Written by Greg Robins
Not everyone is in the position to be assessed, or better yet, re-assessed by a quality professional. Sometimes, we don’t even see the point in it, especially if we’re not hurt or in pain.
As a strength coach it is not my position to diagnose, or treat for injuries. However, I do need to be an expert on dissecting the movements of my athletes and addressing holes in their game.
The more efficiently I can make them move, the better they’re going to be; both in carrying out a performance training program and in playing their sport.
The same thing goes for strength athletes, and average gym goers alike. The more efficiently you move the healthier you will stay, the greater you will perform, and the more complete you will be.
In this series I want to take a look at 3 tests you can do on yourself. I will explain how their done, why they’re important, and how you can bring up your exposed weakness with a few simple additions to your time at they gym.
Let’s start with this one:
Back To Wall Shoulder Flexion
First, watch this video of the drill:
If you want to be strict, this drill should be acceptably performed before you even consider overhead pressing. It makes sense right? If you can’t, under no load, fully flex the shoulders without losing position elsewhere, what do you think is going to happen with a considerable amount of weight on the bar?
That being said, plenty of really strong people press weight overhead and play sports overhead, without a neutral back position, and never get hurt. Why even mention that?
After you attempt this drill, and very possibly fail miserably, I’m not telling you to put the barbell down, or hang up your jersey. Instead, I’m suggesting that you take note of the things in the “how to fix it” section, and strive to even out the imbalance. Everyone’s healthy until they’re not.
If you train overhead athletes, I would stress this drill. They make a living up there and it’s your number one job to keep them healthy, this is a pretty good place to start.
So why is this correct execution of this movement important?
For starter’s I would do some back reading of an article I posted on this site a few months ago: Shoulder Mobility For The Overhead Athlete: Part I
From that reading you have a pretty solid understanding of why alignment, position, centration, whatever you want to call it, is important. When one segment of our body moves out of place, so will everything else. This will lead to muscle imbalances, flawed movement patterning, and often times injury or nagging pain at the least.
If you cannot perform the back to wall test there are likely a few reasons.
This is essentially a test in “relative stiffness.” Relative stiffness refers to the idea that an equal amount of stiffness on either end or side of the body is working to keep everything in line. If you do not have relative stiffness one side will more heavily influence movement and influence you towards it’s line of pull.
In this case the battle between your anterior core musculature, and your lats is most prominent.
The question then becomes what’s the issue?
Does the person have stiff or short lats? Maybe they just have a weak core? Or what if it’s just a control issue, and a little practice and cueing is all they need?
In order to figure out how short or stiff the lats may be, we just need to lie them down. Check out this video:
If you’re dealing with athletes you’re rarely going to find someone who passes that test. The nature of sports, competitive lifts, and just being an active person, calls greatly upon an extended posture and likelihood of relying heavily on the lats to get the scaps “back and down.”
From there, I would argue that everyone I encounter from 700lb pullers to 90MPH fast ball chuckers need both improvements in core control and core strength (especially relative to the strength they have elsewhere).
So how do we improve, and work towards being able to achieve this back to wall test?
First, we need to attack the lats. Here are some easily usable exercises that I include on a near daily basis.
Lat Rolling on PVC pipe / Soft Ball
Deep Squat Lat Stretch w/ Focused Breathing
Side Lying Shoulder Internal External Rotation
Bench T-Spine Extension / Shoulder Flexion
Next we need to train the core in a more “anti-extension” fashion. I want to promote shoulder flexion and hip extension without seeing excessive lower back extension (arching).
From a warm – up / lighter intensity standpoint:
TRX Rip Trainer OH Reach
Lunge Variations w/ Over Head Reaches
From a more intense training stand point:
Stability Ball / Ab Wheel Rollouts
Prone Bridge Variations
Split Stance Overhead Tricep Extensions
Lastly, one of the best ways to work towards achieving the back to wall test is to DO THE TEST. Here is the video of how to perform a Back To Wall test again, with some regressed variations I like to use as well:
Back To Wall Shoulder Flexion
1-Arm / Alternating Back To Wall Shoulder Flexion
Supine 90/90 Shoulder Flexion w/ Focused Breathing
In closing, I hope this sheds some light on a very useful self-assessment. Give it a try for yourself, and make sure to pick a few of the exercises above to address deficiencies. A little bit goes a long way, so have at it.
Greg Robins is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA. Greg has worked with clientele ranging from general population to professional athletes. His unique experience in many different aspects of fitness, strength training, and athletic preparation have helped him become an unbiased authority on all things fitness and performance related. Outside of coaching Greg is a former collegiate baseball player, active member of the MA ARMY National Guard, and enjoys power lifting.Website, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter