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How to Improve Overhead Mobility for Weightlifting and Crossfit

Shoulder and thoracic spine mobility are essential for hitting appropriate positions in weightlifting and CrossFit. Without sufficient mobility or strength, injuries can occur in the shoulder or lower back in an attempt to compensate for these deficits. Shoulder and thoracic mobility go hand in hand, where the thoracic spine must be able to extend to allow the arm to go overhead.

The shoulder is a complex joint, where there are multiple joints (glenohumeral joint, acromioclavicular joint, sternoclavicular joint, and thoracic spine) that all must work in synergy to allow adequate movement and function.

How to Assess Overhead Mobility

First, assess to see if there is a restriction in your shoulder or thoracic mobility.

Shoulder flexion to wall

Stand with your entire back touching the wall. Keeping your arm close to your ear, bring your arm up overhead. Record whether your fingertips, knuckles or entire hand are able to touch the wall. Ideally, the entire hand should be able to touch the wall. Note any discrepancies between sides.

Seated thoracic rotation

Thoracic extension and rotation are a coupled movement, meaning they occur together at the same time. Thus, assess thoracic rotation by sitting on a chair, arms straight, directly out in front and palms touching. Rotate your trunk to one side, and then the other. Ideally, you should be able to achieve 90 degrees rotation per side. Note any discrepancies between sides.

Exercises to Improve Overhead Mobility

If there is a restriction in either shoulder flexion or thoracic rotation, here are some exercises to address these deficits. To improve thoracic mobility, couple a thoracic mobility exercise with an upper back strengthening exercise.

Kneeling thoracic bow and arrow

To improve thoracic rotation and extension, take up a kneeling position at the wall, arms out straight in front at 90 degrees. Rotate your torso so one hand turns behind you, as far as you can go, as shown in the video below. Aim for 2-3 sets of 12 reps on each side.

Overhead triceps extension

Follow up this thoracic mobility drill with a strengthening exercise. Hold a light dumbbell overhead with both hands and straighten your arms, lifting the dumbbell overhead, whilst also bending the neck to look at the dumbbell overhead. View the video down below for more information, however note it is important to feel the muscles in the upper back working in this exercise. Aim for 3 sets of 10 reps.

Lat eccentric lengthening drill

While lying on your back on a bench, hold a broomstick with a 2.5-5kg plate on it, or a light dumbbell overhead. Lower the weight overhead as far as possible to feel a slight stretch, and come back up. Progress the stretch by holding your hands closer together, and do not let the elbows bend. Do this exercise for 3 sets of 10 reps.

Trigger pointing

Soft tissue trigger point work surrounding the shoulder muscles can also help improve range. Specifically, the upper shoulder/neck area, at the front (levator scap) and the back (upper traps). The middle of the upper back, as well as the armpit, is also beneficial.


After completing the above exercises for a week, reassess as above to see if there has been any improvement. Continue to complete these exercises until the test is not positive, or until progress has plateaued.

If you have any questions about this blog, don't hesitate to give us a call (07 3061 7128).

The information above is provided as general information only, and is not intended to be specific advice about your condition and body. For specific advice about your condition, we do recommend that you see your physiotherapist for a full assessment and management.

This blog was written by our physiotherapist, Emma Garrett.

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