Upper body strength opens the door to so much movement capacity.
When your upper body is strong, here are a few things you can do:
- Do push-ups to get stronger and feel like a badass
- Do hand-balancing poses in yoga and feel empowered
- Do handstands and other gymnastics movements and feel like a kid again
- Press weights over your head and feel like a superhero
- Crawl around like a bear chasing your kids or grandkids and be the coolest adult ever
Today, I’ve got a tip for you to improve whatever work you’re already doing to make your upper body strong. It’s a little detail that a lot of people miss, and if you miss it, you miss out on making a strong connection all the way around the shoulder and into the torso.
If you’re more a fan of video over reading, then go ahead and dive straight into it below. If you prefer to read instead of, or in addition to, watching the video, I’ll have a recap of what I talk about below the video.
There are several areas that must be attended to if you want to achieve hand-balancing, crawling, push-ups, or better overhead strength. My tip today focuses on all of the hand-balancing love that’s going on in fitness today. But it translates to more traditional strength work as well.
It’s also important to be in control of every joint and position you will be in during the movement you intend to do.
And then, of course, you need strength. Which you’re likely already working on. The tip I share in the video is to aid the strength work you’re already doing.
But, if you’re starting at the very beginning of hand balancing or upper body strength work, my tip for you absolutely can serve as a drill to strengthen the shoulder girdle and its connection to the torso.
Let’s get to it. To make your hand-balancing, crawling, push-ups and pressing go better do this:
Push the floor away.
I call it a protraction press, but you don’t have to be particular with the name as long as you understand the concept of the movement.
When you’re at the top of a push-up, a crow pose or similar ‘balance on the hands’ position in yoga, or a handstand – you want to be pushing the floor away from you. That is, you want to protract your shoulder blades.
What that might feel like is this: with hands on the floor for whatever movement you’re doing, try to make your torso rise higher – WITHOUT rounding your spine to do so. Keep your spine long and make your entire trunk move closer to the sky.
When this isn’t happening, what you get instead is scapular “winging”.
Scapular winging is rarely, if ever, helpful – and certainly doesn’t give you full access to your upper body strength. This is what winging looks like, and it’s how you might be finishing when at the top of a plank, push-up, crawl, or hand-balance.
When you let your scapula “wing”, you’re supporting a dysfunctional movement pattern in your upper body.
Remember that your body isn’t this cavernous and spacious realm. There aren’t huge gaping areas around each joint or muscle, there’s just enough room for everything to move, when it’s moving correctly.
And when it’s not moving correctly? Soon enough you’ll figure it out. Because that’s when pain sets in.
When the scapula doesn’t glide along the rib cage, or work in harmony with the humeral head of the upper arm, you can end up pinching soft tissue in between hard tissue (your bones!), and that leads to excessive wear and tear, and eventually pain and injury.
Scapular stability is one of the 6 Pillars because of how much movement runs through that area, and how it interacts and influences other areas of the body.
Make your shoulder complex healthy by making all of the soft tissue that attaches to it mobile, strong, and well-organized.
There are a plethora of items that go into addressing optimal movement of the scapula, my tip for scapular protraction is just one of them. But an important and often over-looked one! So get to work on trying it out and adding it to your movement time each week.
To add it to your movement time, you could:
- push past your normal ‘top’ position on your push-up into the protraction press
- perform protraction press repetitions (without any push-up)
- perform longer duration reps, holding your top part of your protraction press for up to 20 seconds
PS: While the cue I gave you here is to “push the floor away”, don’t be confused with a ‘floor press’ which is a different drill. Also a good one for upper body strength, especially if you use it in addition to the protraction press 😉 Here is my dear friend JC Deen demonstrating the floor press.
Dealing with frustrating neck and shoulder pain?
My online workshop, Kiss Neck And Shoulder Tension Goodbye,
will give you the drills and education you need to start becoming pain-free.