Coaches use cues, one or two word reminders, to elicit a desired response from an athlete. You’ve all heard us yell tight, heels, knees out, eyes up, etc. from time to time. Sometimes, if I’ve worked with an athlete long enough, the cues can be an inside joke, hand signals, grunts, or even a “look.” Today, I want to talk about shoulder flexion and the cue of “pushing your head through the window.” Sometimes this cue works, but for those of you with tight shoulders, it may just be a pain in the neck…literally.
First, let’s get some anatomy out of the way. If you raise your arms up overhead, you are flexing (opening) your shoulders. It is important to be able to fully flex them when supporting weight overhead. Even if you weren’t a physics major, you would agree that the easiest way to support a weight overhead is to align it over your shoulder, which is over your hip, knee, and ankle. On the flipside, you are extending (closing) your shoulders when you are pulling the bar close to your body during a deadlift or pulling the bar down during a toes to bar.
1. Lack of shoulder flexion. Here’s where a cue can work against us. We often say “push your head through the window” to finish an overhead lift. That cue is to encourage greater shoulder flexion, and not what we see in the picture above. Ning’s shoulders aren’t fully flexed (open) and she is craning her neck forward to try to compensate. Unfortunately that position just results in a tweaked neck instead of a good lift.
2. Compensating with upper back: Now often times your body will try to overcome shoulder tightness by compensating and trying to align the weight over your center of gravity. This can only happen if you arch your back and sacrifice your midline stability.
1. Roll and stretch your lats: Your latissimus dorsi, which means broadest back in latin, works to extend (close) your shoulders. So if they are tight, they will prevent you from fully getting overhead. Use the large foam roller and cover the back and sides of your lats. Also try this Trigger Point technique and mWOD stretch.
2. Roll your T-Spine: If you’ve done the quadruped rotation stretch (on all fours, hand behind the head and look to ceiling) and found that your upper back is preventing you from looking up at the ceiling, your upper back may be preventing your shoulders from doing their jobs. Try this mWOD video or this Tptheapy exercise.
3. Roll your triceps: This Trigger Point video includes your forearm and chest along with your shoulders, but if you’re short on time, scroll to 9:50 in the video to hone in on the triceps.
So, the goal is to open your shoulders completely while keeping your midline tight (ribcage down), like in the top photo on this post. If you have problems getting to this position, try the above fixes and retest between each. Whichever one is the most helpful, make some time to get it in every day or come into class early.
More resources: Mobility WOD: Shoulder Flexion,
Clean & Jerk 1-1-1
Legendary Competitor WOD
75 Double Unders
20 Deadlifts (225/135)
50 Double Unders
10 Ground to Shoulder
25 Double Unders
5 Shoulder to Overhead
Rx’d: 1 Wallball for every second over 7 minutes.