How to Screen for Overhead Stability

Imagine for a moment a young boy helping his father set up a tall ladder. The young boy kneels at the base of the ladder, firmly securing it to the ground. The father then pushes the ladder upwards, leaning it against the side of their house.

Ladder Photo .jpg

This illustration is precisely what happens at your shoulder every time you move your arm! (1) The shoulder blade (scapula) acts just like the young boy in this story. The small muscles that attach and move the scapula help to “steer” your arm into place by keeping the base in a stable position.

The muscles of the upper back work together to maintain the barbell in a good position during overhead barbell movements. Think what would happen if the father tried to set up the tall ladder without the help of his son to secure the base? This would be a recipe for disaster. The same scenario occurs when athletes perform overhead squats and snatches with poor scapular stability.

Assessing scapular stability

While there is a lot that goes into assessing your scapular stability, one simple test you can do at home is the T & Y screen. This is an easy way to uncover possible weak links in the muscles that secure your shoulder blade (17 to be exact).

Start by assuming a kneeling position with your chest facing the ground. Hold one arm directly out to your side (as if making one side of the letter T). Make sure your palm is facing toward the ground. Have a partner then push down on your outstretched arm for 3 seconds. Try to keep your arm from moving!


Next, take your outstretched arm and move it to an elevated position (as if now making one side of the letter Y). Again, have a partner push down on your outstretched arm for 3 seconds. Try to resist this movement as much as you can!


What did you feel? Was it easy or difficult for you to maintain your outstretched arm position? If you had a hard time keeping your arm from moving, it means you may have poor scapular stability.

Final Thoughts

Athletes who struggle with poor scapular stability often have difficulty with the overhead squat and barbell snatch movements. If left unchecked, this problem can even lead to the onset of shoulder and/or elbow pain. If you want to stay healthy and reach your true strength potential, focusing on stabilizing your scapula during overhead lifts is vital!

Next week we will discuss a few of our favorite ways to create a more stable platform for our overhead barbell lifts.

Until next time,

Dr. Aaron Horschig, PT, DPT, CSCS, USAW


1) Terry GC, Chopp TM. Functional anatomy of the shoulder. J of Athl Training. 2000; 35(3):248-255.

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9 thoughts on “How to Screen for Overhead Stability

  1. How do I know how much force should I be able to resist? Obviously is very easy for the partner pushing down to move my arm.

  2. The first step in screening for overhead stability is to determine the amount of pressure that can be applied to the overhead. To do this, place a weight plate on top of a barbell. Then, raise it until it falls off. You can download free templates from source. The amount of weight that you can lift will give you an idea of how much pressure is needed on the barbell to keep it from falling off the bar.

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