This week's post is a follow-up to last week's primer on midline stability in overhead positions. In it we discussed how to prioritize fixing the overhead pressing position by correcting lumbar overextension first. Oftentimes poor anterior core control is lacking, putting the shoulder (and spine) in a mechanically disadvantageous position. As you correct the lumbar overextension and stop hurting your spine, you may find an inability to get the arm completely overhead. Enter the lats (aka latissimus dorsi muscle - literally meaning broad because I mean they're huge): check out the video and discussion below.
Anatomically, the lats originate from the thoracolumbar fascia and spinous processes on the thoracic and lumbar spine and insert onto the lesser tubercle of the humerus. Thus the lats have the ability to extend the lumbar spine, particularly when unopposed by the anterior core musculature. Given its role on the humerus in pulling tasks (deadlift, pull-ups, rows, etc.) and acceleration during throwing (Jake Peavy of the Boston Red Sox actually tore his lat off it's insertion on the humerus a few years ago - not good) this muscle can become quite restrictive and negate quality overhead shoulder position and stability.
As described in the video we know that if unopposed by the anterior core, the lats will pull the spine into extension to allow us to get the arm overhead for pressing, throwing, and pull-ups. So by comparing shoulder flexion range with the spine extended vs. flexed we can appreciate the impact lat length has on the shoulder. By the way that supine position with hips and knees flexed looks an awful lot like a snatch or bottom of an overhead squat, hence the usefulness! Now, the thoracic spine also plays a role in generating a full, stable overhead position but if your lats are tight and you're an overhead athlete, CrossFit athlete, or doing work overhead you need to recognize this man.
Here's why: overhead work with tight lats results in a trade-off. You either let your anterior core give in to the spinal extension moment created by the lats and remain overextended in the lumbar spine subjecting it to risk of a spondy, stress fracture, and stenosis. OR you maintain midline stability (which is good) but now can't get your shoulder fully overhead and externally rotated as the lats also exert a tremendous anterior and internally rotated force on the shoulder resulting in a weak and unstable shoulder (think: SLAP lesion, instability, ugly clunking during pull-ups). Either way the result is an inability to create torque and decreased performance with overhead presses, throwing, snatches which is what we really care about. How do we fix this? Organize your midline getting out of that overextended position. Once this is addressed shoulder flexion still may be lacking so look at the lats.
1) Address midline stability first.
2) If the athlete is then unable to reach full shoulder flexion, check out the athlete in supine looking at lat length as outlined above. If restricted, unrestrict it!
I'll address some lat and t-spine mobilizations in an upcoming post but in order to figure out why shoulders are getting blown out an insane right with overhead athletes and lifters we need to look at the causes, today's post is a strong step in that direction.
Remember: there's nothing funny about tight lats