Overhead Variations for better everything!


Proprioception, flexibility, mobility and strength…
@Sexycurlsmma powers out of the bottom of an overhead lunge, there is a lot physically going on here.
Certain exercises seem to be able to train all these qualities at once. As much as I love deadlifts, squats and bench press, excessive use of these exercises can lead to a sort of “locked in athlete” where due to repeat movement patterns and functional shorting, we see a loss in flexibility and mobility.
Don’t call it functional training
We can get stronger, improve balance and even get more flexible if we through in the right supplementary exercises on top of heavy strength work.
For a while now new evidence suggests balanced strength training can improve flexibility. Flexibility gains in the strength training are however not completely understood, but possibilities include neuromuscular adaptations, connective tissue plasticity or some sort of reflex activity that causes further relaxation of the muscles.We do know thanks to a systematic review by O’sullivan et al that eccentric loading can increase flexibility. How does this lead to strength, well generally the muscle that stretches the most has to do the most work to get through the lifting (concentric) phase, watch any Christian Thibadeau video he mentions this idea when applied to hypertrophy training. I call this process flexibility ingraining, and muscles under load trained through full ROM are generally healthier than ones that arn’t, you are teaching them to be long not short.
There are certain exercises that build proprioception (also known as kinasthetic awareness) like no other, proprioceptive training was nearly stolen by the Bosu, wobble board crowd and the PT’s who wielded these methods inappropriately. 
Proprioception is meerly the is the body’s ability to transmit a sense of position in a space. Generally free runners, olympic weightlifters and gymnasts have excellent sense of proprioception despite all doing very different sports, the key is multiple planes of motion and using multiple joints with different all with a potentially compromised centre of gravity. Generally rehabilitation specialists compromise center of gravity with unstable surfaces forcing better nervous control in rehab patients. Generally with fit healthy athletes this offers little proprioceptive challenge. Standing still and holding something over head will make you suddenly very proprioceptively aware, from your head to your toes you can feel what is working in order to keep stable. As Dan John says its makes the body “one peice.”
Koji presses make you cruelly aware of your stability
How do we tie these together well, if we put the body under controlled eccentric loading over a full range of motion, force the need for isometric stability by putting the load above or away from the center of gravity. And once you are down there obviously you need to come back out.
These exercises work brilliantly as warm-ups or supplementary work after main explosive or heavy lifting has been performed. The video’s below represent some of the more unusual exercises I have employed to hit clients with that flexibility, balance and strength triple threat. Obviously there are some folks that due to anatomical limitations cannot go overhead, so be prudent and work these movements in carefully.
Sotts Press From Front Squat
This demands good lower limb flexibility to sit in the bottom, to complete the press thorasic (upper back) extension is needed, the chest sinks the bar falls forwards. The lift is finished in the same manner as an overhead press. Surprisingly I come away from this exercise with a shoulder and back pump. This can be done as a combination exercise including the clean and squat on every rep.
Clean Grip Overhead Squat
Lu Xiaojun be damned, this exercise when loaded heavy requires great lower limb mobility shoulder and back flexibility. I also use it as warm-up exercise focusing on driving shoulders back and engaging the lats, as if im trying to pull the bar apart
Sotts Press Behind The Neck
This really opens out the shoulders and should be used with caution and light loading.
More challenging in my opinion done this way on the shoulders than the snatch grip style Sotts press.
 
Clean Grip Overhead Lunge
The front leg drives us out of the bottom of the lunge,  the back leg is lengthened giving us a nice stretch on the hip flexor. Because we are loading over head, this challenges the core and puts the thoracic spine in extension, while at the same time forcing you to stabilise the scapular.

Stride Length — The shorter your stride, the more quad-dominant you will make the movement. However a longer stride will increase activation of the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings).

If you suck at Lunges for whatever reason I suggest checking out John Izzo’s deeper lunge article 
Spotted the commonality between these movements yet?

  • Flexibility – Ankle, knee, hip, upper thoracic spine in extension
  • Proprioception – Keeping weight over and raising center of gravity
  • Strength – Pressing musculature both concentrically and isometrically, core but also cocontraction of the upper back
If done as a complex (including the dead/hang clean) these movements offer significant time under tension which is great for those involved in MMA and grappling sports I have found.

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