Case Study: Overhead Mobility Protocol
Written by TJ O’Brien

As a coach at Invictus, I debated for a while about what the focus of this blog post should be. Should it highlight our hard-working member? What about consistency – or maybe a success story surrounding mobility. This story demonstrates all three, and while it’s great for its clear “before-and-after” validation of the process, Erick is not the only member who has seen big changes with a little bit of daily mobility work. 

Erick came to Invictus ready to work hard. His earning of Member of the Month within his first three months is indicative of his dedication and work ethic. Previously having only done “basic gym stuff” like bodybuilding splits at his local gym, the intensity of CrossFit was something new, but something that he took to immediately. 

More challenging, however, were the positions and shapes we asked him to make during movements like Olympic lifts and gymnastics. His prior gym routine hadn’t required him to overhead squat, for example, and he simply did not have the prerequisite joint range of motion in order to achieve good positions. He found out the hard truth that one cannot simply do more of the movement in order to find a more mechanically advantageous shape (in this case, a more upright torso). 

The Road to Better Mobility

I offered Erick a few resources and told him that the road to better mobility, specifically shoulder mobility, could be long. To compound things, Erick had surgery on his elbow 15 years ago that was not properly rehabbed, leaving him unable to fully extend or flex his elbow. As you can tell from the “before” pictures, it was hard for him to find an overhead position without disproportionately calling on his upper traps and biceps to do the work. 

He agreed to work with me once a week for 5 weeks as well as complete daily mobility homework. The homework I assigned Erick is at its base, the content of this overhead mobility video.

https://youtu.be/hUKyZ5hg-5g

A banded overhead stretch in order to improve his passive mobility, shoulder, and elbow CARs in order to fire up mechanoreceptors that had likely been asleep for the past 15 years or immobility and active shoulder flexion drills to put everything together. In addition, he worked on a banded elbow distraction drill in order to improve both flexion and extension of the joint. 

Using Eccentric Loading & Postiotional Work to Improve Mobility

Because he was so good at completing his homework, we were able to spend our sessions making active use of the range that he successively earned each week. We utilized a lot of eccentric loading and positional work including tempo front squats and supinated-grip pull-up negatives to bring length and strength to his lats. Crossover Symmetry drills, bat wings, snow angels, and banded face-pulls also made appearances as we were effectively rebuilding Erick’s whole shoulder/scapula interface, even though the intended goal was to improve flexion. 

After 5 weeks of hard work, Erick made incredible progress. He told me in class that his overhead position has never felt better and with one look at the pictures, it’s easy to see why – there is WAY more space. 

An important note: both the before and the after pictures were taken “cold,” so no mobility was induced through warming up the joints. This is the range he earned and gets to carry around in everyday life, not just after completing a warm-up. 

The takeaways here are clear. Erick had a problem, he put in the work, and he got the results he wanted. He’s still working towards even better positions – you can find him mobilizing his elbow every morning at 5:45 am prior to his 6 am class. Here’s to putting in the work and enjoying the results!

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