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Lifting Weights Overhead is a Privilege, Not a Right

The Truth about Overhead Weight Lifting that Everyone Should Know

Today’s fitness mindset is evolving. Today, more and more people are doing exercises that require them to lift or hold weights overhead.  In the past, the most common overhead exercise was the military press. People would use that exercise to try to sculpt their deltoids.  

Today, thanks in part to CrossFit and it’s branch-offs, overhead squats, snatches, jerks, and hand stand push-ups are commonly found in many people’s routines.  But should they be?

In the last 10 years (and really more so in the last 3 years), I have noticed an increasing trend in my practice.  The number of people in their 30’s and 40’s who are coming into our facility with damaged shoulders (torn rotator cuffs, torn labrums, dislocated shoulders, etc.). All of these injuries were a result from lifting weights over their heads.  

The ability to lift weights over our head requires a lot of things to work just the right way to keep the forces and stresses from overloading (i.e. damaging) our shoulders.  This is why I say lifting weights overhead is a privilege and not a right.

You do not have the right to press or hold weights overhead just because you think you should be able to.  You have to earn the right!

I want to share with you 3 easy tests you can do to see if you should be lifting weights overhead. It just may save you the agony that my patients face when they realize that they may have to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to fix their overhead lifting injury. 

Should you be lifting weights overhead?
Take these 3 simple tests.

Test #1 – Arching over a foam roller

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When we lift overhead, our upper back (thoracic spine) needs to be able to extend to allow our shoulder blades to optimally position themselves within the socket of our shoulder joints. 

If the shoulder blade, and thus the socket, are not in the correct place more force is taken on through the rotator cuff, labrum and ligaments to keep the weight over our head.  In this test, you should be able to arch over a standard 6″ foam roller and touch your head to the ground while your rear end stays on the ground.


Test #2 – Raising your arms without moving your lower back


Exercises like the snatch and the overhead squat require the torso to be completely straight so that the weight is balanced over a stable, vertical base. The arms must be able to raise without subsequent movement from the lower back.  This test looks for exactly that.  Stand with your back up against a wall and your feet about 12 inches away.  

With your head, shoulders, low back, and butt against the wall, slowly raise your arms up straight overhead and touch your thumbs to the wall. If any part of you lower back comes off the wall as you raise your arms up, you didn’t pass the test.


Test #3 – Face to wall squats

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Test 3 builds on Test 2. In Test 2, we are looking to see if you can move your arms overhead without low back movement. In Test 3, we are looking to see if you can squat down vertically and without a forward lean.  

With overhead squats and snatches, your arms know they have to be vertical. If you can not place your torso under them for that solid base then you end up over reaching backwards and injuries can happen.

This test looks to see if you can vertically squat.  First, face a wall and place your feet 3-4 inches from the wall.  Then, place your hands behind your head and perform a squat.  You should be able to squat down without touching the wall or loosing balance.

“Remember, lifting weights overhead is extremely technical to do correctly, and that technicality is essential to keeping your shoulders healthy.”

Not everyone can or should be doing these lifts.  Try these tests.
How did you score?  Can you pass all three?

Written By: Travis Manners, President and Founder PT, SCS, CSCS

An Almost Foolproof Way to Relieve “Jumpers Knee” Pain

patellaBasketball season is upon us and with basketball comes the potential for knee aches and pains.  One of the more nagging and painful injuries basketball players can develop is patellar tendinitis, otherwise known as “jumper’s knee”.  I can always pick the players out on the floor who suffer from this injury because they all seem to wear the same brace. 

Though this brace can help certain people with the pain and keep them playing, in my experience other factors exist that continue to cause the symptoms.  In evaluating young basketball players, one of the common findings I have seen is poor flexibility in the quads, hip flexors, and IT band as well as poor mobility in the ankle.  Though other factors exist (including muscle weakness, foot posture, and poor mechanics), these problems can be easily remedied on your own with a couple of simple exercises. 

pretzel_stretchPretzel Stretch 

Step 1:  Lay on your non-injured side with your body in a perfectly straight line.   

Step 2:  Using your hand, pull your heel toward your rear end.   

Step 3:  Pull your thigh back so it is in a straight line with your torso.   

Step 4:  Put your bottom foot on the front, top aspect of your knee and push your top leg back and down toward the floor. 

*Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat 3-5 times 


wall_quad_stretchWall Quad Stretch: 

Get into a half kneeling position and place the top of the foot of the down knee against the wall.  Make sure your torso is straight and tighten the butt cheek on the down leg.    

* Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat 3-5 times 


wall_ankleWall Ankle Mobility Exercise: 

Standing with your feet staggered, place your lead foot roughly 4-6 inches from the wall.  Press the knee toward the wall, keeping your knee over your second toe.  The knee should just barely touch the wall without the heel lifting off the ground.  If your knee easily hits the wall, move your foot back and repeat.   

 *Once you have reached the optimal foot position, hold each for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times. 

Good luck and remember, if your symptoms do not improve it’s possible those previously mentioned factors could be coming into play.  If that happens, consult us for a more complete evaluation.

Written By: Travis Manners, PT, SCS, CSCS 

What ESPN Doesn’t Tell You About ACL Injuries

iStock_000019566285_FullWhat do Robert Griffin III, Adrian Peterson, Wes Welker, Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Mariano Rivera, Sam Bradford and Derek Rose have in common?  Yes, they are all men and yes, all of them are professional athletes.  But they share another common bond…they have all had the misfortune of suffering a torn ACL.

The average person knows a torn ACL is a serious injury.  A vast majority of people can even name a professional athlete who had this injury.    Why can I name so many male athletes, yet female athletes are at much greater risk and we don’t hear about it?  Much of our awareness of the injury is from professional sports and how much press the athlete gets on ESPN.  I think the level of risk females face is under-appreciated.  When I think back on all of the ACL patients I have worked with, females are undeniably the majority.

Let me get to my point.  A female athlete is 4-8 times more likely to tear her ACL than a male.  Not twice as likely.  Not three times as likely.  4-8 times more likely.  I would venture to say the average parent or coach doesn’t realize how “at risk” these girls are.  Parents and coaches of female athletes…I need your attention please.  It is time to be pro-active about injury prevention for these girls.   Weaknesses in the core and hips as well as poor jumping mechanics are red flags that can be easily assessed.  Coaches, start integrating some preventive exercises into your practices.   You may be saving one of your athletes from a season ending injury.  Parents, seek out a qualified professional to provide evaluation and preventative training.

Obviously, even professional athletes like Adrian, Tom, and Wes succumb to this devastating injury.  However, sports medicine research has shown the right training can make a difference and lower the risk.  Just ask anyone who has torn their ACL if it would be worth it.

Prevention, My Most Dreaded Word

“How can I prevent pulling my hamstring?”, “Can you show my baseball team how to prevent shoulder injuries?”, “How do we prevent her ACL from tearing?”  These are all questions I have received in the past week from athletes, coaches, and parents, and I have to be honest, I dread these questions.  Not because I do not like to help people stay healthy but because the truth is I cannot prevent them.  I am only a small part of the much bigger picture.

We are caught up in a propaganda filled society where people and companies make over the top claims to try to attract consumers.  My field of physical therapy is just as guilty as any in feeding into this deception.  The down side of these claims is that they really skew society’s expectations on what is possible and what it takes to get these claimed results.  If I just do these 3 things, I won’t blow my knee out. Good luck.

Young PitcherAgain, the reason I dread these questions of prevention is not because I don’t like helping people, quite the opposite, but because there is no quick fix.  Preventing an injury is multifactorial and the reality is I  as a physical therapist have little influence on all the factors.  Let’s take the example of preventing shoulder injuries in baseball players.  I am known in my field and in our community as a shoulder rehab expert so certainly I should be able prevent shoulder injuries, right? Propaganda has made us believe that shoulder injuries in baseball players come from the shoulder being weak and inflexible.  So the expectation is that I will show the player a couple strengthening things and some stretches and he will be injury free.  Now I will admit shoulder weakness and inflexibility will cause a shoulder injury and doing arm care exercises can reduce the chances for injury, but the reality is arm care is just a small part of staying healthy.  Not taking time long periods of time off from throwing in the offseason, throwing too much during the season, previous injuries to other body parts, incomplete weight training programs, poor nutrition, poor sleeping habits, incomplete warm-ups, and bad throwing mechanics are all also well-documented reasons why a shoulder injury can occur.  As it turns out, aside from me, the athlete, the parents and the coaches also have huge roles and responsibilities in helping athletes stay healthy.  If a coach doesn’t teach the player how to throw properly, if the parents do not emphasize good eating and sleeping habits, if the athlete ignores all the recommendations, then the system for staying healthy breaks down.

So the next time you ask me how can this (fill in the blank) injury be prevented, just understand you may not like my answer. Prevention takes dedication, time, effort, and resources.  No quick fixes. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and that doing something is always better than doing nothing.

“15 Things an Athlete, Parents, and Coaches Can Do to MAYBE, POSSIBLY Prevent an Injury”.  Do you think it will sell?  Probably not, but it is the truth.

Jennie A., Collegiate Track & Field Athlete

Athletes’ Training Center has worked to specialize workouts to fit my athletic needs. The strength coaches have a one on one personal connection to fix minor details that have had a major impact on my athletic performance.