But most importantly, this robs force generation and power production. Minimal active tension prevents control at the end-ranges where we need it most. Want a stronger spike, faster pitch, better push-press? Proximal stability will buffer poor mechanics much better than a soft spinal position. Otherwise we’re just blowing through our much smaller engines at the shoulder and elbow and asking them to do what they aren’t built for.
Try it yourself: take your arm up overhead. If you can’t get your arm to your ear (with your elbow straight!) without flying open and exposing your rib cage, then there’s a problem. Why is it a problem? Well if your a thrower, opening up too soon alters the load to the shoulder and elbow – there’s a ton in the pitching mechanics world about the detriments of opening too soon and over-extending. It also changes the positional relationship between the arm and torso and can cause excess anterior translation of the humeral head (not good for your labrum and biceps tendon) making it more difficult to actively stabilize the shoulder – particularly in Olympic lifters and overhead pressers.
Key Point: The question then becomes, is the athlete flying open because their thoracic spine is stiff? Maybe but if they’re over-extended then they’re…. over-extended. Fix this first then we can address the t-spine. Otherwise the learned pathomechanical motor pattern remains, such that even if we do loosen up the thoracic spine the athlete will not likely utilize this new range during the task. As evidenced in the hip by Dr. Stuart McGill, a must read. We need to organize before and while we mobilize! The athlete can loosen up the thoracic spine as much as they want (and I do think that thoracic spine mobility is hugely important) but without the training to overcome the hundreds or thousands of reps they performed overextended, the carry-over will be minimal.
You will be shocked at how organizing your spine (squeezing your butt and bracing the abs) generates much more stability and power with overhead tasks. Try an active brace while holding something overhead, you literally feel the difference. One point I should make – this often feels weird for athletes who are used to being so over-extended. They feel as if they are pitched forward (another indication their sense of midline control is lost). Hollow rocking is a great way to initiate anterior core function while making the connection to overhead position prior to reloading the athlete overhead. Nothing in sport happens statically, so we need to progress to dynamic isolation quickly where possible.
Bottomline: organize your lumbar spine and pelvis first (noticing a theme here from previous posts?) then we can address the thoracic spine, scapula, and rotator cuff when dealing with overhead positioning. More to come….
Here’s a quick vid on hollow rocks: