Between desk jobs, driving, burpees, pull-ups, carrying stuff, and any number of other frontally-oriented activities, many (most?) of us have sub-optimal posture which generally leads to tight upper backs and shoulders. This, in turn, leads to lifting less than our strength would otherwise allow, and potentially unnecessary pain during movements, tweaks that sometimes persist longer than we’d like, and occasionally even injuries that could have been avoided.

There are roughly a zillion stretches and corrective exercises on the internet to address this problem, many of which each of us will find personally useful. That said, there is a short list that we generally like at AR because of the relative simplicity, and the nearly universal effectiveness (not that there aren’t always outliers).

Before class (upper back mobility):

  1. Roll thoracic spine (upper back) and lats (under the shoulder along the ribs) on a foam roller. Do this pre-workout. A minute or so is enough to be effective.

  2. Thread the needle and/or side-lying rainbows or bow & arrows. Do this pre-workout. 5 controlled reps on each side.

Once you’ve done the class warm-up (shoulder mobility):

  1. Stretch pec major (straight arm against the wall or rig) and pec minor (elbow bent at 90 degrees) - gently move arm to full pain-free range 3-5 times. Hold for under 5 seconds. Set shoulder back and down before initiating the stretch.

  2. Stretch lats using a band on the rig (establish a tiny bit of tension on the band, more isn’t better). Hinge at hip, keeping low back neutral. Use the PNF method - pull gently against the band with lats for 3-5 seconds, then relax and increase the stretch. Repeat 3-5 times on each side.

Before lifting overhead (upper back activation):

  1. A’s, T’s and W’s using no more than 2.5 pounds in each hand. “Flap” your arms roughly 6” to the front and back of your body with straight elbows, and initiating each rep by squeezing your shoulder blades together. Follow through with your arms. Repeat 10 times in each position.

  2. Behind the next press with empty bar (assuming this is pain free). Use your jerk grip, and initiate with your upper back engaged - shoulder blades back and down/pushing the chest out (not over-extending lower back!) even as you press overhead. Repeat 8 times - up (concentric) should be faster than down (eccentric).

  3. Upright row with empty bar. Use a narrow grip (same as you would for sumo deadlift high pull). Establish neutral posture - hips beneath your ribs, midline stable, shoulders back and down. Repeat 8 times - up should be faster than down, and bar should stay close throughout the movement.

Post-workout (restoring or potentially increasing range of motion):

  1. “Snow angel” on a foam roller - lay face up on a foam roller with head, back and hips supported. Let arms relax to each side, wrists on the ground with palms up. Elbows may also reach the floor if sufficiently flexible, but don’t force it. Relax into the foam roller for roughly three minutes. Stop if you feel discomfort anywhere or tingling in your arms.

Lots of other things are useful here - arm rolls and swings, push-ups, ring dips, shoulder press, lat pull-downs (and pull-ups), front-rack and wrist-specific stretches, wall angels, and honestly anything else you find makes a difference for you.

If you are aware that your capacity in upper body movements is limited due to tightness or lack of muscle activation (or both) you should have an effective routine that you use at least in part every time you use your upper body. We build these things into our warm ups regularly, and we recommend the “snow angel” in cool downs.

My impression is that with all of the chatter about mobility and activation on the internet it feels a little overwhelming to even start working on something like this on your own. My firm belief (mostly thanks to Dr. Rabbetz!) is that an effective routine doesn’t have to be complex or time-consuming. The most effective routines are the ones that are simple enough that you actually do it.

As always, let us know if you need personalized recommendations. Happy pressing, pulling and jerking!

WOD for 09-27-18:

Part One:

EMOM 12 Minutes for Max Wall Balls:

5 Deadlifts @ 245/165 lbs.

then, AMRAP Wall Balls @ 20/14 lbs. to 10/9’ Target

Score is Wall Balls, or time to complete 150 reps

Rest three minutes, then:

Part Two:

Run 800m (Recovery Pace)


Tabata Russian Med Ball Twists