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Coaches Insights: Coaching from the shoulders of giants.

Personal Trainer Solihull. Strength and ConditioningPerformance Coaching InsightsCoaches Insights: Coaching from the shoulders of giants.



May 12 , 2020 | Posted by Dave Cripps |

Coaches Insights: Coaching from the shoulders of giants.

The shoulders and our ability to effectively coach performance in them, to maximise strength and other physical qualities during S&C, is an outcome important for many of us I would expect?

Yet do we have an understanding and the skills practically in our toolbox to do this as effectively as possible? Do we do this as well as lower limb training?

Take a squat and deadlift…

Its normal and totally expected for the S&C coach to focus on effectively positioning the legs, pelvis and spine precisely; Are they posteriorly tilting the pelvis (butt wink), do the hips internally rotate, are they flexing in their lumbar spine.

Yet when it comes to bench press, chin up and other common strength exercises, is this same detail and attention placed on them?

Typically, instead focus is set on just the bar, or the body as whole. On the bench press some minor attention may go to into set up, but then commonly its just about getting it up and down. The chin, as long as ROM at the bottom and top is achieved, then its commonly seen as fine.

So why has this occurred?

Do we say a good squat or deadlift exists along as the bar goes up and down through the right ROM irrespective of body position?

Why do we give the attention of more micro body positioning and coaching focus on certain lifts, but not at all to others?

The chin up is a staple in many S&C programmes, including extensively here at Coalition Performance (CP). When delving deeper into the functional anatomy and mechanics of the movement, in consideration of how this is likely to influence training overload there appears some unavoidable facts:

  • Its common for athletes to not achieve full downward rotation and scapula retraction at the right points of the movement, despite getting depth and the chin clear of the bar (reducing lat dorsi, middle and lower trap overload)


  • Compensatory movements in the spine and elbow joint then work around this, loading other muscles and joints that aren’t as desirable – neck, elbow, levator scap

*more on vertical pull coaching and mechanics is another post.

If we look at the bench press, very few coaches in S&C will reinforce a proper set up, in stark contrast to how they would on a deadlift. I.e. having the athlete roll the shoulders back a touch and brace is often as fair as it goes. But when we consider:

  • Greater thoracic extension can allow the glenohumeral joint to sit in a position which reduces impingement due to a more spacious gap in the sub acromial space, key when this is a common niggle and in collision sports athletes will lift in less than optimal state.


  • This same position provides greater ability to keep a straight bar path and optimal efficiency and performance, in comparison to the bar moving distally down the body.


Consequently, understanding of this depth, allows a coach the basis to technically improve such lifts further than common, and provide the athlete with greater progressive overload and performance related outcomes.

I wanted to share this as we ourselves at CP have recently done an overview on our shoulder philosophy across the board, and asked challenging questions of our prior approach and execution. Calls with the likes of Ben Ashworth at Sparta Prague/Athletic Shoulder, who several years back I used to exchange thoughts on, certainly helped. For example:


  • We focus a lot of muscles that train scapula downward rotation, yet virtually never in those that upwardly rotate. When limited upward rotation is a common flaw in athletes, for example a pro golfer and elite swimmer we have recently worked with, surely balancing out this force couple with more upward rotation is key?


  • We have a generic approach for setting the shoulders, but how can this be optimal when different upper body exercises require different functioning of the scapula. I.e. a bench press needs a fixed scapula, where by a DB row requires a moving scapula? This has led to us categorising lifts as requiring fixed scapula or dynamic scapula settings, with marked but simple differences in coaching.

This may seem obvious, but these are questions I have yet heard being asked or considered openly. Any and every performance programme and S&C department will have such situations existing within its practice.

Its evident the most successful coaches in our field and departments are open to recognising these and addressing them using an evidence based approach, which is saturated in the context and pragmatic nature of our environment as coaches.

And I know some will read this and want to play the ‘as long as its safe and full ROM none of this fuzzy stuff matters’ card. But if something can provide a clear favourable benefit the effectiveness of your programme for your athletes, which is well within your skill set and time…why wouldn’t you? Again we value greater detail on squats and deadlifts, why rationally not on these other examples?

We’ve all had our ego jump out at us and try and reason and argue why something that challenges a preconceived thought or belief, isn’t right. But with some rationale thought and questions, plus punching our ego briefly in the face for a moment, suddenly we can see the opportunity.

And isn’t that sense of improvement and progression the very thinking we all love about what we do?