With the “Nancy” Challenge coming up, everyone is thinking about how to improve their overhead squat (you have signed up, haven’t you??) For many people, these will be the limiting factor in their “Nancy” time. Overhead squats are a tricky movement: the minor flaws with which you can sneak by on other kinds of squats will mean big problems with a weight positioned overhead.
In this blog post, I’ll talk a bit about shoulder mobility for the overhead squat and offer a couple things you can do to make quick improvements. Keep in mind, however, that shoulder mobility is only one of the problems you might have to overcome. If you’re not sure exactly what flaws you have in your squat or don’t know precisely how to fix them, ask us! We’ll be happy to talk it over or hold a private skill session to get you on the right track.
Shoulder mobility plays an important factor in the overhead squat because most athletes lean their torsos forward when they squat. The degree to which this occurs varies from person to person, based on squat technique, mobility of the hip and legs, and individual body proportions. Regardless, the bar must remain balanced over the athlete’s feet and to do so, the shoulders must kick back when the torso leans forward. See Photo 1 to the right.
Fortunately for those of us with inflexible shoulders, Kelly Starrett of San Francisco CrossFit has taken up the task of making us all better athletes through mobility. He publishes a mobility WOD every day with 10 minutes of homework that will make big differences quickly. He’s published a couple of videos with stretches that will help you improve shoulder mobility for overhead squats. Both of these stretches require a big rubber band (like we use for pullups), so work these stretches before or after class, or purchase a band from us and stretch at home.
The first stretch requires the band be attached to something overhead, like a pullup bar. Wrap the band around your wrist, step back so that your arm is being pulled straight, turn your thumb toward the ceiling, and start leaning into it. Play with different angles and find the spots that are tight for you. Photo 2 is a snapshot of Kelly performing this stretch. For detailed explanation, you can check out his video starting around the 2 minute mark. A couple minutes on each side will make a huge difference. To see the change, have a partner look or take a photo from the side while you hold your arms overhead immediately before and after.
The second stretch requires the band be attached to something lower, perhaps a door handle or a post on the pullup structure. Position yourself with the band behind you, with your elbow pointing toward the ceiling, then lean forward so your arm is pulled back and down. Once again, your thumb should be pointed toward the ceiling. Photo 3 shows Kelly performing the stretch and his video has a more detailed explanation. Once again, perform the stretch for a couple minutes each side.
As with all stretching, if anything starts to feel tingly or numb, take a break. Shake things out and only start again when the sensation has gone away.
See you at the “Nancy” Challenge Baseline this Friday!