How can exercise be making me weaker?! Well some muscles may be getting stronger, but you're likely missing all the important joint stabilizing muscles.
Time and time again, I see athletes begging to do things like kipping pull-ups, butterfly pull-ups, overhead squats or handstand push-ups, who can’t even put their hands over their head without pain.
"If you can't perform a movement unloaded, you should not be performing that movement under load"
In short, if you can’t pass a simply shoulder flexion test, you have no business kipping your pull-ups, and probably shouldn’t even be getting upside down.
Here’s the simple shoulder flexion test:
- Set yourself up with your back against the wall and feet shoulder width apart
- Bend your knees a bit until you can get your tailbone, lower back and shoulder blades against the wall. Keep your head neutral.
- From there, with a STRAIGHT arm, raise one hand over your head. Make sure you keep your bum, lower back and shoulder blades against the wall the whole time.
How far can you get your arm? This determines your readiness for overhead movements like snatches, presses and kipping pull-ups.
RED LIGHT (Meaning STOP, you’re not yet ready): You cannot touch the wall while maintaining the three points of contact on the wall (tailbone, low back, shoulder blades).
YELLOW LIGHT (Proceed with caution): You can get your thumb to the wall while maintaining all points of contact.
GREEN LIGHT (Go ahead and kip away, my little one): You can get the back of your hand and the back or your wrist to touch the wall.
Here are some pictures, so you can see what I mean:
RED LIGHT YELLOW LIGHT GREEN LIGHT
If you fail the test, before you get all discouraged because you now know you shouldn’t be doing kipping pull-ups, rest assured you can work to improve this range of motion. Yes, it takes hard work, but nothing worthwhile comes for free.
Now a lot of people (myself included sometimes) rely on an external force to achieve a certain position, i.e. needing 135lbs to get into a good front rack position or a stable overhead squat. Performing the movements in this manner is actually making you tighter and less strong as the weight in this scenario is doing the job what of we call 'antagonist muscles' around a joint. They are the opposing muscles, typically on the other side of a limb or joint, which are contracted slightly to promote stability and control as a joint goes through flexion, extension, adduction, abduction and internal or external rotation.
A great way to improve this is to talk to your coach and develop a plan and a program to increase your useable range of motion. Putting in the time and reaching that yellow or green light will be incredibly rewarding, and your body will thank you for taking the time to gain the mobility so you can stay injury-free.