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Building Strong, Healthy Shoulders - Self-limiting exercises part one

Overhead pressing exercises have long been a staple to build strong shoulders. But what if it it hurts to press overhead? Traditional barbell and dumbbell exercises can beat up your shoulders as much as build them, so what can we do instead? Enter the Bottoms-up Kettlebell Press. Read on to find out what self-limiting exercises are, and how to use the Bottoms-up Press to save your achy shoulders...

The term self-limiting exercise can conjure up images of something within us that is inherently holding us back. To the uninitiated, this can seem like a bad thing, like we are unable to perform a certain movement because we are not awesome enough. Why the hell would I want to perform exercises where I'm limiting myself?

Luckily for us, being limited by yourself is actually pretty beneficial. According to renowned physical therapist Gray Cook, self-limiting exercises increase our engagement with a particular movement and both require and produce, physical awareness. In an age when many people have become detached from the signals our bodies are giving us (that's a topic for another post), this can only be a good thing.

Another benefit is that these types of exercises (at least partially) coach themselves. What does this mean? Well, in many cases, if you do not perform the movement correctly, you will be unable to complete it at all (think walking on a balance beam, for example- if you get it wrong, you fall off).

Many things such as balance, grip strength, posture, and coordination can influence whether or not a particular exercise is self limiting. According to Cook, these types of exercises should form the cornerstone of your program. In part one of this series we will focus on one of my favourites:

The Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Press

The bottoms up kettlebell press is one of my go to movements for upper body pressing exercises. In the video below, I'll give you a few pointers for correct execution and discuss what makes this such a great exercise to develop upper body pressing strength.

The ability to press significant amounts of weight overhead is reliant on a wide range of physical abilities, such as rotator cuff strength, scapular stability, thoracic spine mobility, and core stability. Trying to press heavy without sufficient amounts of any one of these variables can leave your shoulders feeling like you took one too many turns on the rope swing.

Enter the bottoms-up kettlebell press. One of the big limiting factors to this exercise is grip strength. If you cannot grip the 'bell tight enough, it will wobble uncontrollably. One of the interesting things about grip strength is that is gets weaker whenever the shoulder is in a compromised position. This protective mechanism prevents us from producing a lot of force when our shoulder cannot handle it. This by the way, is probably one of the reasons the poor soul above is no longer able to hold on once the shoulder moves into the overhead position (its also due to physics-y stuff like centripetal force).

Therein lies the beauty of the exercise, not only is it very easy to coach, but it is limited by the weakest link in the chain. Shoulder stability is challenged in a way that builds grip strength at the same time, and its almost impossible to cheat, or use a weight that is too heavy.

Bottom's up kettlebell presses are not magic and won't be the only overhead press you'll ever need. Hell, sometimes you just want to use more weight than you can handle bottoms-up style. That being said, most people could stand to use these for a goodly portion of their vertical pressing, especially if you have cranky shoulders (or have had in the past). Give these a shot, your shoulders will thank you for it.

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