If you want a strong lower body then deadlift, squat, lunge, glute bridge, etc. No one is arguing this, but is what your selecting for your lower body attributing to your upper body dysfunction? Some things just aren’t meant to go together. Lamb and tuna fish, Alabama and Auburn fans, grown men and white rimmed sunglasses. Before I hurt the feelings of some Jersey Shore fans, let’s talk lower body exercise selection and how it can attribute to upper body dysfunction.

Elbow Discomfort

Elbow pain, rather it be through an injury such as Tommy John surgery in a baseball player, or tendonitis with a general pop client, elbow pain is a common complaint in the gym. While we may avoid exercises such as bench press or push-ups, one common variable among those that complain of elbow pain is an overload on grip work. Taxing the grip happens almost anytime we are lifting at the gym. Holding a dumbbell is taxing your grip, performing deadlifts is taxing your grip. If you suffer from pain in the elbow, re-consider things like weighted lungees, deadlifts, or any other lower body movement where the load is being held with the hands. Is it possible to still get your work in and not tax your grip? If so I would highly recommend doing so until your elbow issues have subsided.

Wrist and AC Joint Discomfort

Both of these issues in the upper body are usually exacerbated with the front rack position. Rather it be issues associated with getting in the front rack due to mobility, discomfort of the bar, etc, the position itself should be avoided. If you are having AC joint pain, you should really avoid a number of different things:

  • Reaching across your body
  • Shoulder Extension: Such as the bottom part of a push-up or dip.
  • A loaded front rack position, do to direct pressure on the joint

Once again is there another way to load the pattern for the movement? If so take the alternative route.

Shoulder Discomfort (Usually internal impingement)

This is the most common adjustment that needs to be made across a wide spectrum, ranging from elite level baseball players to novice lifters who are two weeks into their first program. Internal impingement can be caused from poor scapular control, weaker rotator cuffs, lack of thoracic spine mobility, poor tissue quality, and in some cases structural damage to the joint. In short, this impingement makes it extremely hard to externally rotate and abduct the shoulder in a safe and proper position.

The most common lower body exercise we see performed with this issue is back squatting. When the lifter can’t properly externally rotate at the shoulder to the degree that is needed, we see the shoulder dump forward. You will often here about people complaining of anterior/front side shoulder pain during a back squat. One easy adjustment if you have access to one, is to incorporate a safety bar.

Scapular Depression

While we don’t see this as often in general pop clients as much as we do in a baseball population, it is definitely something we need to be aware of and give some thought too. While much talk is about clients who stand in a kyphotic posture all day long, with their scapula in a constant state of elevation, there are a few people who stand around with their scaps locked down, and walk around in a big extended posture. If we see someone like this the end goal is to get them back to neutral, and get them back to a position where the scaps are slightly more elevated and ribs don’t flare up as much.

With these considerations, things like deadlifts, loaded carries with the weight at the side, bench press, and other exercises that force the scaps into a locked down position need to be avoided. This might be another time (similar to the grip) where doing movements like hip thrust, front squats, and goblet set-up lifts would be a better option.

Summary

Always think about how an exercise might be exacerbating your problematic symptoms. Ask yourself if there is another way to load the same or similar pattern that you are wanting to train. Most big or multi jointed lifts are probably affecting more areas of your body then you might realize.

Happy Training,

Brett Cummins