Overhead Lifting and the Anterior Chain

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Overhead Lifting and the Anterior Chain | Week 14 | Movement Fix Monday

One of the most common movement issues that I see with athletes and patients in their overhead lifting pattern is leaning backward/pushing their hips forward as their arms raise overhead to help achieve lockout (aka shoulder flexion with lumbar extension).

Whenever you're lifting something, there are pretty much 2 goals:

  1. get the rep to "count"
  2. don't fall on your face

Getting a rep to "count" for a press, push press, or push jerk requires "full overhead lockout" typically. Your brain will figure out how to get you there (goal #1) without falling on your face (goal #2) and guess what? There are many roads to Rome.

Your brain will move you in whatever way it has to for those two things to be accomplished.

When you're going fast while you lift, you'll default to your most comfortable and habitual way of moving. This will be the way that feels "right" to you, regardless if it is actually the most efficiently safe way of doing something. It's funny how often the actual "right" way of doing something feels oh so wrong. But is that really surprising? Since when has doing something NOT your normal way felt right? Never.

There are basically two reasons why someone would lean back in an overhead lift. Those are:

  1. Incorrect motor control/habit/muscle activation pattern/technique/whatever the heck you want to call it
  2. Poor shoulder mobility/lat lengthening ability

We are going to talk about reason 1 in this article and reason 2 will be sometime in the future.

Metabolic conditioning is probably the worst time to try to learn a new way or pattern of moving. Your goal in that setting is...metabolic conditioning, not acquiring movement habits. Stop using metabolic conditioning time to learn or coach a new movement skill. It's not going to happen.

So how do we correct it? Make a new movement habit during movement training. You make metabolic gains in metabolic conditioning and movement gains in movement training.

Movement, forces, and load are forms of movement communication that are different than verbal communication. They don't always mesh. You can tell yourself/an athlete/a patient something and it doesn't always click. Things get lost in translation. It usually works much better to communicate in the same language. Put that person in a position or under a stress where you can get your point across non-verbally. The drill I show in this week's video is very effective in doing this.

There are certain things that need to happen in overhead lifting to make this leaning backward thing (and subsequent repetitive facet joint loading and repetitive anterior disc squishing) not happen. You need to have a lengthening of your lats with simultaneous activation of your anterior chain while pressing overhead with your prime movers. The movement that we are trying to prevent from happening in the spine is extension.

You can consider the drill in the video as a shoulder flexion drill with anti-extension core training.

We are training the anterior chain muscles to prevent extension (their isometric function). We are just coupling it with the shoulders going in to flexion. If you practice this enough, you can create a new movement habit where the anterior chain muscles fire automatically when you lift your arms overhead to prevent the lumbar spine loading.

Thanks for reading!

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