OHFast Overhead Fix Workshop Recap

​On Saturday Oct. 20th, OHFast Performance Therapists – Paul, Ricky and Melissa – hosted an Overhead Fix Workshop. They dropped so many knowledge bombs and tips, that we have to share in case you missed it!
A lot of athletes struggle with overhead positions – it feels awkward or tight – and find it difficult to execute movements such as the snatch and overhead squat with confidence. While this is normal (the overhead position is not as natural as a squat), there are ways in which we can reduce the discomfort and strengthen the position to prevent injury, improve stability and build strength. 


Dr. Paul Oh began the workshop with a brief discussion of the shoulder anatomy and how the shoulder functions. We learned that two key players in the function of the shoulder are the collarbone and the shoulder blade: if these are not moving properly when we test different ranges of motion, then there is a risk for compensation or added stress on other joints.

Dr. Oh also mentioned the differences between external and internal rotation. Very simply put: sit or stand and point your thumbs inwards. You will find that your shoulders cave inwards. This is referred to as internal rotation – a position most of us spend ALL day at a desk. To achieve the opposite – external rotation –  turn your thumbs out. You’ll notice that now your shoulders and chest open up. For those people that spend all day at a desk, every chance you can – when you’re not typing – sit or stand and turn your thumbs outwards. This will help oppose the constant internal rotation. 

Most of us attend classes right after work, after we’ve been sitting in front of a screen all day. This task is challenging on its own because we go from a static state to an immediate dynamic one, which can be a shock to our body. Now, add in the fact that we may be putting something over our head and our bodies are likely ill-prepared to deal with this added range of motion. Therefore, it is increasingly important to pay attention to your body, especially your shoulders and how they are moving, before spending time in the ends of your range of motion (e.g. overhead). While this movement preparation is covered in the class warm ups, if you feel like you need additional preparation then consider adding some of the following into your warmup routine.
The main consideration when trying to improve range of motion and build strength in a specific position is first create space, then stabilize!

To create space/stretch:

1. Sleeper Stretch

  • Great for internal rotation!
  • Lay on your side with your arm at a 90 degree angle to your torso.
  • Bend at the elbow and rotate your arm towards the ground, while keeping your shoulder on the ground. You can use the other arm to help, but do not apply too much pressure so that it becomes painful. If you feel a pinch, try stacking your shoulder more underneath your body or adjusting the angle of your upper arm and torso.
  • Hold the end range of motion for 30s before applying eccentric pressure with the other hand. Apply this downward pressure for a few seconds and then release. Repeat a few times before switching arms.  
2. Lacrosse ball mash

  • Sometimes tightness in our overhead position is a result of a tight pec minor, which can cause limited movement of the collarbone. To release some of the tension (myofascial release therapy), all you need is a lacrosse ball and a spot on the wall: 
  • Place the lacrosse ball on your chest with your arm extended and complete several small circles once you find the “uncomfortable” spot. Afterwards you can then stay on the same spot and move your arm up and down slowly.
  • Similarly, place the lacrosse ball on the back of your shoulder and lean against the wall. Move around until you find the “uncomfortable” spot.
  • Complete small circles and then move the arm slowly.
  • When doing these exercises, listen to your body – it should not feel comfortable, but you should also not be in excruciating pain. Spend about 1-2 minutes/side.
  • Re-test your overhead position afterwards and see if you feel a difference!
Once you’ve created space in the shoulders, it’s time to stabilize the muscles so that you can support load overhead!

3. The Elevens

  • While most overhead positions require association of the shoulders, it is also important that we can control dissociation (aka have one shoulder doing something different from the other). This exercise is a great way to practice this dissociation!
  • Grab a band and a spot against the wall.
  • With your forearms against the wall and parallel to each other (Shoulder-width apart), keep one forearm stationary while moving the other one to 1, 3 and 5 o’clock.
  • Switch to the other side.
  • Aim to keep your rib cage down and core engaged throughout the entire movement. Adjust the tension of band needed so that the exercise is challenging but still allows you to keep good form. 
4. Single-arm Overhead walks

  • Grab a kettlebell (bottoms up) and hold it overhead in one arm while walking.
  • To do this correctly, the shoulder should NOT be pressed up towards the ear – think SPACE between the ear and shoulder.
  • The goal here is to have the arm locked out and stacked over the body, and to keep the rib cage down while moving. Keep the weight LIGHT for this, and make sure to hit both sides.
  • You might notice that one feels easier than the other and that’s okay – make note of it and focus on additional unilateral movements to help strengthen it. 
5. Single-arm kneeling shoulder press

  • If you feel comfortable with the overhead walks and you have been able to execute them CORRECTLY, then you might consider adding a press into your warmup routine as well.
  • Again, the goal is to keep SPACE between the shoulder and ear.
  • Keep the elbow in front while pressing overhead to achieve full lock-out. Ideally the kettlebell is directly over your body, but if you are struggling to keep your rib cage down or shoulder away from the ear, then keep the KB more in front.
  • Find the range of motion that allows YOU to keep good form. The more you work on these, the more your range of motion will improve, but if you continue to build poor habits, then you will only find yourself in the same situation down the road.
  • Check your ego at the door!
6. Scapula pull-ups

  • “Engage our lats” is something we hear often with regards to pulling movements, but for most of us, we don’t know what that means or how to do it. A quick tip? Think THUMBS OUT.
  • Grab a set of rings and get ready to do a ring row. Turn your thumbs OUT without bending your arms: you should feel tension in your lats. This is the position from which you want to continue pulling (if you were to do a ring row)!. Alternate between thumbs in and out to FEEL the difference. Remember, no arm bend!
  • Once you’ve mastered the scapula retraction on the rings you can try it on the pull-up bar. While the principles are the same, bear in the mind the pull-up bar doesn’t move, so your thumbs will not actually move outwards. 
7. Banded Overhead Squats

  • Grab a band and starting with your arms in front of you (shoulder height) practice thumbs in and out while keeping tension on the band. You should feel the same lat engagement as on the rings.
  • Continue this pattern and slowly bring your hands over your head – can you get into an overhead position with a band, while turning your thumbs out?
  • Then, try a squat!
Take home message:

  • We need to create space & to stabilize our shoulders in order to execute a solid overhead position.
  • Warmup routines are different for everyone, so find the one that works best for you and stick with it!

Have additional questions?
You can book assessments with any of the OHFast Performance Therapists at: ​https://ohfast.janeapp.com/

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