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Shoulder/Thoracic mobility for Snatch and Overhead Squat


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Hello all,

 

I really need some advice for more targeted work to address my inability to perform a Snatch (squat variety) or Overhead Squat.  I do a lot of CrossFit and I am progressing in every other movement except these two because I do not have the range of motion to do them.

 

The range of motion i currently have my shoulders can only be described as atrocious.  Give me any range of motion test you can think of and I will surely fail it!  I have been working the shoulder mobility series and it has improved my shoulders to some degree (admittedly I need to spend more time working them).  

 

Squatting is not a problem for me.  I can squat with my feet shoulder width apart and sticking straight forward, so it doesnt feel that hip or ankle mobility is the issue (also not saying i couldnt improve on them).  To even attempt an overhead squat I have to really widen my stance and turn my feet out.  The barbell at the bottom of the squat (assuming I even hit that depth that day) is not behind my head as it should be rather more on top of it.  My shoulders just do not let my arms move back in that direction. I also feel a lot of tension in my back when i perform that movement.  

  

I really looking for an answer explaining what areas need to be the most flexible to perform those overhead movements, how my specific mobility problems relate to those, what stretches or drills should I be doing to address them, and in what frequency.  If you would like me to perform any drills or to share any pictures of my range of motion I can certainly do so if that would help address my issues.

 

Thank you in advance!

Matt

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Welcome.  I came to ST on a very similar quest, so I totally understand what you are going through.

 

My own decision was to stick to power snatches until I had a rock solid overhead squat both in terms of mobility and stability, I just see too much horrendous stuff going on in CF boxes.

 

Im still working on my OHS.  This really is a movement that demands good mobility and control right up the chain:  ankles, knees, hips, spine, lats, scaps, shoulders.

 

Yes please share a video front and side view of a nice slow (say 3330 tempo) PVC overhead squat.  For good measure throw in your best, most "mature" air squat as well from both angles. 

 

But a couple of comments based on your post: Your squat will definitely be a problem. You are having to open your stance and foot ankle to allow your torso to get more upright.  The bar should stay over your frontal plane (ie front back centre of mass), ideally if your torso is upright this will still be above your head, not behind it.  Shoulders likely a problem too, but you are asking of them to pick up the slack due to squat limitations. So its a double whammy.

 

Meanwhile, have a look at the hip and shoulder master series on Vimeo as well as the stacks of other resources on here.

 

Danny

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Just to clarify, I do not need to open my stance/feet while doing an air squat--only when I attempt to get my arms overhead do I have that problem.  

  

I will try to get the videos created an uploaded somewhere as soon as I can.

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Just to clarify, I do not need to open my stance/feet while doing an air squat--only when I attempt to get my arms overhead do I have that problem.  

  

I will try to get the videos created an uploaded somewhere as soon as I can.

 

Sure I understood that.  I can squat below parallel with both feet together in an air squat, but still look like a constipated duck to do my OHS.   With OHS you cannot kid yourself about how vertical your torso is... simples.

 

Check out this little test from Emmet, it reference handstands, but is highly relevant 

 

Danny

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I have a different approach to the OHS; it sounds counter-intuitive and I have not got a video on this approach, but bear with me: it works, and I can do OHS in bare feet (for the non-Oly lifters here, the lifting boots feature a 1" solid heel, and this allows a much more vertical trunk in the squat).

 

Get a dowel that is long enough to mimic the Oly bar. Grasp in front of you and lift to about 60 degrees above shoulder height. Now, use pec minor to pull the shoulders forward (the counter intuitive part) as far as you can and, while pressing the dowel away from the body, take the arms back to behind the head, where they need to be for the OHS. Once you have the shoulder movement down, progress to the empty bar, and so on.

 

This obviates the need for a lot of thoracic extension—and as long as you are pressing the bar upwards, the shoulder girdle-arm complex is strong.

 

I will video this (and put up on the free part of Vimeo) as soon as I get back from Canberra. I lifted competitively for years, and was never shown this by my coaches—so all my snatches were power snatches (caught in the half-squat position, not full) because of the same lack of thoracic extension that the OP probably has. 

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Looking forward to seeing that video Kit.

 

Personally, I find that position very frightening with the thought that a failure will result in losing the bar behind, and the concomittant risk of yanking the shoulders backwards when they are already at the end of their rom for me at least (I still can't do an easy passthrough with hands inside the sleeves... getting there slowly)

 

Plus, pragmatically, if Beck is doing his lifting in a CF setting it is also not the "CF way" so he might get endless "corrections" that are not corrections but invocations to use a different technique.  If he's lucky his coaches will be able to deal with difference, but that might well not be the case.

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Kit, I am also looking forward to seeing that video.  I will try the drill in the meantime though and hope I am performing it correctly.

 

Danny, I think its kind of funny that you posted Emmet's video!  There was a handstand challenge announce many months ago on /r/bodyweightfitness on Reddit.  I saw Emmet's videos there (that one included) and I asked him about handstands and my shoulder issues.  Emmet is the one who pointed me to Kit and told me to invest in the Shoulder series.  I am glad I did.

 

Your experience with CF might be a little different than mine.  I dont know of a "CF way" to perform a squat snatch--there is only the olympic way which is what is taught and stressed.  In my case, I cannot even power snatch as Kit said he did.  I am basically stuck muscle snatching with very little dip at all.  This really limits the weight I can put up.

 

I hope to get the videos and also a few pictures posted in the next day or so.

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 I saw Emmet's videos there (that one included) and I asked him about handstands and my shoulder issues.  Emmet is the one who pointed me to Kit and told me to invest in the Shoulder series.  I am glad I did.

 

 

 

Kit, How's my commission account doing? Have I got enough banked for that stay in yours? 

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Well Kit already alluded to a different emphasis on shoulder position and relative spinal extension, and beyond that for snatching there are many different schools Chinese, Russian, American etc. Crossfit have chosen one methodology which is taught on the Burgener Weightlifting Certification and cool aid drinkers and do it by numbers coaches tend to believe that is the only way.

Take the infamous "shrug" cue; it's a disaster for me and just makes me pull early but I'm always being told to shrug more. There are plenty who think the shrug is just a by-product of a good second pull eg Everett but then he was ex-communiated by HQ.

Given the complexity of the movement, genetics and physiology play a big part in your aptitude for Oly lifting. CF want to make everyone think it's their fault if they can't do the CF recommended method. In reality if you are a more mature athlete, not born to be a lifter, and with mobility limitations and you objective is your one RM you need to be aware maybe (for sure) one size doesn't fit all. Why not just work on your split snatch for example?  You will likely add kg much faster than working on achieving a safe squat snatch, in which case replace OHS by OH barbell lunges.

 

EDIT:  This reads kind of negative, it's not, and I tweaked the text above.  I have gotten and continue to get a lot from Crossfit, but ironically for an organisation that overtly and with great reach has challenged the gym based fitness model of the last 30+ years, it does tend to promote a rather rigid view of how things should be done.  I get it, with quite a few coaches who are out there with a few days of training you can only stick to a basic formula.  You may be lucky to have superstar experienced coaches, but since they arent giving you the insight to mobility that you need, or alternative lifting techniques one suspects that may not be the case.

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I hope these videos help.  They arent the best, etc, etc.  I also didnt realize how much forward lean there was on my air squat.  I feel much more upright than that!  I want to get a few pics added of specific range of motion limitations i have especially with external rotation.  If you have any range of motion tests you would like me to perform please let me know.

 

Barefoot shoes air squat
 
oly shoes air squat rear
 
Oly shoes - squat against wall
 
barefoot shoes OHS barbell (fixed video)
 
oly shoes OHS barbell
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I wasnt able to play the videos on my PC, and on the iPad some only play partially.

 

The air squats are both fair "lazy"; you dont keep core tension and lose your spinal angle.  I also think you should focus on keeping your knees tracking over your outer toes, and so long as you can do that widen the stance a bit. I you are going to practise air squats, I would probably actually focus on goblet squats.  I say lazy because the squat against the wall is much better; that is the sort of tension you should be maintaining throughout the OHS, probably also the tempo. You really are trying to get the OHS over with asap.

 

But yes, I agree with you, I think with lifting shoes your hip mobility is adequate, and a focus on shoulder rotation, scapular retraction, tight lats and t-spine mobility will bring you faster results combined with the right positioning and activation that Kit mentioned.  I made rapid progress with the following stretches:

 

- Yuri band sequence (L3 Shoulders).  Pay special attention to the circles with the scaps (forward, down, back, up and vice versa).

- Lying pec and biceps (and partner stick stretch) (E2 and E3 Shoulders)

- Hanging lat stretch (use a rack if you dont have ladder bars) (E10 Shoulders)

- Hanging cobra stretch (ditto) (solo version of E7A Back Bend)

- Barbell assisted tspine opener over foam roller (this is a MobilityWoD one) or the bench kettlebell backbend (E5 Back Bend)

 

I used these as part of a specific warm up, then did sets of 3-4 OHS EMOM focussing on form.  I would consider using a lighter training bar; I started with a 7.5kg, just enough to give some feedback.  Dont forget you will have opened up new range of motion with that stretching warm up; you've got to strengthen it too progressively.  Also dont be afraid to use the whole width between the collars, this is not ideal for snatching but will give you some slack on the OHS. Only go as low as you can with good form; no point practising bad movement. In time you will get lower.

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I reposted one of the videos that I had trouble getting to play.  All the others seem to work for me though.  If others have problems I can try a different format or different posting location.

 

I think I try to get the OHS over with quickly becuase it is extremely uncomforable and strenuous for me to be in that position!  Not something I wanted to take my time doing! LOL

 

I will purchase both the back bend and the pike series (I was just going to purchase the pike next, I have incredibly tight hamstrings) but focus mainly on the back bend and shoudlers.  I do that stretch over the foam roller currently--it almost counts as a form of torture.  

 

I did notice in a video I didnt post that I could very much afford to widen my grip.  There was a bit of bend in the elbows that probably wouldnt have been there with a wider grip.  I only have a 20kg bar at home, but my CF box does have 15kg womens bars and some 10kg aluminum trainers.

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When I was doing my Lvl2 CF cert I was picked out to be the student for the 1:1 coaching demo on... OHS.  The guy had me working so hard with that PVC pipe my head felt like it was about to explode (and the spectators told me about the popping eyeballs and tomato complextion).  LOL.  But bottom line is it isnt ever going to be comfortable working close to your limits (of mobility in this case rather than load).

 

What works really well for me is applying the ST C-R protocol to the MWoD mobilization  (see https://youtu.be/HgEgIGE2ZI8?t=188);in particular:

- start with the bar/arms on the floor (use some fractional plates to lift the bar a bit at first) and your hips up, and work on lowering your hips

- the contraction is to use the front of the shoulders and pecs to press the bar towards the ceiling (without of course actually lifting it)

- stop, breath in, breath out sink the hips etc.

- work up and down the tspine in terms of your "fulcrum" point

- if you get your hips down, narrow the grip a bit, and keep your shoulders active pressing the bar away.

For me that is a very "functional" stretch since it is replicating the overall movement pattern and position, but taking the load out of the equation, but giving you strengthening options at the new end range.

 

Dont forget to finish with a forward counter bend.

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We have just finished the intern weekend; Fred and I will film this short video tomorrow. Incidentally, this technique allows an OHS in bare feet, too, if that is of interest.

 

The point here is that IF you do not have excellent thoracic extension mobility (the best way to position the arm/shoulder girdle over the balance point) then what I show tomorrow is the best alternative. And I will be recommending starting to relearn the catch in the snatch completely from scratch if you plan on using this approach: wooden pole > empty Oly bar > a few Kg on the bar and OHS'ting to relearn the balance point, and so on. Emmet's video shows how to get the last few degrees, if you are close to the mobility in the TS to do the OHS the standard way, but (after looking at your last video) even in Oly boots I think there's a way to go (and your wrists are extended; pretty hard to support any real weight that way), and my alternative shoulder positioning might help. Video tomorrow.

 

Addendum: I really like SD's suggestions, but want to suggest one modification: hold onto a bar that is fixed in a cage at bench hight; use the edge of a bench as the fulcrum, and have a friend apply as much traction as possible before you lower the hips: this will decrease the compression sensation in the shoulders hugely.

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Addendum: I really like SD's suggestions, but want to suggest one modification: hold onto a bar that is fixed in a cage at bench hight; use the edge of a bench as the fulcrum, and have a friend apply as much traction as possible before you lower the hips: this will decrease the compression sensation in the shoulders 

 

Nice variant; it doesnt take too long before the roller doesnt have enough altitude. Another option is progressively stacking plates under the roller, which works quite well for giving feedback on progression.

 

Is the shoulder feeling per se a bad thing, or just emphasis shift towards shoulders vs isolating the tspine?

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I would add in some rolling work for the triceps/biceps and forearms in addition to the lats. It's a bit hard to tell on your videos but the elbows don't seem to be fully locked out, freeing up that lateral line lats to forearms can help with that. 

 

To get comfortable with the overhead squat I would also suggest snatch grip press in the bottom position, it's a good exercise for teaching extension and how to generate the necessary tension to get the bar overhead. As always, start light.

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I would add in some rolling work for the triceps/biceps and forearms in addition to the lats. It's a bit hard to tell on your videos but the elbows don't seem to be fully locked out, freeing up that lateral line lats to forearms can help with that. 

 

To get comfortable with the overhead squat I would also suggest snatch grip press in the bottom position, it's a good exercise for teaching extension and how to generate the necessary tension to get the bar overhead. As always, start light.

 

+1 to tris and bi's... I struggle a lot with forearms and have to say Emmet's gua sha suggestion works better than lax ball for m.

 

"Sotts" press... yes with an extremely light start. If you have shoulder limitations an empty bar is NOT light for this one, and make sure you can do a standing behind the neck press first.

 

 

 

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I think you'd have to relearn and reload the snatch from scratch. I have been playing with the crowbar, but its trivial weight cannot tell me how heavier loads can be caught this way.

 

I mentioned somewhere that when I was Oly lifting, all my snatches in competition were in reality power snatches, because I did not have the required mobility and caught the bar at the half squat height position, instead of deep full squat.

 

Fred and I are sourcing an Oly bar; as soon as I have one, I will be trying this approach myself. I have used it up to 40Kg and providing you are actively pressing the bar away from the body, feels very comfortable. Different muscles (esp. traps) have to strengthen in a way that is less necessary if the biomechanics are perfect. In posting this video, I am offering an alternative approach, not as good as having the required biomechanics, but one which should allow you to train the lift while working on thoracic extension in the ways recommended above. I will report back as soon as I can. 

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Thanks this is very interesting.  I will have a play with this once Im warmed up later, but cold it does indeed feel like starting all over again. 

 

Since the OP is doing this as part of his Crossfit, I reiterate my practical point, in a typical CrossFit setting (where you are being coached by multiple individuals who are probably not all very experienced weightlifting coaches) this is going to result for an obviously relatively inexperienced lifter getting a lot of "coaching confusion", ie. constant corrections that are in fact referencing a different technique (see below).  As a bare minimum I would discuss this with the head or lifting coach and get their blessing or buy-in.

 

The shoulders are internally rotated, which is a total no-no in the "approved" technique that is taught on the Crossfit Weighlifting Seminar; armpits forward; maximum external rotation. I did this seminar, and mobility was discussed plenty; the stock reply was do split snatch while you tidy up the mobility issues.  Here are two videos that illustrate the CF on snatch shoulder position:

 

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Hey Kit,

 

I remember you mentioning this alternative shoulder position at the ST for GST seminar in NYC last fall. It reminded me of Kendrick Farris's lifting technique, although I'm not certain if it's exactly the same. Here are some photos and videos from his Instagram that focus on his snatch catch position:

Best,

Chris

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