"Overhead movements are difficult for me."
"I have terrible overhead stability."
"My shoulders are really right."
If I hear any of these complaints, my new response is, "Do you mobilize your armpits?"
If you don't, I don't blame you. It's not something most people think of. It's not something I thought of until a few months ago, but it makes such a huge difference that you can't afford to overlook this area anymore.
Let's Test Your Current Mobility
We're going to start with a little test. Find a wall and lie on your back with your legs extended up the wall. Make sure your butt and legs make contact with the wall. Your entire back should now be pressed into the floor. Next, bring your arms in front of you and make two fists with your hands, holding them side by side with outstretched arms. Keeping your back flat against the ground, raise your arms overhead and try to touch the ground behind you. If you can touch the ground with both your fists and elbows, without arching your back or bending your arms, you have good shoulder mobility. With your hands, shoulders, and hips stacked this way, you will have good stability for overhead movements. However, if touching the ground is difficult, or you can't do so without compromising your position, we have some work to do.
You will need a few things for this exercise:
1. squat rack
2. lacrosse ball
3. barbell or 2x4
4. tape or resistance band
Take your barbell or 2x4 and place it in the rack around the height of your sternum. Next, you'll need to attach the lacrosse ball. Tape is the easiest way to go, but if you want to be able to take this apart easily, I suggest using a thin, wide resistance band. Secure the ball in whichever way you think best, then position it right in your pit.
We're looking to find 2-3 spots to work with here. Work your way in and around your armpit, stopping at points along the way. Once you find a tender spot, sink in and move your arm back and forth parallel to the barbell or 2x4 you chose to use. As you move your arm, you can even twist your hand inward, toward your body, to give yourself a different stretch.
Do this exercise 2-3 times a week and you'll start seeing improvements in not just your mobility, but your stability as well. If you can get yourself into better positions, your body will be much more secure and stable.
Don't let your mobility be an afterthought. Actively practice it, just like you would a squat or clean. Test it regularly, find weaknesses, and go to work fixing them. Good luck! And happy mobilizing!