How to Improve Overhead Stability

Welcome back to Squat University! Last week we started a conversation on scapular stability. The muscles that control the scapula help stabilize the barbell during an overhead squat or snatch movement in a strong and safe position.

Previously, we introduced the T & Y screen as a tool to expose possible weak links our scapular stability. Today I want to share with you two of my favorite corrective exercises to address overhead instability.

1) External Rotation Press

2) Kettle Bell Turkish Get-Ups

Focus on your posture while performing each movement. An exercise performed with poor posture (i.e. rounded shoulders) only reinforces the problem we’re trying to affect. If you want to see any lasting improvements in your overhead stability, you MUST use good posture!

External Rotation Press

When athletes struggle to keep the barbell overhead during a snatch or overhead squat, they often allow the bar to fall forward. In order to fix this problem we need to focus on activating the muscles that resist this forward collapse (the scapular stabilizers on the back of the shoulder).

Step 1: (Row) Grab a resistance band with your right hand. Pull the band towards you in a rowing motion. Your hand should finish directly in front of your elbow with your arm parallel to the ground. This engages the muscles that stabilize the shoulder blade.

Step 2: (External Rotation) From this position, rotate the shoulder backwards. Your hand should now be facing the ceiling with your elbow bent to 90 degrees like an “L”.

Step 3: (Press) Next, push your hand overhead and hold for 5 seconds. The muscles that stabilize the shoulder blade should be working hard to keep your arm from falling forward.

Step 4: Next reverse the pattern and return to the start position. Lower the arm to the “L” position. Rotate forward until your arm is parallel to the ground. Finally, press your arm forward to end the movement.

Here is a quick video from physical therapist Mike Reinold demonstrating the exercise.

Recommended Sets/Reps: 10 repetitions of 5-second holds in the overhead position for each arm.

Kettle Bell Turkish Get-Up

The get-up challenges the athlete to create scapular stability through a progression of movements. During each transition, every muscle that stabilizes the arm must work to keep the weight from falling forward.

Step 1: Start by lying on your back. Your left leg should be straight with your right knee bent. Hold a small weight with your right hand. Press the weight towards the ceiling.

Get Up 1

Step 2: Next, rotate your body onto your left side, propping yourself onto your elbow. Try to keep your left foot from coming off the ground during this transition. To maintain this position, think about forcing your left heel through the wall in front of you as you rotate.

Get up 2

Keep the weight from falling forward! To help with this, imagine yourself balancing a glass of water with the hand that is holding the weight. If your arm falls forward, the water will spill from the glass.

Get Up Glass Cup

Step 3: Push yourself upwards into a side plank. Pause during this transition and feel for the position of your scapula.

Get up 3

Step 4: Pull your left foot under your body and shift your weight onto your left knee. Pause again in this position for 3 seconds.

Get up 4

Step 6: Twist forward into a split kneeling position. Pause in this position for 3 seconds. Feel the muscles in the back of your shoulder working hard.

Get Up 5

Step 7: Stand straight up, keeping your arm locked out above your head.

Get up 6

Step 8: To finish, reverse this same order of movements until you are lying again on the ground.

To progress this exercise you can a heavier kettle bell. You can also move to using a barbell for added difficulty.

Recommended Sets/Reps: 3 sets of 10 repetitions

Final Thoughts

My hope for this lecture is to give you a few tools to address your overhead stability problems. If you want to perform overhead barbell lifts with good technique and without pain, it is vital that you improve and maintain good scapular stability. 

Until next time,

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

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10 thoughts on “How to Improve Overhead Stability

  1. Hi Aaron, thanks for another great article! One more in a series of articles filled with valuable advice and information.

    I’d like to comment on the turkish get up form and suggest a slight improvement. Ideally, palm of the hand holding the bell should be facing forward. Thus the cup holding the water wouldn’t be in your palm but on the top of the fist looking straight up. Here is an example from StrongFirst demonstration of the get up:

    Keep up with great work! I enjoy your snaps! 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment! I appreciate the support and the follow on snapchat! As far as the wrist positioning, there is a reason behind the extended position we recommend. During a snatch and overhead squat, the wrist is ideally held in an extended position in order to keep the wrist in a safe position. For this reason, I typically teach the get up with that wrist position. There are definitely different ways to teach it so the article you referenced is still right for many populations! It all comes down to having a “why” for every little thing you do!

      Thanks again for the comment!

      1. Thanks for the clarification, it makes sense. In that case, maybe it would also make sense to use a dumbbell, since it will produce more similar forces on the hand as the barbell in overhead squat and snatch?

    2. Would a variation of using something like a medicine ball instead of a kettlebell really call on the cue of not letting water spill out of the glass? It doesn’t take much to lose balance when using a medicine ball for this exercise. What are your thoughts? Thanks in advance!

  2. Im going to apply this to my patients. This would be a great exercise also for patient with chronic low back pain to improve their mobility, stability and to prevent re-injury. Thanks Dr. Aaron!

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