is the Front-Racked Step-Up. Step-ups are a great way to target your legs in general. They call on your Quads and Glutes/Hamstrings to give you the normal squat motion of knee extension and hip extension. By only using one leg you can call the stabilizers into a bigger role to create a well-balanced and strong system.

The addition of the barbell in a front-racked position will call on your spinal stabilizers and erectors, the erector spinae group, to keep you from bending over forward. As you start to step up onto the box, your torso will naturally lean forward, but your erectors will have to contract isometrically (without movement) to keep you upright.

This "anti-flexion" movement is argued as the better, or at least the preferred way to strengthen the erectors, specifically in the lumbar region. We used isometric holds regularly in physical therapy to help strengthen any muscle that needed it- it was an important component to the strengthening process. Give it a try when it fits into your workout and let us know what you think!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Advanced Foam Rolling Techniques - Part 2

Our next advanced technique is called Active Lengthening. It combines the pressure of normal foam rolling with a muscle contraction. Because we have a muscle contraction involved we can achieve a much deeper release of the connective tissue.  "As the muscle fibers naturally broaden and lengthen during the contraction, pressure of the friction stroke intensifies these movements to release any restriction between fibers. ... The technique also causes a reflexive reduction of muscle tension, presumably by stimulating the muscle spindle and Golgi tendon organ(GTO) with intensified lengthening and tension output" (Archer, 2007)

The GTO causes a reaction called the inverse myotatic reflex- skeletal muscle contraction causes the antagonist(opposite) muscle to simultaneously lengthen and relax. So by contracting the hamstrings, we are using the nervous system to help us relax the quads. It's not a perfect system, but you get the idea. By combining a nervous system reflex, the stimulus from rolling, and the mechanical friction on the muscle we can get a better response to your foam rolling.

The video example is of foam rolling the quads, our knee extensors. We start by putting the muscle in a shortened position, in this case by extending the knee. Then as we apply pressure just above the kneecap we slowly flex our knee as we roll up the thigh. 

**As always, remember to roll toward your heart as you roll out your arms and legs. Visit the post Foam Rolling Techniques from a Massage Therapist and refer to Rule #2.

Work Cited
Archer, P. (2007). Therapeutic massage in athletics. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.