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Human Movement and Shoulder Packing

“Don’t confuse Squat Rack movement with Human Movement”

This is a sentence I said to a young personal trainer recently when I met him at the Anatomy in Motion course.

He was struggling with one of the exercises they were exploring on the course, and his training partner, also a gym guy, was struggling to help him. So I offered a hand.


I could see his Scapula wasn’t playing when he lifted his arm overhead. This lead to his shoulder extension being created with an excessive lordosis which he felt as a “it hurts down in my low back, like its compressed or something” The pain being on the side of the overhead arm.

I guided his Scapula into upward rotation, the discomfort disappeared. Allowed the Scap slide back, discomfort reappeared.

So I cued him to reach. To allow the shoulder blade move.

Lovely image of reaching courtesy of www.sensational-yoga-poses.comshoulder-stretches.html_.jpg

To which he asked the question:

“But shouldn’t we be packing the shoulder down?”

If you read anything from the Hard Style Kettlebell communities (RKC / Strongfirst and their imitators) then that is exactly what they teach. Read powerlifting texts, and this what they teach.

In the context of lifting heavy things, it is absolutely correct and exactly how I teach the press.

The first thing we do in a press is lift the chest and drop the shoulder back and down, this engages the lats, which combined with he engaged abs, glutes and quads, means our body becomes “a bench” to press from. Solid and strong, keeping the humerus in its socket and giving optimal leverage to press from. The kettlebell jerk isn’t so different, just more dynamic.

Denis Kanygin demoes the Jerk

But this is lifting. It is squat rack movement.

If this becomes your default for lifting the a, to say reach the top shelf of your cupboard, or, I dunno, ask a question at a seminar.

You will struggle.

When you raise your arm in human movement, your scapula must go with you.


As soon as your ar is parallel to the floor, your scapula should start moving with the humerus. If it doesn’t, you are looking at potential for injury somewhere.

Now, back to the press. It’s a bit of a misconception that the scap should not stay put. It should not be anchored and immobile for the press / jerk. This may be the case for a bench press, but that is all.

The depression (pulling down) of the scap is only the initiation of the press. Once the elbow leaves the ribcage, that scap better kick in, if it doesn’t, our mid & lower traps and Rhomboids don’t kick in, leaving the lats and upper trap the job of keeping the hureus in it’s socket.

Not ideal.

But if you are one of these people that struggles to engage the scapula, and I’ve seen many both in and out of the training community, what can you do?

Short answer is:


It really is a nice pic www.sensational-yoga-poses.comshoulder-stretches.html_.jpg

Simple as that, stretch your arm up, down, forwards, out to the side. Stretch it far enough that the shoulder “comes of the body” Maybe use a light stretch band to provide some traction. This is why hanging from a pull up bar can be such a tonic to many, unless you have tight lats/neck that it, it sucks then.

Or you grab some Indian Clubs and get some tuition on using them.

Oh, shameless plug time….

I’ll be teaching Indian Clubs in Terenure next month….. Here’s the Facebook event page:

Ok, plug over, although you really should come (if there’s still space) or book me to teach at your place…

Here’s Martin swinging his club. He’s one of these “no scap” guys, and while he has very complicated injury history we are working on, the Indian Club has been nothing short of miraculous for him.

A post shared by Dave Hedges (@dave_hedges) on Jun 28, 2018 at 10:29am PDT

Not only is he moving the shoulder in all directions, but that traction is gently stimulating the entire back. If you watch carefully, you might spot how he doesn’t quite extend his arm and shoulder out fully, but that’s part of his process. If we had a video of him from a few months ago doing this, the difference would be startling.

The centrifugal force of the a club give traction to the arm and shoulder, if the weight and the forces it generates is non threatening, it should encourage the shoulder to bring the scapular along for the ride stimulating all the muscles that attach to it. Go too heavy too soon, and you will “suck” that shoulder in worse than Martin is doing.

Is club swinging human movement?

It’s close, but it certainly helps set up human movement.

If your gym, your sport or simply your lifestyle and jacked up the shoulder mechanics, particularly the scapula, I highly recommend clubs.

But also, and probably more importantly, take a review of how you use your arms and shoulder through the day. Do artificially pack the shoulder, military style? Do they live up around your ears, turtle style? Or do they get the opportunity to swing free?

Which is it?

What other gym movements have taken over your human movement defaults? Can you posteriorly tilt your pelvis (tuck your bum under)? Can you flex your thoracic spine (sink your ribs)? Or are you “stuck” in the squat rack position of anterior tilt, arched back and ribs high?

Try getting a few photo’s of yourself in your shorts, front back and side. All while standing relaxed, this isn’t about aesthetics, it’s just about where you happen to hold yourself.

Try it, drop a comment below, I’d love to hear from you and even help you if I can.


Dave Hedges

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