Shoulder Flexibility Testing – Part 2

by Al Myers

I feel the following tests (listed below)  do a good job of assessing your shoulder flexibility.  I challenge everyone to take these tests yourself and then see if you have any flexibility issues with your shoulders.  If you pass all of them with “flying colors” then I would say don’t worry about things at this time, you have more than enough shoulder flexibility to be a competitive weightlifter.  Years ago when I was training young lifters for Olympic Lifting competitions I had a young girl miss one of her snatches in competition by getting the bar to far behind her head at the top of the snatch.  She nonchalently performed a shoulder dislocation catching the bar behind her back without moving her hands, stood up, and then set the bar down on the platform behind her back. I was alarmed as I thought for sure she tore up her shoulders with this – but it didn’t faze her. She had such unbelievable shoulder flexibility that this was non painful in any way to her (even though it looked like it would have caused major injury to me!).

1. Shoulder Flex Test

Dino Gym member Bryce Meuli showing an excellent test on the Shoulder Flex Test. He easily made a full hand clasp both directions.

This is by far the most common test to assess shoulder flexibility. All it takes is a tape measure to evaluate the results. This test is widely used by personal trainers to evaluate clients before programs are established.

Instructions:

  • Raise one arm over the head and reach downwards behind back
  • Bend the other arm behind back and reach upwards
  • Try to touch hands, and measure the distance apart if not touching
  • Repeat with other direction

Shoulder Flex Test Results

EXCELLENT – fingers overlap
GOOD – fingers touch
AVERAGE – fingers are less than 2 inches apart
POOR – fingers are more than 2 inches apart
VERY POOR – fingers are more than 12 inches apart
EMBARRASSING – fingers are more than 24 inches apart

2.  Shoulder Circumduction Test

Bryce was 12 inches beyond shoulder width in the Shoulder Circumduction Test. This would put him in the GOOD CLASSIFICATION.

This test measures the flexibility of shoulder rotation.  It is also a very common test to evaluate shoulder flexibility.  All that is required is a broomstick and a tape measure to measure results.  The first thing you will need to do is measure the width of your shoulders at their widest point.

Instuctions:

  • Hold broomstick overhead with straight arms with comfortable grip
  • Lower the broomstick behind the head keeping the arms straight
  • Slide your grip out on the broomstick to allow for shoulder rotation
  • The entire hand must stay on the broomstick
  • Once positioned above the hip, measure the distance between thumbs

Shoulder Circumduction Test Results

EXCELLENT – distance less than 6 inches more than shoulder width
GOOD – distance less than 12 inches more than shoulder width
AVERAGE – distance less than 18 inches more than shoulder width
POOR – distance less than 24 inches more than shoulder width
VERY POOR – distance less than 30 inches more than shoulder width
EMBARRASSING – distance more than 30 inches than shoulder width, or just can’t even do it!

3. Kelly Shoulder Stretch Test

Bryce scored an 85 degrees on the Kelly Shoulder Stretch Test. This would put him in the GOOD CLASSIFICATION. Of course if his assistant would have positioned the ruler a little more square on his back he would have been over the 90 degrees giving him an EXCELLENT RATING.

Now this is shoulder flexibility test that I came up with.  It is a derivative of a not well-known All Round Lift – the Kelly Snatch (or also known as the reverse swing).  It measures shoulder rotation from another direction.  Instead of moving away from the head, you are moving towards the head with this test.  It does take a little special equipment for measurement of this test. You will need a couple of small boards (like 3 foot rulers) bolted together, and a way of measuring degrees, as well as a broomstick.

Instructions:

  • Place the hands shoulder width apart on a broomstick, palms up.
  • Lay face down on a table with arms straight holding the broomstick above hips.
  • Raise the broomstick up while keeping the arms straight
  • Use rulers to fix angle at point of maximum rotation from center point of the shoulders

Kelly Shoulder Stretch Test Results

EXCELLENT – angle exceeds 90 degrees
GOOD – angle exceeds 75 degrees
AVERAGE – angle exceeds 60 degrees
POOR – angle exceeds 45 degrees
VERY POOR – angle exceeds 30 degrees
EMBARRASSING – angle is less than 30 degrees

How did you do on these simple shoulder flexibility tests?  Are you excellent on all these tests?  The purpose of this is to bring attention to any issues with poor shoulder flexibility, so you can take action to correct these deficiencies before things get worse. Because they will without attending to them!!  Just a little work on shoulder flexibility might help in catching that Jerk or Push Press when over head with a maximum attempt, especially if you are at the low ends of these tests. I’m not going to “share with the World” my results, as so to say, THEY ARE EMBARRASSING!

Glute Ham Machine

by Al Myers

Dino Gym member Bryce Meuli performing a Glute Ham Raise.

After my recent Daily News stories on the Roman Chair, I alluded to a similar (but much different) machine called the Glute Ham Machine (or also Glute Ham Developer, or the old name of Calf-Ham-Glute Machine).   There is often confusion between the Roman Chair and the GH Machine, and I have heard lifters interchange the naming of these two distinct different apparatuses.  First of all to me, they look NOTHING the same.  And secondly, the muscles they work are completely different.  The internet is loaded with information on  GH Machines.  There are many manufacturers of them – some better than others.  The price tag for a good GH Machine runs from around $300 to over $1000.  (there’s another difference – Roman Chairs are MUCH CHEAPER!).  Most commercial gyms have a GH Machine, and the new age fitness crowd loves them.  They are very popular with powerlifters and Olympic lifters as well.  Dave Tate and Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell have done their part in promoting the GH Machine, embracing the many strength benefits the GH Machine offers.

The Dino Gym's homemade Glute Ham Machine.

As I said, the GH Machine works entirely different muscles than the Roman Chair.  The Roman Chair primarily focuses on the abdominal muscles and the lower back, whereas the GH Machine focuses on the “posterior chain” muscles, ie the calves, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles.  I really feel the hamstrings are the most undertrained muscle in most strength athletes training program.  Competitive lifters place most of their training emphasis on the front quads (in form of squats) and neglect the ever important opposing hamstring muscles.   In my early days of training I thought just doing a few high rep sets of leg curls at the end of my leg workout would suffice, but I learned the hard lesson with suffering a few hamstring muscle tears as a result of heavy deadlifts which proved to me that my hamstrings where indeed not trained adequately, and lagged in opposing strength.  The hamstring muscles are a fast twitch muscle and needs to be trained with low reps, not high reps.  Plus leg curls neglect the upper hamstrings which serve as a primary hip extensor.  Louie Simmons knew this before anyone else, and that is why his “secret training programs” always included hamstring exercises like the GH Raises (as well as other things like Reverse Hyper exercises and weighted drags) to strengthen this typical “weak spot” in competitive lifters.  The most common exercise done on a GH Machine is the Glute Ham Raise.  I don’t have enough time in this story to describe how to do this exercise – just do an internet search and you will find TONS of descriptions on how to do this exercise as well as YouTube Videos demonstrating the GH Raise. 

Bryce performs a Back Extension on the Glute Ham Machine. The Back Extension is an Official USAWA Lift.

There is one detail in a good GH Machine that needs mentioned.  It should contain a knee pad that keeps the knees from “dropping” at the top end of the GH Raise. I have seen several commercial GH machines that don’t have this on them.   Also make sure the GH Machine adjusts adequately so each lifter can get the right settings to allow for  a GH Raise to be done correctly.   Another very important distinction between a GH Machine and a Hyperextension Machine is that the “pivot” should be at the knees for a GH Raise, instead of the waist as when using a Hyperextension Machine.  The body should remain straight from the knees up when performing a GH Raise.  My GH Machine can adjust so it can also be used to do Back Hyperextensions.  The Back Extension is an Official USAWA lift, but this lift has not been contested very often.  It is a tremendous lower back exercise.  The main difference between a GH Raise and a Back Extension is that you bend at the waist when performing Back Extensions, and the stress of the exercise is on the lower back.  

GH Raises are a difficult exercise for heavier lifters who carry alot of weight in their upper body.  I use my harness “walker” as a safety device in front of me when I do GH Raises.  I do this so if I have problems on my last reps, I can push off the walker with my arms to finish the rep.  GH Raises are one of my THREE FAVORITE hamstring exercises (and leg curls is not on my list!).   You will feel the entire range of the hamstring muscle engaged (from the  knees to the hips) with GH Raises, and afterwards you will feel the effects of your training in your ENTIRE hamstring.  I also want to mention that  GH Raises are a great exercise for young lifters who want to increase their vertical leap.  The muscles of the hamstrings and calves are the biggest players in leaping ability, and this exercise focuses intently on these important leaping muscles.   I don’t normally use added resistance when doing GH Raises, but it can be done easily with holding a plate on the chest.  I feel the best rep ranges are between 5 and 8 repetitions with the GH Raise.  If you have access to a GH Machine, give this exercise a try!