Reaching: A Key To Healthy Shoulders

Want to know what a coach spends their time doing to help you, as their client, move better? This week, I’ve asked top-notch coach, Lucy Hendricks, to give us a peek into her brain as she digs in to coaching some of the most common movement and posture problems she’s seeing today. You’re going to get the coach’s eye view, plus seriously great coaching cues to help you make your shoulders work better! Over to Lucy…

Here’s a little advice if you’re wanting to learn about how the body moves and how it should move: Never get glued to an idea or a concept, because as soon as you think you’ve got it figured out, you will immediately get slapped in the face with a “nope…you still don’t fully understand it.”

I’m always looking for better ways to get my clients from point A to point B, which sometimes means tweaking the way I do things with them. And I think I get slapped by a concept I thought I had figured out at least once a week, but that’s what makes my job as a coach at GYM Laird fun!

One of the first things we tackle in our coaching with new members is how they position their bodies. We make sure they can do key things like move through the hips, exhale properly, and optimize where they get their stability from.

Almost two years ago I noticed people walking out of Spark Physical Therapy with PRI (Postural Restoration Institute) resets as their homework and most of them had some type of reaching involved.

As I dug into why Sarah was giving so much reaching as homework to her patients, I discovered the serratus anterior and all of its incredible benefits.

The many wonders of the serratus anterior

Many individuals have tight chest muscles and weak upper backs. And when it comes to improving posture, a common solution folks dive into is anything that requires pulling, in order to strengthen the back and ‘open up the chest’.

These exercise choices seems logical – if your chest is tight, your shoulders are rounded, and your upper back is weak, thus, rowing and pulling will “fix your posture”.

But! Before you start tackling heavy pulling exercises, you should establish better scapular and thoracic position.

One way to obtain this is by learning how to reach.

This is what I run into a lot when I’m coaching:

Flat thoracic spines and anteriorly tipped, downwardly and internally rotated shoulder-blades

In a nutshell: This posture means that the upper extremity has no base of support, and your shoulder-blades have lost their comfy home.

If you’re stuck in what we call ‘extension’, your whole rib cage is shifted forward, and your shoulder-blades are left all alone without something to sit on.

(This was my attempt in showing a client what I meant by the scapulas losing it’s home. Anatomically, this isn’t 100% correct, but hopefully you get an idea of what I mean when I say the whole rib-cage is shifted forward and the shoulder blades can’t follow it)

A sign of healthy shoulder-blades are when they sit nicely on the rib cage, glide up, down, all around without pinching together, winging off, or tipping over due to compensation.

Unfortunately, in my world, I don’t run into that a lot.

But that’s where serratus anterior comes in and helps save the day!

By learning how to reach, you’ll activate serratus anterior, and you help the medial border of the scapula rest closer to the rib cage, giving you external rotation (less “winging” of the scapula).

You also increase upward rotation and posterior tilt of the scapula.

Why is that important for you if you suffer from tight pecs and poor posture?

Because the effect of a functional serratus anterior creates the opposite effects of what your tight pecs are causing! When your pec minor is tight and overworked, it can limit your ability to posteriorly tilt, upwardly and externally rotate the scapula.

This reduces subacromial space, which means you’re more likely to have shoulder impingement, and it also limits your shoulder’s range of motion.

Not only does serratus anterior help the scapula correctly move around the rib cage, but it also helps the rib cage move around the scapula. In layman’s terms: serratus anterior grabs your rib cage by it’s first 8 ribs, hugs it close and pulls it back giving the shoulder-blades the home that was once lost from poor posture.

The most important part about reaching is that it will help keep you healthy as you move and go through life.

I know of hundreds of exercises out there that are great and when done right, they do the body a lot of good…but if your ribs and scapula are not in the right position, you could feed into the rounded shoulder position that you’re trying to get out of and cause more harm than good.

Take band pull-apart for example. Many people use this exercise as a “corrective exercise”, trying to ‘open up the chest’ and strengthen lower traps. But, when you watch the video below, you will see that without establishing good position and without ‘reaching’ you will immediately see my upper traps engage (a muscle that is already working too hard), my rhomboids shorten, and the medial border of my scapulas come off my rib cage and pinch together.

Keep in mind, whatever movement the scapula is doing, it shouldn’t be detaching away from the rib cage. True protraction and retraction consist of the medial border gliding around the rib cage.



How to start practicing reaching

Get your phone out and take a video of  yourself. Specifically, what do your shoulder blades look like when you stand? What do they do during a push-up? Do the borders of the scapula stay relatively close to the rib-cage? or do they wing? Or do they tip over and just look…funky?

If you spend a little time working on your reaching you’ll find that you:

  • stand taller since your chest won’t be pulling your shoulders forward
  • benefit more from your pulling exercises because your shoulder blades will be able to freely move around your rib cage
  • you’ll be able to target the muscles you want to work on

Here are a few activities you can add to your warm-up that will get you in a better position and set yourself up for a good training session.

  1. A sample warm-up using breathing drills



  • Rockback Breathing 2×6 (Breaths) In through the nose and fully exhale through your mouth
  • Three Month w/ reach 2×6 (Each arm) If your low back can’t comfortably be pressed on the ground, put your feet down on the floor and focus on the exhaling and reaching
  • Bird-dog 2×6 (Each side)
  1. Examples of when to reach



Here are a few things to look for:

  • Reach, don’t shrug. Don’t let your shoulders creep up towards your ears.
  • Don’t try too hard. Especially for the warm-up drills. These exercises are meant to be low threshold in their intensity.

Shoulder position is important! It has been a huge game changer for me and my clients! And I hope it is for you too!

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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.


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