Monday, 31 May 2010

The Overhead Position, part 1

The overhead position is seen in numerous sports, such as weightlifting, swimming, tennis and gymnastics, to name but a few. In simple terms it involves maximal flexion of the shoulder, varying degrees of scapula elevation and upward rotation, and, depending on the sport, varying degrees of humeral rotation.

Common to these sports, as well as any others that make extensive use of the overhead position, are shoulder injuries. The reason for this will be explored in more detail in a later post. What I want to discuss first is how a proper overhead position is achieved.

Firstly, the humerus must be maximally flexed. The muscles primarily responsible for this are the anterior and lateral fibres of the deltoid. The anatomy of the scapula means that the humerus alone can only flex to just pass parallel with the ground. To raise the hand further requires the scapula itself to move, to allow the humerus to effectively flex further.
The image above shows the left scapula. The head of the humerus sits on the glenoid fossa, with the coracoid process anteriorly and medial to it and the acromion process rising above it, to meet the end of the clavicle (collarbone).
We can see, looking from the front and from the side, that the coracoid process does not obstruct humeral flexion. The acromion, however, will eventually get in the way and unless the whole complex of scapula and humerus moves, no further raising of the arm overhead will be possible. This process is known as Subacromial Impingement, which may lead to impingement syndrome, a common complaint in overhead athletes. The movement of the scapula required is upward rotation and posterior tilting.
This effectively moves the acromion out of the way, so the humerus can achieve proper overhead position. The muscles chiefly responsible for these movements of the scapula are the lower and upper fibres of the Trapezius (lower fibres in red) and the Serratus Anterior.

Together, these muscles rotate the scapula to point the glenoid towards the sky, clearing the acromion process from above the humerus and allowing the overhead position to be reached. The following video demonstrates the movement of the overhead press, which exemplifies to movements of humerus and scapula necessary to achieve the overhead position. Notice the rotation of the scapula and contractions of trapezius (from the back) and serratus (from the side) that occur. Failure of these muscles to contract in an organised fashion will result in faulty elevation of the arm and often contribute to subacromial impingement.

A common finding is that these muscles are shut down as a result of poor posture, poor training habits and inflexibilities and/or overdominance of muscles elsewhere. For example, the lower fibres of the trapezius are typically weak and inhibited. As we know, the upper fibres on their own can achieve scapular elevation, whereas the lower fibres on their own will depress and retract the scapulae. It is only together that they achieve upward rotation.

The upper traps are typically active at a low level almost all of the time; whenever we sit badly with our shoulders shrugged, or when we are carrying heavy shopping. Over time they become more dominant, and the lower traps become inhibited to prevent stretching of the tight, short upper traps. Now the lower traps don't contract as they should and upward rotation of the scapulae is compromised. The upper traps contract as normal, but without the firing of the lower traps, the scapulae just elevate rather than rotate upwards. This fails to clear the acromion process from the path of the humerus, and the head of the humerus thus impinges under the acromion.

Friday, 28 May 2010


A quick post on some websites that are particularly useful or interesting. Just thought I'd give them the shout-out they deserve! - The brilliant online Gray's anatomy. - a handy resource combining anatomy with exercise science. - my good friend Simon of CF Central Manchester's blog - Blair Morrison's blog. How to stay in incredible shape despite seemingly being of no fixed abode! - where I train, run by the brilliant Karl Steadman.
- Crossfit Central Manchester - inspired mobility drills from Jami of Thames Crossfit

More to come as I remember them

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Musculature of the Shoulder

The muscles controlling the Shoulder Girdle are both numerous and complicated. Many serve several purposes, effecting one or more of the articulations of scapula and/or humerus as discussed previously. To make this rather dry subject a bit more applicable, I am going to divide them broadly into muscles that act upon the scapula, muscles that act upon the humerus, and muscles that act on both. Within these categories, I will name the function(s) of each muscle. The images shown are from the timeless Gray's Anatomy, available at
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Muscles acting on the Scapula
  • Trapezius: elevation (upper fibres), depression (lower fibres), retraction (middle fibres), upward rotation (upper and lower fibres synchronously)
  • Rhomboids: retraction, downward rotation
  • Levator scapulae: (elevation)
  • Serratus anterior: protraction, upward rotation
  • Pectoralis minor: depression, tilts scapula anteriorly

Muscles acting on the Humerus:
  • Biceps brachii: flexion (with elbow fixed)
  • Triceps brachii: extension (with elbow fixed, long head only)
  • Deltoid: flexion (anterior fibres), abduction (middle fibres), extension (posterior fibres)
  • Supraspinatus: abduction, stabilising head of humerus as part of rotator cuff
  • Infraspinatus: external rotation, stabilising humerus as part of rotator cuff
  • Subscapularis: internal rotation, stabilising humerus as part of rotator cuff
  • Teres minor: external rotation, stabilising humerus as part of rotator cuff
  • Teres major: internal rotation, adduction
  • Coracobrachialis: adduction

Muscles acting on both Scapula and Humerus
  • Pectoralis major: Humeral flexion (especially in abduction), extension (from fully flexed), adduction (lower fibres), internal rotation. Scapular protraction+elevation (upper fibres), protraction+depression (lower fibres)
  • Latissimus Dorsi: Humeral extension, adduction, internal rotation. Scapular depression, retraction

So that is a whistlestop tour through the muscles that act upon the shoulder girdle. I've pretty much skimmed over a huge topic, so don't start picking me up on things I've missed. These are the most important bits. Clicking on the images should hopefully make them larger, so that the names can be read and muscles identified. I've pretty much skimmed over a huge topic, so don't start picking me up on things I've missed! These are the most important bits. Similarly, don't get too bogged down in this, however; it is a bit dry and not too important. In the next few posts, I will be covering more specific muscles in greater detail, as well as an analysis of various in-gym movements and the muscles necessary to bring them about. Thanks for reading!

Monday, 24 May 2010

Compression Gear

Just a short one today on the benefits of compression gear. This seems to have become more popular recently, certainly within Crossfit circles and not just because it's trendy. I've heard a few theories chucked around of why it is useful, such as increasing venous return from the legs, but I have to say I'm not convinced that actually occurs.

However, compression clothing, such as the short- and long-sleeve tops, shorts and tights, has value particularly when training conditions are cold or wet. You can go a long way to keeping your body healthy when training by warming up effectively and staying warm during. Skins, UnderArmour or similar keeps the joints and muscles just that little bit warmer, which really helps me at least.

Search for Under Armour

Next in the shoulder series is soon to follow.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

The Shoulder

I plan to do a series of posts on the anatomy, physiology and common pathologies of the athlete's shoulder. This first one will cover the articulations, or movements, that the shoulder is capable of. First it is necessary to cover briefly the anatomy of the shoulder complex, as this better aids us in understanding how different movements are accomplised.

The shoulder girdle consists of three bones: the scapula (shoulder blade), the clavicle (collarbone) and the humerus (long bone of the upper arm).

The scapula and the humerus articulate at the glenohumeral joint. The clavicle meets the acromion process of the scapula at the acromioclavicular joint, above the glenohumeral joint. The medial end of the clavicle forms the only bony connection of the shoulder girdle with the body, meeting the sternum at the sternoclavicular joint. Posteriorly, the scapula overlies the thorax, forming the scapulothoracic joint. There is no direct relation of the scapula to the ribcage, the scapula instead gliding over the surface of the body wall suspended by a complex network on muscles.

The anatomy of the shoulder girdle makes the broadest range of movements possible, at the expense of stability (compare with the hip, where the pelvic girdle bones are fused and capable of only very limited movement). The glenohumeral joint has been likened to a golf ball sitting on a golf tee, making the support of various muscles critical to the effective functioning of the joint. Similarly, the scapula can move extensively across the body wall to further the range in which the arm can move. The images above and below illustrate the relationships of the bones which make up the shoulder girdle.

The movements of the shoulder can be subdivided into movements of the humerus and movements of the scapula and clavicle. It must be borne in mind that most movements that we perform in the gym and in daily life involve a combination of both humeral and scapula movement. Indeed, effective functioning requires the two to move together effectively, a phenomenon known as scapulohumeral rhythm. Scapular dyskinesis, faulty scapulohumeral rhythm, may be responsible for common shoulder overuse injuries.

This first video shows the isolated movements of the Scapulae. In order, these are:
  • Elevation
  • Depression
  • Protraction
  • Retraction
  • Upward rotation
  • Downward rotation

The final two, upward and downward rotation, are difficult to demonstrate without moving the humerus as well. They may also at first glance appear identical to Elevation and Depression, but as the image shows, the scapula in fact rotates to point the glenoid upwards.

The next video shows the movements of the humerus at the glenohumeral joint. These are in order:
  • Flexion
  • Extension
  • Abduction (aB)
  • Adduction (aD)
  • External rotation in adduction
  • Internal rotation in adduction
  • External rotation in abduction
  • Internal rotation in abduction
The rotation of the humerus was shown in both adduction and abduction, as this can be a difficult concept to grasp. Combinations of these movements can create effectively new ones, such as transverse flexion (moving from an abducted position to a flexed position). Since this is a combination rather than a true articulation, it is not included. This is the movement seen in a dumbbell flye, for example.

Combinations of scapular and humeral movements accomplish the movements that we use in the gym. For example, the overhead press involves scapula upward rotation, some protraction and elevation, and humeral flexion and some external rotation. Looking at the images and videos above can aid in understanding how this happens. Another is example is a horizontal row, which involves scapula retraction, depression and humeral extension.

The best way to understand these movements and understand your body better, is to attempt these movements in isolation yourself. It is a subject for another article, but failure of proper synchronous contraction of various muscles during different scapular and humeral movements can result in some common and frustrating shoulder problems. Just learning how to accomplish the various different movements, focusing on the different muscles contracting in each one, can go a surprisingly long way to improving shoulder issues.

In the next article, I will deal more with the muscles that accomplish the articulations described above. Common dysfunctions and their remedies will follow.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Training today

Snatch: 40x5, 60x5, 70x3, 80x3x3, 85, 90, 95, 100miss x2

Rack Jerk: 40x3, 60x3, 80x3, 100, 100, 110, 115, 115, 120, 110x2

FS: 60x5, 90x5, 110x5, 130x5

Snatches felt solid today. Was very close to the magic 100 but missed it twice like a numpty. Will get that soon and more hopefully. Rack jerks were ok but still need to be more explosive in the drive.

Cycled to and from training as well in a bid to do more conditioning. This time last year I was preparing for the Crossfit Games and was probably at my peak in terms on fitness. This year I have been a bit lazy on that front, getting into Olympic Weightlifting more and neglecting my fitness. This has resulted in good strength gains but as one would expect, my conditioning has taken a knock.

Over the summer I intend to capitalise on this added strength and bring back the metcons more, hopefully building to some PBs by the end of the year. I will still work the olympic lifts a lot as I think these build strength, power and mobility better than anything else. I still intend to shoot for PBs by year's end, hopefully totalling around 250 and do a few BWLA comps along the way.

I've written a post on warming-up the shoulders which I will put up in the next few days. Just need to take a couple of photos for it.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Strong Cooking

I also enjoying cooking, mainly for the result. As we all know, if you want to be big and strong, you have to eat a lot of meat. This badass lamb shoulder cost about a tenner and should be good for about 6-7 meals.

Score and season it well, then chuck some rosemary sprigs and garlic gloves in a dish and put the lamb, fat side down, on top.

Cover with some baking parchment then some foil and stick in the oven at 170 degrees for four hours. Enjoy a some light refreshment while you wait.

Comes out really tender and you have stacks of nice meat to feast on after chucking some iron around.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

First post, training focus today...

I want this blog to document my quest for strength and conditioning and also be a useful resource. S&C has been my interest for a while now and I hope that some of the knowledge I have got can be shared with others. I'll include my current training focus and thinking behind it (when there is some) and various online resources that I have made use of.

Training today:
Rack Jerks: up to 100x3 and 110x3 - shoulders were hurting a bit and was faffing with new technique so left it here

Back Squat: up to 170x1, missed 185 - was chasing a gym record but missed it.

The squat failure gives me my first topic, which is sticking points. Mine is just above parallel; I can drive up out of the whole but get stuck here and can't complete the rep. The cure for this is doing lifts from a dead stop position, starting at your sticking point. Get the bar in a power rack or on blocks, get under it, and stand up. I have never tried this, but the theory seems sound, so I will give it a go and see if it's good for some PBs. Strongmen are fans of deadstop front squats for building strength for atlas stones, so it must have some merit.

Just while I'm posting, I'll chuck up my stats:
BW 87kg
Snatch 95
C+J 125
Clean 135
Power Snatch 87.5
Back squat 180
Front Squat 160
Bench 120
Push press 97.5
Weighted chin +50kg
Max ring muscleups: 8
Max handstand pressups: 13