The ability to raise your arms over head, without restriction, is an important skill for all humans. It's something you do on a daily basis weather you realize it or not. Reaching for something on a high shelf, putting away dishes in the cupboard, or doing work to the ceiling in your home all require the ability to raise your arms over head. The problem is, most people can't raise their arms over head and maintain a stable upright posture. When you're posture is broken, efficient movement becomes compromised and you're at a higher risk of injury.
What Does Compensated Movement Look Like?
When I ask a new client to raise their arms over head as high as they can, I often see the same movement compensation ... a big arch in the lower back or a thrusting of the hips forward. The thrusting or arching allows the client to raise their arms completely vertical over head. The problem is that it breaks their stable posture and puts excess pressure on the lumbar spine and hips. Without the thrusting or arching the client would only be able to raise their arms to a level just above their forehead. It looks like this ...
Why Can't You Raise Your Arms Over Head?
If you just tried the over head raise and noticed you thrust your hips in order to get your arms completely vertical, don't worry you're not alone. I see this time and time again. The reason you can't raise your arms over head is usually a combination of tight lats and tight pecs. Your lats are those big sweeping muscles that run along the side of your ribs, they're the ones that give bodybuilders their "V" taper. Your pecs are your chest muscles. These muscles are commonly tight in just about everyone in modern society. Why? Because it's a byproduct of life style. We sit too much and move too little. If you experience shoulder pain, tight lats and pecs can also be the cause of shoulder pain that isn't associated with an injury. What's one to do in order to remedy this situation? One simple movement can help.
The Passive Hang
The passive hang is a fantastic place to start when trying to improve your shoulder range of motion. It's safe for anyone who has mild shoulder pain or immobility that was not brought on by an injury (ex. dislocation). It's an exercise I program for almost all of my clients. It's simple and it can be performed anywhere. I've done passive hangs from pull up bars, soccer nets, jungle gyms, wall ledges, and more!
The goal with the passive hang is to incorporate it into your daily life. If you see a place to hang, hang! Try setting up a place to hang from in your home and every time you walk by that spot, hang! Our shoulders were designed to hang and brachiate (swing). We're still 99% genetically the same as chimps and other apes, they hang all the time.
The goal is to hang for a combined total of 5-7 minutes a day. This can be done before workouts, after workouts, and throughout the day. Over time your pecs and lats will release their tension and allow the shoulders to move into a full range of motion once again.
If you experience trouble holding all of your weight during the hang, it's ok. Simply hang from something low enough that you can place your tip toes on the ground, reducing the amount of weight your forced to hold.
What does the passive hang look like and how do you do it? Take a look at the photo below and you can get on your way to opening up those tight shoulders.