Overhead Press….shoulder protraction

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The overhead press is a standard weight exercise used in gyms and by weight trainers everywhere. In itself it is a great whole body exercise, the core, legs, stabilisers, back and shoulders all have to work to perform this exercise with good form. But let us think about the movement for a moment….the exercise was designed with perfect anatomical form in mind, but how many of your clients start with perfect anatomical form. Let’s assume your client has protracted shoulders? Many many people do these days…. what would a protracted shoulder do to the forces that act through the shoulder when you do an overhead press?

If the shoulder, rather than sitting in a central position, sits in an anterior position, the chances are the whole shoulder girdle is also sitting in an anterior position. Now with the shoulders back in a normal position this exercise will work more of the Posterior Deltoids, Lats (stabilising the spine and scapula) and Trapezius muscles, however, if the shoulders are protracted, the line of force moves forward, now when you complete this exercise the forces are running more through the Chest, Anterior Deltoids, Pectoralis Major etc… and therefore the torso is likely to compress. In fairness you are highly likely to activate your core in this position but a mini abdominal crunch is not the best position to be performing an overhead press in…. and let’s be honest muscles such as your Pecs and Biceps are not designed to cope with these sort of large forces in this plane, so what will occur……

Well as this moves the forces forward your bar is likely to be slightly in front of your head, rather than slightly behind your head as it should be. As the shoulders are protracted you will find it very hard to hold the bar behind the head due to the restriction of mobility in the shoulders. If the weight of the bar is in front of your head, you will slightly flex the spine to brace against the weight (the mini crunch mentioned above). This is likely to put a lot of strain on your lower back as the spine is now flexed. In the correct position the forces fun straight down the spine, the spine is stacked correctly because the position of the bar, behind the head, encourages this…

A spine that is loaded in a flexed position will strain the discs, ligaments and due to the flexed position of the vertebrae may even affect the size of holes the nerves use to exit the spine. All in all, not a great plan… The body will try to counteract this (otherwise you would just fall over as your centre of balance is now forward of optimal with a heavy weight!) by activating the glutes…. which in turn is likely to create a posterior pelvic tilt…. If the pecs, biceps etc of the arm are being overworked this will put a strain on the neck, as well as making the protracted shoulders worse, this can lead to wrist, shoulder and neck pain and damage. I could go on, but perhaps that is a good place to leave it for the moment!!

So what should we do…. well if you are a trainer perhaps check the shoulder position before giving this exercise, ensure the bar is fully behind the head and if your client can’t do this, give them a corrective strength program to address this imbalance first..

If using this for CPD

Have a think about the screening process in your gym, how could you add a basic body analysis into your initial assessment of the client?

Take a think about the forces that run through the body when performing and overhead press, list all the muscles that are working right through the body from the head to the toes…. then do the same but based on a client with protracted shoulders. We have given a very basic one above but you can go into so much more depth than this… think of the muscle interactions that may be affected by a sub optimal position. Then create a strength program for your clients to redress this imbalance so they can perform the overhead press with perfect form.

Then write it all up in your CPD log. For our FREE CPD logbook, click here.

Reinge Education provide CPD courses for therapists and trainers across the country, these are in both an online format and in face to face workshops. Our unique combination of knowledge allows us to provide a fresh approach, looking at how anatomy affects function within the body, merging therapy and sports science to give a unique perspective.

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