Scapula (Shoulder Blade) – Packing

Packing the shoulder refers to using the scapula to ‘suck’ the shoulder into place.  You are securing the stable joint so the arm socket (glenohumeral joint) can move around it.
Most people “unpack” the shoulder by pressing overhead.   They let the shoulder blade float up and/or out with the hand following the arm instead of pulling against it.  (Remember that slingshot analogy from the joint-by-joint post?)
To fix problems stemming from pressing overhead, perform the opposite.
Hangs from a bar:
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GRIP the bar tight with your hands.  SQUEEZE.

Notice how in the active hang you create space between the shoulders and the ears.  This is you actively pulling your shoulder blades down.  
To mimic this with an overhead press, attempt to “pull the weight down with as much force as you push it up” – Pavel Tsatsouline
The photo on the right should look the same whether this guy is actively hanging or pressing overhead.

If you can’t hang/ don’t have access to a bar, a farmer’s walks offers a similar sensation.
With this exercise, you’re retracting your scapula back and slightly up to resist the downward pull of the weight.
Farmer’s Walk:

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Be careful not to shrug with these.  This is not a trap building exercise.  Keep that shoulder to ear space.  To simplify these, you can stand still instead of walk.  You can also use one weight in one hand to work on individual scapular retraction.
In both hangs and farmer’s walks, you are seeking and holding isometric contractions in sound alignment against external force/ load.  This is the definition of stability.  

The third, and in my opinion most effective shoulder packing exercise are wall walk backs into a supported headstand.  Your hands being in contact with the ground help your shoulder remember where ‘home’ is.  Note that my hands are arched and active.  When you find proper alignment and joint positioning, you are able to use muscle tension throughout your entire body.  This is called irradiation, and it all begins with grip.  It is the ‘traveling tautness’ that allows for a movement to happen.  I can attest that I would have great difficulty holding my body weight over my head (let alone get it there).  I know I definitely couldn’t do it with one hand.
Wall walks into supported handstand:

Use shoes or bare feet for wall traction.  
Drive into wall with balls of feet when attempting single arm holds.

Note that there was a very deliberate post pelvic tilt performed.  Swooping or extending the low back is one of the most common mistakes when loading weight overhead.  Don’t forget previous patterns when learning new movement.  Build on them.

  • Shoulder packing means sucking the shoulder blade into place
  • The scapula is a stable joint
  • Grip the bar as tight as you can when hanging, pulling, or pressing
  • There should be an active separation between the shoulders and ears when hanging or driving a weight overhead
  • Farmer’s walks/holds practice shoulder packing without placing arms overhead.
  • Wall handstand walks are inverted overhead presses
  • Most lifts should be done using total body tension or irradiation

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