Isn’t it exciting to be able to head on out to the gym after you come out of work at the end of the day? Yet once you’re there you realize that your shoulders feel so stiff when you’re trying to complete overhead lifts. This happens more often than you’d think – and it’s because daily posture at work can impact your ability to lift overhead.
How posture impacts overhead lifts
What you can do throughout the workday to help
What does my posture have to do with it?!
When you raise your arm overhead, this motion also leads to movement at the shoulder blade and spine. Full overhead arm motion requires extending (or backward bending) the joints in the mid-back. Just try it: from a very slouched sitting position, try to raise your arm up high. Then move into a more upright posture, and raise your arm again. Isn’t it much easier the second time around?
Those who have a typical desk job tend to spend their day in a slouch, or in a flexed position. When we stay in this slouched position for hours and hours on a daily basis, we may make it harder or even lose the ability to move in the opposite direction. If the spine becomes stiff or loses the ability to move into extension, then it is much harder to not only reach but also lift heavy weights over the head.
The spine, particularly the mid-back, requires a certain amount of mobility to optimize lifts like overhead squats, shoulder presses, and more. It’s an area that is often overlooked and, when neglected, can lead to compensations at the low back or shoulder. These compensations may eventually lead to injuries in those areas, which is what we all want to avoid!
What can I do to help with this?
With this in mind, please note that it is not necessary to stay in an extremely upright posture all day, every day. It is done out of habit, but not because it is necessary or required. Our bodies are meant to move, to be free, loose, and flexible, so any posture that is maintained for 40 hours per week is not an ideal one for the body. That’s why you sure always make sure to shift and move around, that you are constantly changing your posture, and standing up to stretch or walk frequently throughout the day. Additionally, there are two (2) great stretching exercises that Southwest Physical Therapy recommends for more focused upper back mobility. One is the Seated Thoracic Extension and the other is the Pec Foam Rolling. You should try them out and do your best to make them part of your routine, for they can very easily be integrated to reduce the effects of prolonged forward positions. The goal of these exercises is to improve upper back mobility in the direction opposite the slouch – to counteract so as to balance out your body. The point of foam rolling is that it helps release tension in the muscles, relieve muscle soreness, and improve flexibility and range of motion. The Seated Thoracic Extension is an easy way to stretch out your upper back to help relieve the pain. Watch and see how they will make it easier for you to reach and lift overhead! Making it a habit to do one or both of these daily will reduce your stiffness, improve your motion, and prime your shoulders for maximal gains in the gym. A more specific shoulder mobility warmup can be done prior to lifting, in addition to these back mobility drills. Give these a try and let Southwest Physical Therapy know what you think and feel!
*To perform the Pec Foam Rolling exercise:
Get yourself a firm density foam roller. Adjust pressure into the roller by raising your hips higher or lower or applying more force through your free hand into the ground. Slowly roll up and down the length of the pec for 20-30 seconds. This is a fairly small region so there shouldn’t be a large range of motion.
*To perform the Seated Thoracic Extension exercise: