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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 57

Written on April 18, 2014 at 6:09 am, by Eric Cressey

 It's been a while since I chimed in with some random tips to help out your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs, so here are five suggestions to kick off your healthy weekend on the right foot.

1. Use a simple chain for added weight to chin-ups or dips.

A lot of people think that you can't load these exercises without a specialized chin-up/dip belt, but believe it or not, we don't actually have one of these at Cressey Performance - nor have we in the seven years we've been in business.

Why not?  Well, it's just as easy to just take a regular chain and use your butt to hold it in place. Check it out:

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2. Don't use "but it's paleo" as an excuse to overeat.

My wife and I cook out of paleo cookbooks all the time, and the food tastes great - and obviously includes unprocessed ingredients.  However, one thing that I often see with folks who go this route is overeating. They assume that since they're replacing regular flour with almond flour, that they can eat a lot more.  This is just one example, but I think it's important for people to realize is that just because it's minimally processed doesn't mean that it's automatically lower in calories. If you look at some of the paleo pizza recipes, as examples, they can be incredibly calorically dense.  "Clean"ingredients are great, but don't overdo it.

3. Try this exercise to train around shoulder pain.

One of the biggest complaints of folks with shoulder pain is that they struggle to find drills to train the pecs that don't make the shoulder discomfort worse.  Here's a basic drill that allows for a solid training effect with minimal equipment - and rarely any discomfort: the Pec Horizontal Adductor Iso Hold.

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With this exercise, you aren't raising the arms, so impingement isn't exacerbated. You also aren't slipping into a bad posture that would exacerbate that impingement, either.  In short, you're applying force in joint positions that are pretty close to "neutral."  Isometric exercises don't get much love, but this is a good one; you're basically trying to crush whatever is between your hands (a power rack or doorway are the best bets, in my experience). I'll usually prescribe one 15-20-second iso hold per set.

It won't take your bench press to 500 pounds, but it should help you avoid wasting away while you're on the mend.

4. Avoid bad upper extremity positioning with sled drags.

I'm a big fan of sled work, but when it comes to forward dragging, the upper extremity can be put in a compromising position.  You want to avoid a posture where the shoulder blades are anteriorly tilted, and the head of the humerus is allowed to glide forward; this positioning is really rough on the AC joint, biceps tendon, anterior capsule, and even many of the nerves and vascular structures of the upper extremity:

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Instead, make sure to get the shoulder blades posteriorly tilted (tipped back) slightly, and don't allow the arms to drag behind the body.

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5. Remember that the barbell isn’t always best.

The barbell is an unbelievable training tool - but it's far from the only effective training implement at your fingertips. I was reminded of this when reading through Bret Contreras' new resource, 2x4: Maximum_Strength.  In the text, Bret observes that you actually get better glute activation on kettlebell deadlifts and goblet squats than you do on barbell variations - in spite of the fact that the load utilized is substantially lighter.  Bret remarked that it likely has to do with the fact that the external loading can be kept closer to the center of mass (and, in these cases, the hips).

 

As a friendly reminder, this awesome new program is available at the introductory price through the end of the day today (Friday). I highly recommend that you check it out: 2x4: Maximum_Strength.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/17/14

Written on April 17, 2014 at 5:58 am, by Eric Cressey

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

The Power of Habit - I actually started reading this yesterday while I was waiting around at jury duty, and it was so entertaining that I covered just under 100 pages in a very short amount of time.  I'm excited to finish it, and you'll definitely enjoy it if you're someone who likes to look at the "brain stuff" that impacts our habits and decisions.  It's super affordable on Amazon, too; you can get a Kindle edition for $7.99, and an actual book for $10.12.

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The Speed Ladder Fallacy - Dean Somerset expands on a topic I've covered in the past, and does a great job with it.

P90X and Muscle Confusion: The Truth - Charles Staley hits on this controversial topic from all angles.

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Squats vs. Hip Thrusts: Which is Better?

Written on April 16, 2014 at 2:07 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Bret Contreras, author of the recently released 2x4: Maximum_Strength.

Many strength coaches, personal trainers, and strength athletes claim that the squat is the best exercise for promoting gluteal muscle development. Recently, the hip thrust has stumbled onto the scene, and its reputation for building impressive backsides has gained traction.

There is currently no published research examining the gluteal hypertrophic effects of squatting or hip thrusting, yet anecdotally we’re aware of their glute-building potential. While nobody can say for sure right now which is best for gluteal growth between the squat and the hip thrust, I hope that by the end of this article, you’ll be convinced that both exercises should be employed for optimal glute development.

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Hypertrophy Science

According to hypertrophy researcher, Brad Schoenfeld, there are three primary mechanisms to muscle growth. The most important mechanism appears to be mechanical tension. A close second in terms of importance appears to be metabolic stress. Finally, we have muscle damage, which appears to be of slightly lesser importance. As it currently stands, we don’t know for certain how to optimize these three stimuli in our programming in order to maximize muscle growth. The way I see it, until more is known, we should do our best to hit every base in our training. Therefore, we want to perform exercises that create the most tension in the glutes, produce the most metabolic stress in the glutes, and create reasonable amounts of damage in the glutes. How do squats and hip thrusts fare in regards to the three mechanisms of muscle growth?

Let’s take a deep look at what happens biomechanically and physiologically in the glutes when we squat and hip thrust.

Gluteal Biomechanics During the Squat

Let’s say you have the bar loaded up to around 80% of your one-rep maximum (1RM). You set up and take the bar off out of the rack. The upper glutes help stabilize your pelvis as you walk the bar backward. Once you get set, the glutes calm down. Now you start descending. Glute activation during the eccentric phase is very low – around 20-30% of maximum voluntary contraction (MVC). At the bottom position, the point where everyone thinks is so amazing for glute activation, is where the glutes actually reach their lowest activation during the rep – around 10-20% of MVC. I realize that this hasn’t been mentioned in any journal. It’s something I’ve noticed over the past year with the last fifteen or so individuals I’ve tested in EMG. These are highly experienced squatters, including several Arizona state record holders in the squat.

Now, before you call me crazy, please not that a similar phenomenon is seen in the erector spinae as they’re stretched under load; this has been deemed the lumbar flexion relaxation phenomenon. As the glutes are stretched out, their activation diminishes. This could be related to the passive-elastic force that they produce in this position, or some other reason, possibly related to the changing sarcomere length or the changing muscle moment arm length.

At this point, you explode out of the hole. This is where the glutes do their thang – during concentric actions. Glute activation will reach around 80-120% of MVC as you rise upward, peaking around halfway up, and gradually diminishing before you reach the top. You pause for a brief moment, and then resume the next repetition.

Mean activation is fairly low – around 50-70% of MVC – since the top portion of the squat is rather unloaded for the glutes, and since there is usually a considerable pause in between reps as the lifter takes a deep breath, resets, and gets tight, and since the glutes don’t fire very hard eccentrically during the lift. Because of this, you won’t feel a pump or a burn in the glutes when you squat, since blood in the gluteal region has plenty of time to escape during the set. However, you will develop glute soreness in the days following the workout, due to the fact that the glute fibers are stretched eccentrically to long muscle lengths while being activated, albeit at low levels. But this is only true for the lower gluteal fibers; the upper fibers of the glutes will generally fire at around 30-40% of MVC during a heavy squat.


 

Gluteal Biomechanics During the Hip Thrust

Now let’s discuss the hip thrust. Just as in the case of the squat, let’s say you’re using around 80% of 1RM. The bar is placed onto the hips. The body is wedged into place. Before the lift begins, the glutes are silent. The lifter then thrusts the hips upward until full hip extension is reached. During this concentric shortening, peak activation will typically reach around 120-200% of MVC, and this level of activation will be elicited in both the upper and lower gluteal fibers. The peak is reached at full hip extension, as the glutes reach their shortest muscle length. This could be due to the changing sarcomere length or the changing muscle moment arm length.

On the way down, the eccentric EMG activity mirrors the concentric activity, gradually diminishing until the bottom of the range of motion is reached. The movement is quickly reversed. Due to the rapid movements and consistent tension on the glutes, mean activation during the hip thrust is extremely high – around 100% of MVC. Due to the high levels of activation and constant pumping of repetitions, levels of metabolic stress are very high as well. Incredible “glute pumps” and burning will typically set in from multiple sets of hip thrusts. However, since the glutes are not fully stretched at the bottom of the hip thrust, muscle damage will not be very severe.


 

Theoretical Imposed Adaptations

As you can see, the squat and the hip thrust are actually quite different in biomechanics. Let’s examine some commonalities and differences.

Both exercises make for excellent glute exercises due to the bent knee position, which shortens the hamstrings and places more burden on the glutes for hip extension (when the hamstrings are shortened, they cannot produce maximum force due to active insufficiency).

Both exercises require dual actions out of the glutes. In a squat, the glutes must fire to create hip extension torque, but they must also fire in order to create hip external rotation torque to prevent knee valgus (caving in of the knees). In a hip thrust, the glutes fire to create hip extension torque, but they must also fire in order to create posterior pelvic tilt torque to prevent anterior tilting of the pelvis and lumbar hyperextension.

Squats can be limited by back strength, which is not the case for hip thrusts. Squats require more balance and coordination, whereas the hip thrust is very stable and simple to perform. The hip thrust is generally limited by glute strength, meaning that the set reaches failure when the glutes can no longer raise the hips. Squats move the hips into deeper hip flexion.

Let’s see which exercise outperforms the other in various biomechanical and physiological categories in the chart below.

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As you can see in the hypothetical chart, the squat outperforms the hip thrust in 2 of the 7 categories, whereas the hip thrust outperforms the squat in 5 of the 7 categories.

The Verdict

Now, it doesn’t take a genius to imagine how combining the squat and the hip thrust would elicit greater adaptations than performing either exercise alone. In terms of imposed neural adaptations, the hip thrust requires more neural drive to the glutes, but there may be neural benefits to including squats due to the myotatic “stretch” reflex. In terms of mechanical adaptations, the two movements target different ranges of motion and therefore different gluteal muscle lengths, which likely lead to different mechanical adaptations as far as fascicle length and pennation angle are concerned. For full range gluteal strength, a more complete neurological stimulis, and full development of the upper and lower gluteal fibers, you’ll want to perform both the squat and the hip thrust. Either exercise alone won’t suffice. The good news is that we don’t have to choose between squats or hip thrusts for maximal glute development; we should perform both movements.

Squats elicit moderate levels of activation while promoting tolerable levels of gluteal muscle damage. Hip thrusts maximize tension and metabolic stress on the glutes and do a better job of hitting the upper fibers. The two exercises combine to produce one heck of a glute hypertrophy stimulus.

If you're looking for a great resource to take your strength training program to the next level, I'd highly recommend Bret's 2x4: Maximum_Strength. It's on sale this week at a great introductory price.

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A Great New Resource: 2×4: Maximum Strength

Written on April 14, 2014 at 5:41 am, by Eric Cressey

One of the things that I love about the strength and conditioning field is that it's remarkably dynamic in nature.  In other words, new information because available every single day. On one hand, this can make it difficult to stay on top of things, but on the other, it will always make you excited about going to work; things can't get stale if you choose to stay up-to-speed on new research.

This is a big area in which some coaches are able to differentiate themselves. In fact, all of the best coaches with whom I communicate on a regular basis are constantly seeking out new information, and finding ways to test new theories before they integrate it in their programs.  For me, Bret Contreras is one of those guys, as his passion for continuing eduction is unyielding. He's always talking about new studies he's read, or new exercises or programming strategies he's trying.

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Very few folks can say that they actually innovated and "changed the game," but Bret can.  The work he put in to make hip thrusts more "accepted" as a posterior chain exercise in the strength and conditioning exercise is admirable and has had a big impact on our programming.

That's one reason why I'm excited to share with you that Bret just released his excellent new program, 2x4: Maximum_Strength.

I'm a strength and conditioning "nerd" myself, and don't endorse many programs as being safe and effective. This program is both.

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And, it's a great follow-up program to my latest resource, The High Performance Handbook. One of Bret's "guinea pigs" for his program was Andrew Serrano, who had just finished the HPH program.  He told us that the HPH program was the absolute perfect lead-in to 2 x 4, as it got him out of pain and cleaned up his movement quality to set the foundation on which he could push his strength on 2 x 4. He went on to add 210 pounds on his squat/bench/deadlift total in 14 weeks.

Basically, here's the difference: HPH strengthens imbalances and shores up weak links while you build your strength, enabling you to reach your full potential. HPH exposes you to a variety of exercises and teaches you about your body. It's the perfect lead-in to 2 x 4, since 2 x 4 assumes that you're in good balance and that you know which accessory exercises work best for you. After you've completed HPH, you'll be in good balance and you'll be able to transfer over some of your favorite exercises from HPH over to 2 x 4. While HPH is flexible to accommodate different schedules, 2 x 4 pushes you to your limits by requiring you to train four days per week so that you can truly peak in strength development by the end of the program. You'll have already gotten stronger from HPH, so you need an advanced program to help you reach even further levels of maximal strength. HPH lays the foundation to set you up for great success with 2 x 4.

If you're ready to get serious and looking to take your training to the next level, this is an outstanding resource with which to do so.  And, to sweeten the deal, it's on sale at a great introductory price this week only.  Check it out: 2 x 4: Maximum_Strength.

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Band-Resisted Training for Power

Written on April 12, 2014 at 6:10 am, by Eric Cressey

Chat with any powerlifter about how he utilizes bands in his training, and you'll likely hear that they’re used for accommodating resistances to build strength. In other words, you can set up the bands to make an exercise harder at the portions of the strength curve at which you’re strongest. And, this is certainly an awesome application that’s helped thousands of lifters (myself included) to build strength.

Being a former competitive powerlifter, until just a few years ago, I’d looked at bands as something that could only make an exercise harder. Over the years, though, I've come around and begun to look for ways to utilize them to make things easier with our beginners. And, obviously, using them for pull-up and push-up assistance can be extremely helpful with working with new clients.

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I did not, however, realize until just recently that there was also a middle ground between these two extremes (advanced lifter and novice client). In this capacity, more and more, we use bands with our athletes to be able to train power more aggressively, and more frequently. How do the bands fit in? They lower the landing stress on more horizontal and lateral power exercises.

Need proof? Let's imagine “Athlete A” does three sets of five broad jumps (standing long jumps). Then, he lets us know how his shins feel 36-48 hours later. The soreness is absurd.

Simultaneously, we have “Athlete B” do the same volume of broad jumps, but with band resistance, like this:

I guarantee you that Athlete B has dramatically less soreness in the post-training period than Athlete A. And, while I don’t have all kinds of force plate data to back up my assertions, it’s safe to assume that the addition of the band reduces ground reaction forces. It’s like a box jump; we go up, but don’t come down (very much).

We’ll also use this for band-resisted heidens to develop some power in the frontal plane:

I love these band-resisted jumping options for a number of reasons. First, they allow us to train power with a bit more external loading in planes of motion we’d previously been unable to load – and this shifts things to the left a bit on the Absolute Strength - Absolute Speed Continuum.

Second, the pull of the band actually teaches athletes to get back into their hips more. You’ll often find that athletes don’t really know how to pre-stretch the glutes prior to power work in these planes. When a band is added, they simply can’t “drift into the quads;” they have to get back into the hips.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the reduced impact nature of these drills makes them a potentially useful addition to a return to action plan as an athlete is returning from an injury. It can also be a potentially useful application in older clients with whom we want to safely train power (because the loss of power is one of the biggest problems at we age). Full tilt sprinting and lots of plyometric work with loads of landing stress won’t necessarily fly, but these options (and band-resisted sprinting) can definitely lower the stress.

Fourth, with our pro baseball players, I like to use these in the early off-season as we get back to training power, but don’t want to beat up on the guys’ bodies with lots of stressful deceleration work. They jump out, but don’t come down as hard.

Bands are one of the best “take-it-anywhere” pieces of training equipment one can have, and it’s awesome that new uses for them are emerging on a regular basis. This is one such example – so I’d definitely encourage you to play around with these variations and see how you like them.

Looking for more innovative training strategies like these? Be sure to check out The High Performance Handbook, the most versatile strength and conditioning program on the market today.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/10/14

Written on April 10, 2014 at 6:24 am, by Eric Cressey

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Cressey Performance Week at T-Nation - Three members of the CP staff had articles published at T-Nation this week. Greg Robins was up first, with Bench Press More in Four Weeks. Tony Gentilcore followed, with Building a Superhuman Core. Then, finally, I had an article published yesterday: How to Build Bulletproof Shoulders.  Suffice it to say that I'm a very lucky guy to have such an awesome staff!

Elite Training Mentorship - In this month's update, I provided a presentation called, "20 Ways to Build Rapport on a Client's First Day."  Additionally, I've got an article, as well as two exercise demonstrations - and this complements some great stuff from the rest of the ETM crew.  Check it out.

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10 Nuggets, Tips, and Tricks on Energy Systems Development - Mike Robertson wrote this last week, and I thought it was a fantastic look at some key points coaches need to understand with respect to "conditioning."

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Exercise of the Week: Integrating Hip Mobility with Core Stability

Written on April 4, 2014 at 5:14 am, by Eric Cressey

In this week's installment of "Exercise of the Week," I want to introduce one of my favorite "combo" drills for hip mobility and core stability.  I actually came up with the lateral lunge with band overhead reach myself in the summer of 2012 as I was thinking up ways for our throwers to have better rotary and anterior core stability as they rode their back hips down the mound during their pitching delivery. I introduced the exercise in phase 2 of The High Performance Handbook, and got several emails from customers who commented on just how much they liked it.  Give it a shot!

The name of the game with this exercise is "bang for your buck."  You're getting anterior core stability that'll help you prevent the lower back from slipping into too big an arch.  You're getting rotary stability that'll help prevent excessive rotation of your spine.  You're getting hip mobility that'll enable you to get into new ranges of motion.  And, you'll build lower body frontal plane stability so that you can perform outside of just the sagittal (straight-ahead) plane.

I'll usually do three sets of 6-8 reps per side. Enjoy!

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How Tech is Helping Us Get in Shape

Written on April 3, 2014 at 9:22 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Jared Harris, who offers a change of pace to the typical EricCressey.com "programming." -EC

As a guy who loves technology and who tries his best to stick to a solid workout routine, I'm elated by a new trend among developers to include fitness-related features as a part of gadgets. According to a new study by CEA, consumer interest in purchasing wearable fitness devices in 2014 is expected to quadruple. The study also asserted that 75 percent of online U.S. consumers now claim to own a fitness technology product. Compare this from 61 percent in 2012, and clearly more of us are wanting to use our tech to help us get fit.

Traditionally, tech and getting in shape haven't gone hand-in-hand, especially when it comes to mobile gadgets. Playing or doing work on our phones is often a stagnant activity, one perfectly suitable for lounging on a couch. But that's all changing, and like a lot of things in the tech world, it's happening fast. This growing sense that technology and fitness don't have to be isolated from one another is helpful for guys like me who need as much encouragement as we can get to work out. Because, as many can attest to, getting in shape is quite difficult. Having my gadgets geared towards fitness is just another incentive for me to get off the couch and get moving. From fitness trackers like the Notch Body Tracker and Atlas Wearables to gadgets that give athletes real-time data about their performance (like the Zepp Sports Sensors), more and more devices are being aimed at improving the health of consumers.

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This year's CES (an annual global consumer electronics and consumer technology trade show) recently featured fitness tech in a huge way, with 30 percent more floor space dedicated to the digital fitness show floor, as compared to CES 2013. The larger focus makes sense, given that big companies are getting into the fitness game. For instance, according to Verizon Wireless, Samsung has included a number of health-related features in their S Health technology for their upcoming Galaxy S5 phone. S Health is a "first–of–its–kind mobile health platform that tracks your life right down to your heartbeat" by working with the built-in heart rate monitor that sits on the back of the phone.

And you have probably seen the fitness apps. Pedometers, diet trackers, weight training apps, healthy recipe apps, and more are found in the app stores for both Android and iOS devices. There's even an app that helps you find seasonal produce grown on regional farms. One app I particularly liked was Zombies, Run!, which turns a regular jog into a thrilling experience where you run from zombies and save your base—like a real-life video game. Gyms and fitness centers are finding uses for apps, too; they allow you to find specific classes and class times, and view promotions. Plus, a lot of these apps are free or will only cost you a couple of bucks.

All this new technology is making it more convenient to get into shape. I, for one, am looking forward to where this new direction in technology will go.

About the Author

Jared Harris is a writer, husband, and lover of technology. And he still plays Nintendo 64 games, often winning any race against his wife in Mario Kart 64 (as long as he uses Yoshi).

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/2/14

Written on April 2, 2014 at 7:52 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning.

Opening Day Musings: Are You Willing to Put in the Work? - I wrote this post on Opening Day, 2012.  It might be two years old now, but the message still holds true.

Interview with Carlo Alvarez - This isn't exactly "reading," but the content is fantastic.  Carlo Alvarez, the Director of Sports Performance for the Pittsburgh Pirates, shares some great insights on what professional baseball is really like, and what up-and-coming strength coaches can do to improve.

PRI Cervical-Cranio-Mandibular Restoration Course Review - Kevin Neeld recaps his experience with this Postural Restoration Institute course.  It's on my list of "things to attend" in the next year.

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How to Build Back to Overhead Pressing

Written on March 27, 2014 at 7:11 pm, by Eric Cressey

With all the shoulders I've seen over the years, I've stumbled onto quite a few key "take-home" points. Today, I'd like to share one observation I've made. First, though, I have to tell a quick story to set the stage.

Like a lot of guys with shoulder problems, I miss being able to overhead press, so I've taken to experimenting with a lot of different approaches to see how I can at least "get close" to working it back in.  Last year, I talked about how landmine presses had been working as a nice "bridge" between overhead work and true horizontal pressing exercises.  Check out the coaching cues:

The arm path on a landmine press really isn’t much different than an incline press – so why does the incline press hurt so much more for those with shoulder pain in their injury history?  Having the shoulder blades pinned against a bench limits their ability to freely upwardly rotate; they're stuck in scapular downward rotation. 

This year, to take it a step further, I played around a lot with bottoms-up kettlebell overhead carries and pressing, and my shoulder did great with them.  With this drill, you teach people where an appropriate “finish” position is, and then you can work backward from it.

The next progression would be a 1-arm bottoms-up KB military press:

The unstable bottoms-up position shifts more of the muscular contribution to joint stability than actual force production, so you can get to positions pain-free that would otherwise be really uncomfortable.

Assuming you don't have shoulder pain, these are two good progressions to try to see if you're really cut out for overhead work.

Looking for more shoulder insights?  Check out Optimal Shoulder Performance, our popular DVD set that bridges the gap between rehabilitation and high performance.

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