Posts Tagged ‘mobility’

The overhead squat is, in my opinion, one of the most challenging non-Olympic lifting barbell lifts which you can do. It requires a ton of mobility in several different regions of the body, as well as a ton of core strength and overhead stability. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the overhead squat, check out this video below.

Perhaps the first question which needs answering is: do you even need to overhead squat? I had this debate with an Olympic lifter friend of mine. His argument was that overhead squatting is unnecessary because the movement is covered when you snatch. I still felt the overhead squat was an important exercise to help create core and overhead stability. It took my thick head a couple of days to realize why we had differing viewpoints: he squat snatches, while I mostly power snatch. As a result, he gets a lot of full range overhead squatting in from his snatching, whereas I do not. This would explain in part why I struggle with the overhead squat: I haven’t really done it much.

Long story short, if you do a lot of squat snatching, you probably don’t need to program heavy overhead squats into your routine. If you mostly power snatch, I’d recommend programming in overhead squats to get you comfortable in the bottom position. And just to throw a little common sense at you: unless you are a CrossFitter training the overhead squat for its own sake, or an Olympic lifter training the overhead squat for snatching with a belt on, ditch the weight belt. Doing an exercise like this which demands a lot of your core with a belt on doesn’t make much sense.

What Does The Overhead Squat Do?

Believe it or not, the overhead squat, for most people, is not going to do a ton to build up lower body strength/power. Think of it this way. Let’s say you can back squat 300# for 3 reps, and overhead squat 250# for 3 reps. In both movements, your legs are displacing the same amount of weight. Since you can presumably overhead squat less than you can back or front squat, your legs will not be challenged in the same way that they would be if you back or front squatted.

The overhead squat is GREAT for core stability, upper back strengthing, mobility (especially when done lightly with an emphasis on perfect technique), and assessment purposes. If you want to see what’s wrong with a person’s body mobility-wise, watch them overhead squat.

As a bit of an aside, if you have never done the overhead squat, it may look like it requires a lot of tricep strength. While the triceps might be needed to press the weight into an overhead position, your elbows should be locked out when overhead squatting. There should be NO bend. If you find your triceps working a lot, you are probably doing the movement wrong.

Am I Ready To Overhead Squat?

Here is a guideline which I would suggest. Ever heard of the behind-the-neck Sots press? See the video below. If you can do this exercise properly and pain free with an empty Olympic bar, you PROBABLY (and remember, I’m not a doctor) have the mobility and shoulder health required to overhead squat.

My Sots Press Was Laughable. How Can I Get To The Point Of Overhead Squatting?

There are a number of things which can cause a poor Sots press. If you are an athlete and have been training using even moderately good programming and full range of motion, I’m going to go ahead and assume core stability and upper back/shoulder strength are likely not the reason your Sots press looks like you are bowing. Chances are the culprit is poor mobility.

If your torso inclines forward, you may have poor ankle mobility (focus on soleus and heel cord) or poor hip mobility (focus on piriformis, glutes, hams, etc.).

If you have pain in the knees or hips you probably have poor mobility in the knees or hips. Pretty self explanatory.

If you cannot push the bar straight up overhead, chances are one or several of the following areas need mobility work: upper traps, lats, pec minor, thoracic.

While I’m not going to go into how to fix all of those problems, check out the video below from Kelly Starrett which has some good overhead squat warm-up/solution info.

I’m Good To Start Overhead Squatting. How Do I Incorporate It Into My Programming?

Since this movement demands a lot of the core and a little bit less of the legs, I would definitely suggest doing it closer to the end of your workout. You definitely want to get your Olympic lifting and heavy squatting in first. Essentially, I would categorize this lift as an accessory movement. Don’t make it the focus of a workout.

I would not suggest going much above 6 reps per set on this exercise. It is a very complex movement that requires a lot of neural drive. High rep it, and small muscles like the ones in the upper back will start to fail, thus causing poor mechanics and increasing risk of injury.

The overhead squat is also a great warm-up for snatching. As well, as I mentioned earlier, it is a great assessment tool.

In Closing…

The overhead squat is an excellent exercise for any athlete who is not squat snatching. However, if you don’t respect how difficult and demanding it is and just try to jump into it, you are likely to hurt yourself. Check out your Sots press, and if you have issues which need some attention, fix them. Once you are ready to overhead squat, definitely consider making it a regular part of your routine. #allgo


These are two very interesting articles which I looked at this week.

This is a really cool article which demonstrates some positives and negatives about CrossFit as displayed in a controlled study. Coach Greg Glassman has been very negative about sports science in the past, which is one of the reasons why CrossFit has alienated some individuals in the fitness industry. The bottom line is, to know whether or not a system of exercise is effective, measurable and repeatable results must be produced. This article is the first attempt I have seen (no doubt similar studies have been done) at trying to objectively assess what CrossFit does in regards to fitness.

I think it was mobility guru Kelly Starrett who suggested that localized stretching is to movement as practice is to the game. If you are a hero in practice but can’t produce in the game, to heck with you. Who cares if you can touch your forehead to your knee in a hurdlers stretch if you can’t ass-to-grass squat? Okay, granted, some sports that type of mobility is important (gymnastics, etc.), but for most athletes, mobility is a means to the end of proper movement and injury prevention. For example, I’m guessing most football players are only concerned about having enough mobility to squat properly and make sure they don’t get injured.

We all understand that isolation movements are far less important (and I’m making a generalization here) to athletes than compound movements. This is because your body goes not typically use muscles in isolation. In an athletic setting, it’s very unlikely you will use your biceps without also using your lats, upper back, etc. Similarly, it’s very unlikely that you will require extremely hamstring mobility in an athletic situation without similar requirements in the hip. Instead of spending your time stretching all your muscles individually, think about what this article suggests. Use lifting and natural movements to help with mobility! #allgo

Check out UFC fighter Alistair Overeem. What a physical specimen. Allisat USE

Yes and no. Steroid allegations aside, the guy is an absolute monster. This is an older picture of him. He has only gotten bigger. Overeem is a great athlete and kickboxer, but he has a postural issue which is very common in MMA. Look at the position of Overeem’s hands. Notice how you can see the backs of them? That’s not how your hands should fall. Alistair Overeem’s shoulders are internally rotated.

What exactly is shoulder internal rotation you ask. Basically, it is when your shoulders are pulled forward and out of their proper positioning. When your shoulders internally rotate, this causes rotation of the humeris, which causes a chain reaction down the entire arm. Hence why you can see the back of Overeem’s hands. Being internally rotated is very dangerous for your shoulders, especially if you are an athlete. If you are confused about proper shoulder positioning, I took some pictures of yours truly to demonstrate the difference between proper shoulder positioning and internal rotation.

Here are a couple of shots of me pretending to be internally rotated:


Sorry for the big pics. I am lousy with technology. Notice in the profile view how my shoulder slumps forward. In the front view, notice how similar my hand positioning is to the picture of Overeem.

Here are some shots of me standing normally (yes, I have pretty awesome posture):


You can see in the profile view how much further pulled back my shoulder is. You can see this from the view in the front as well. Also, look at the positioning of my hand in this front view as compared to the internally rotated picture. You cannot see the back of my hand. Quick test: go stand normally in front of a mirror. Can you see the back of your hands? If so, you are internally rotated and have some work to do.


Internal rotation can be caused by a number of things. Generally, like all postural issues, it is some combination of tightness and (relative) weakness. Tight upper traps, tight pec minor, tight thoracic, and tight lats are all potentially big contributors when it comes to shoulder internal rotation.

Weakness of certain muscles can also pose a problem. Most notably the upper back. If you sit slumped over a computer all day, chances are your upper back muscles are stretched out from your normal seated posture, and weak, since you likely aren’t doing anything on a daily basis to strengthen them.

Think Overeem has a weak back? I doubt it. BUT, his upper back may be weak relative to his chest. If you have a strong upper back but a REALLY strong and tight chest, the chest will win the tug-o-war over the shoulders.


When you are internally rotated, your shoulders are in a weak, vulnerable position. Because they are not sitting the way they were designed to anatomically, you end up being at a higher risk for injury. Try this. Those of you who read my very first blog post will remember this experiment. Sit straight up in your chair. With your palms facing each other, raise your arms up in front of you, and then straight up over your head. Now, try the same thing with your arms, but with your shoulders rounded far forward. Notice a bit of a difference in your shoulder mobility? You should. You should also notice with the rounded shoulders that pushing the range of motion can be quite uncomfortable. Overeem is a strong dude. How do you think his shoulders feel when he does heavy push-press with his internally rotated positioning? Bottom line, if your shoulders are internally rotated, you are at risk for a shoulder injury. If you have this problem, stop overhead pressing, pulling, and snatching NOW. You have a lot of mobility and remedial work ahead of you to fix your body.


I mentioned earlier 4 key problem areas where tightness can cause shoulder internal rotation: thoracic, lats, pec minor, and upper traps. If you are internally rotated, don’t worry about which of these four areas is the problem. Chances are you are tighter than you ought to be in all of them. Use a foam roller or PVC pipe on your lats. Try a lacrosse ball on your pecs, a double lacrosse ball for your thoracic, and check out this little number for your upper traps courtesy of Mobility WOD.

In addition to the self massage work, do some static and dynamic stretching for that area. For example, try doing behind the neck overhead pressing with a broomstick. Start with your hands wide, and then move them closer together as your shoulder mobility increases.

Another important solution to this problem is strengthening your upper back. Facepull variations, TYI’s, and even heavier horizontal pulling/rowing movements can do this. As I mentioned earlier, if your upper back is relatively weak compared to your chest, your shoulders will be pulled forward. If you are a boxer or a kickboxer, think about how much time you spend pushing (punching) compared to pulling. Of course there is a discrepancy! If you are internally rotated and trying to fix the problem, not only should you ditch all overhead pushing and pulling, but you should also ditch horizontal pushing for the time being. Yes guys, this means no bench! Stretch and strengthen, and then you can get back to these movements.

However, once your shoulders are in a healthy position, maintain a ratio of at least 2 pulls for every 1 push in the weight room. That means if you are doing 5 sets of heavy bench, you better be doing 5 sets of heavy rows, as well as some remedial work such as facefulls for the upper back.

How do you know if you have fixed the problem? Besides the hand/mirror test, try this. Lie on the ground on your back. With your palms facing each other, raise your arms overhead. If you can touch your index fingers to the ground without overextending your lumber, bending your elbows, or having shoulder pain, you have likely fixed your shoulder positioning and are PROBABLY good to go with overhead movements.

Shoulder internal rotation isn’t just a problem for the elderly. As evidenced by the pic of Overeem, lots of high level athletes have this problem as well. Take it from a guy who separated his shoulder during a split jerk in the last training session before my first Olympic lifting comp: shoulder injuries suck. If you are internally rotated, swallow your pride, pull back your training in certain areas, and fix the problem once and for all. #allgo

After getting some feedback and looking up some new information, I just wanted to briefly revisit my last post. A friend of mine messaged me with a question about proper foot positioning during a squat. He made reference to the fact that I suggested you squat with your toes completely forward, yet I used a picture of Kelly Starrett where his toes point out slightly.


I should have made more of an effort to differentiate between foot positioning for a) squatting or Olympic lifting, and b) sprinting, prowler pushing, lunging, etc.

Regarding squatting and Olympic lifting, having your toes point out slightly is okay! Most people do not have the ankle mobility to drive their knees out with their toes pointing completely forward, which is fine. Starrett’s foot positioning in the squat on the right is excellent. Do NOT do this…

squat-improve_mainLook at this guy’s feet, and his right knee. His toes are pointed very far out. No surprise, you can see his right knee collapsing in slightly. Look at the difference of the angle of the ankle between this squat and Starrett’s good squat. Starrett’s ankles are angled out nicely over the OUTSIDE of his feet, while this guy’s ankles are collapsing in causing poor knee positioning and dangerous joint stress. All that is to say, pointing your toes out slightly in squatting or Olympic lifting is fine, but keep a close eye on your knees.

In terms of running, lunging, prowler pushing, etc. … It is my belief that the toes should be pointed DIRECTLY forward in these movements. For one thing, since these movements are more dynamic than say, squatting, it is more difficult to ensure your knees track properly. When I squat I always remind myself to drive my knees out. When I sprint I’m concentrating on not falling flat on my face!

Secondly, I believe having your toes pointing out even slightly in movements such as sprinting is a bit of a slippery slope. If you do it a bit, as you get tired, you are going to do it more. When you are standing, walking, running, lunging, pushing a sled, or doing single-leg squats, point your toes directly forward!

I leave you with another video of Georges St. Pierre training for his most recent fight with Carlos Condit. Watch from 4:00-4:30 to see Georges stressing his knees again by using very poor foot positioning on the prowler. For the record, I mean no disrespect to Georges and his team, but this is definitely an issue which he/they ought to address! #allgo

I used to have a yoga instructor that would say “You can mess with the gods, but you can’t mess with your knees”. I have been lucky enough to avoid any serious knee injuries thus far in my athletic career (touch wood), but I definitely took what she said to heart. There are lots of ways to prevent knee injuries: single leg training, full ROM squats to assist in VMO development and knee tracking, stretching, etc. One thing some athletes are not aware of is how foot positioning can either help to protect the knee, or endanger the knee.

Many of you reading this will be familiar with the name Georges St. Pierre. He is the current UFC welterweight champ, and one of the most dominant fighters on the planet right now. He also recently returned from an ACL tear. Not to blast my own horn, but I was not the least bit surprised that GSP suffered that injury. Yes, he is in a dangerous sport, but I’m sure it didn’t help that he and his coaching staff have didn’t pay enough attention to his foot positioning and therefore the angle of his knees in certain movements.

Take a look at the following picture. This is an example of ‘valgus knee’ positioning. Notice how the toes point out and the knees collapse in.

vagus 2This knee and foot position puts an extreme account of stress on the inside of the knee; stress that that joint is not biomechanically designed to handle, or to be loaded in. Can you imagine squatting like this!? When you squat or run, your toes should be pointed forward.

In this following video, Brian MacKenzie and Kelly Starrett explain how foot positioning can be a tell that an athlete will encounter knee issues. While I suggest watching the whole video because it is excellent, at minimum watch 6:00-7:00.

If your feet point out and your knees collapse in during sprints, squats, prowler pushing, etc., you are at risk for a knee injury. Try this test. Stand with your toe pointing forward and try to push your knee forward over your toe as far as it can go without lifting your heel off the ground. Probably feels fine right? Now, do the same thing, but turn your toe out to the side as far as you can. Does your knee feel strong? Comfortable? It shouldn’t, because that’s not how the joint should function.

With this in mind, take a look at the following video clip. This is footage of Georges St. Pierre training for his last fight BEFORE his ACL tear. Watch from 11:00-12:15. Pay very close attention to the angle of his toes during his sprinting.

Notice anything? GSP’s toes are pointed out to the side during his sprints, rather than straight ahead. As a result, his knee is not tracking directly over his toe, but is collapsing in slightly. While there is no way to know whether doing squatting and explosive activities such as sprinting in this movement pattern over and over caused his knee injury, it certainly didn’t help matters.

How can you prevent this improper movement pattern? When a person doesn’t move properly, I would suggest there are potentially three main causes. Poor movement patterns may be caused by one, two, or all three of these issues.

1) You have simply learned the improper movement pattern.

2) You have restricted mobility somewhere which is preventing you from doing the proper movement pattern.

3) You have weakness somewhere which is preventing you from doing the proper movement pattern.

Let’s take squatting as an example here. Let’s say after reading this article you realized that when you squat your toes are pointed out, and your knees are in a valgus position.

1) If you have simply learned the improper movement pattern, just start doing the movement properly. Point your toes forward and push your knees out when you squat.

2) If you have restricted mobility which is affecting your ability to squat properly and causing valgus positioning, the culprits are likely poor hip and ankle mobility. Solution? Spend 5 minutes a day sitting in an ass-to-grass squat with your chest high and your knees out. This will fix the problem pretty quickly. Worked for me.

3) If you have weakness which is preventing you from pointing your toes forward and driving your knees out, I refer you to the solution for the first problem. Don’t get too analytical and think that you have to spend your days doing a bunch of femur abduction work to strengthen your glute med. Practice squatting properly, and maybe throw in some pistols (single leg squats). Use light weight at first, and progress once the movement pattern becomes more natural.


Foot positioning is so important when it comes to knee injury prevention, but is not always focused on enough. As I mentioned, Georges St. Pierre has some of the best trainers in the world, and even they appear to have missed the problem. Watch your feet, and how your knees move in relation to them. Chances are your sport is dangerous enough. You should do as much as possible to avoid injuring yourself in training. #allgo

MMA Stance and Thoracic Extension

Posted: November 21, 2012 in Mobility
Tags: , ,


For my first post, I wanted to tackle an issue which I have noticed due to my involvement in both MMA training and the fitness industry. In some ways, MMA fighters are like Crossfitters. Both work extremely hard when put through a workout, but do not necessarily have the knowledge of the more subtle nuances of certain movements. Generally, when people are unsure of some of the more minor details of compound, functional movements, they may also be unaware of how their own body functions.

I was fortunate enough to do some training work at an amazing facility in London Ontario. This training center specialized in working with hockey players, many of whom were in the OHL, or on their way there. One of the many things that experience taught me is that athletes don’t really care about the details of movement mechanics in the gym the same way people in the fitness industry do. They care about the results.

Makes perfect sense to me. Why should a football player care if an excess of horizontal pushing without enough horizontal pulling to balance it out resulted in some shoulder internal rotation if he’s strong enough to push everyone out of the way? The correct answer to this question is injury prevention, which leads to longevity and increased performance.

Injuries add up, and can reduce both the quality and length of ones athletic career. Injuries also reduce training time. Imagine two similar athletes with the same 1RM for back squat. If they both worked for 2 years to try to improve it, but one had to take months off due to an ACL injury, we can assume that provided proper programming, the healthy one would be much further along.

With this in mind, I want to address a common postural issue in MMA athletes. Take a look at the following photo from Shogun/Machida 1.


Here we see Shogun (in the white trunks) in a traditional Muay Thai stance. Now take a look at this picture.


Notice any similarities? You should. Both this unfortunate man and Shogun Rua have overly flexed thoracic spines. Not sure what the thoracic spine is?

The following picture shows Shogun’s poor spinal positioning, as well as what proper spinal positioning looks like.


So what, you may ask. Try this little test. Stand straight up, push your chest out, and raise your arm up in front of you, and then over your head. Now, try the same thing, but instead of standing straight up, round your shoulders forward. Notice a different in your overhead mobility? An overly flexed thoracic spine reduces overhead mobility, and can lead to both low numbers and injuries in overhead movements such as military press, push press, jerks, and pull ups.

If you have done a fair amount of MMA or Muay Thai, chances are this is a problem you have. I noticed it recently on myself, and realized that it is really effecting my starting position for snatches.

Here is a great video from an awesome blog called ‘Mobility Wod’. In it, Kelly Starrett shows some great ways to improve thoracic extension and overhead mobility. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my first post. Thanks for reading. #allgo