In this article we will discuss overhead carries, benefits of overhead carries, and why they are a great strength, skill, and accessory movement for Olympic weightlifters, strength and fitness athletes, and coaches to included working training programs. We will discuss:
- Proper Overhead Positioning
- Overhead Carry Benefits
- Overhead Carry Exercises and Video Demos
Proper Overhead Positioning
Below is a video demonstration on how to secure proper overhead positions without compensating via spinal extension, cervical flexion, etc. It is extremely important that coaches and athletes secure proper overhead positioning prior to partaking in overhead holds and carries.
Overhead Carry Exercise Demo
Below is an exercise demonstration of an overhead carry, in a general sense. In the last section, we have also detailed out more specific overhead carry variations compete with exercise demos as well.
Overhead Carry Benefits
Below are four benefits of the overhead carry. Note, depending on which variation selected (next section) some of the benefits may be more or less than if you were to select one variation over another.
Improved Overhead Stability
Once you have established proper joint mobility, you need to educate the neurological systems and muscle fibers in how to create force and stability in the complete range of motion. Overhead carries, while similar to overheads movements, add the necessity for stabilization in an environment that we are making unstable (walking with weight overhead). As you adapt and learn how to control your body (and your brain how to control the body) you will be more apt to feel stable and strong under increasing amounts of load in a wide array of body positions.
Greater Upper Trap and Shoulder Hypertrophy
Holding loads overhead for time (or distance, which still takes time) can increase the amount of tension the muscle is under. This is called time under tension (TUT), which has been shown to increase muscle hypertrophy and strength (specific to that joint angle). The upper traps, shoulders, core, and triceps are all highly targeted in any overhead hold and carry movement, and therefore will be significantly impacted by the overhead carry.
Enhanced Core Strength
The first video above (spinning snatch save) is not only one of the longest overhead rotational holds EVER (joking…), it is also a great example why overhead carries and holds should be part of your training. Overhead holds and carries expose any core and hip instabilities, and can really work to increase oblique strength and muscle firing (anti-rotational muscles). This will help to protect the spine from any rotational forces and can help you stay stable under overhead squats, snatches, jerks, and more!
Better Snatches and Jerks
Nothing is worse than setting a heavy load overhead and failing to stabilize the movement. The ability to stabilize heavy loads on the platform after a successful snatch and jerk is key to the sport of weightlifting and CrossFit, as well as is huge for providing athletes with the confidence and abilities to do so safely.
Overhead Carry Variations
Below are some of my favorite overhead carrying movements utilizing equipment that is found in most training facilities.
Kettlebell Overhead Carry
The kettlebell overhead carry is a great movement to increase overhead stability and strength on a single-sided basis. Kettlebells are a great variation because they force a lifter to keep the wrist stable (not extended) and in turn allow for a more ideal vertical alignment of the scapulae, shoulder joint, elbows, and wrist.
Dumbbell Overhead Carry
This is similar to the kettlebell overhead carry, however does not force as much wrist stability and therefore may allow lifters with poor overhead mechanics to “get away” with less than ideal overhead positioning. The key here is to keep the wrist from extending, which will then increase your ability to stay active with the upper traps and back.
Unilateral Overhead Carry
The unilateral overhead carry is any variation where one side of the body is loaded overhead and the other is not. This enforces a greater need for core stabilization and anti-rotational control of the spine and supporting muscles. Additionally, this exercise forces proper alignment of the scapulae and shoulder to ensure no unnecessary shrugging or compensation patterns to account for poor stability or mobility overhead.
Barbell Overhead Carry
The barbell can be used to help lifters place great amounts of load overhead, such as after a strict press, push press, snatch, and/or jerk. While walking overhead may not be necessary for sports like weightlifting and competitive fitness, the ability to withstand loads to create stability in dynamic environments is.
Strong and Healthy Shoulders
Below are a few articles and videos to help you increase shoulder mobility, strength, and minimize injury.
- 4 Corrective Exercises to Strengthen Your Shoulders
- 10 Exercises for Stronger, Healthier Scaps
- 5 Drills to Improve Your Front Rack Immediately
Featured Image: Rob Orlando on CrossFit’s YouTube Page