Reaching: Theory and Practice

Learn how reaching and improve upper body mobility

Movement Debrief Episode 116 is in the books. Below is a copy of the video for your viewing pleasure, and audio if you can’t stand looking at me.

Here is the setlist:

  • How does airflow change at various reaching angles?
  • How does airflow change with trunk rotation?
  • What is the scapular orientation during shoulder extension?
  • How does one with a posterior thorax tilt present?
  • How do different carry variations impact airflow? 
  • How does forearm supination and pronation impact reaching?
  • How can we sequence carries in a manner that allows for maximal airflow expansion?
  • How can you tell if someone is using a compensatory strategy when they are lifting weights?

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and the audio version:   

Zac Cupples iTunes

Show notes

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Bill Hartman

Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System

Motion of the shoulder complex during multiplanar humeral elevation.

How do reaches impact ribcage movement? 

On previous debriefs, I understood that reaching forward facilitates posterior expansion during inhalation regardless of body position.

However, on your latest debrief for squatting, you mention when the arm is held anywhere between 60-120 deg, you get concentric orientation of posterior thorax due to upward tilt of scapula, which would limit posterior expansion.

I’m having a tough time understanding the differences between these 2 examples. Maybe a clarification of which arm position is best for posterior expansion or if that changes with certain exercises (such as squat) or body position. And I assume arms overhead is best to facilitate apical/pump handle expansion which has been covered many times. Thanks for the clarification in advance.

Airflow during trunk rotation 

Got a decent debrief question: can you describe the different effects of a reach that moves the sternum contralaterally (think a right reach for left trunk rotation, depression of the left ribs in the sagittal/frontal plane) versus an ipsilateral reach that is used to “retract” the thorax on that side?

Shoulder extension 

When considering shoulder extension, is scapular inferior angle winging caused by scapular internal rotation and reduced shoulder internal rotation?

Posterior Thorax Tilt 

How does someone with a posteriorly oriented thorax change the concentric orientation of the scapula when reaching at 60-120 degrees?

How do reaches impact ribcage movement?

Hey big Z! Long time listener, first-time caller.

I was wondering if you could dive into some detail (debrief Q?) regarding how you program carries. Specifically the rationale behind different carry variants (farmer’s, low rack, 90/90, waiter’s) and what outcomes you looking to achieve utilizing the different carry options.

Thanks Zac! Appreciate the killer content my man.


Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe I heard you talk about the Arnold press being an ideal exercise choice because the shoulder structure moves through the entire movement continuum.

Why not take a similar approach, rotating the shoulder and going from supination to pronation, with other reaching/pulling exercises? For example, why not transition between palms up and palms down while doing a floor press or row? 

Sequencing carries 

What are your thoughts on a sequence of carrying:  1) suitcase, 2) low rack, 3)  90/90, and 4) overhead for warmup and recovery days?

How to spot compensation during movement 

What “tells” can we use to understand if a load is too great and causing compressive strategies?

Sum Up

  • 0-60 degrees shoulder flexion = T6-8 expansion due to scapular internal rotation and downward rotation.
  • 60-120 degrees shoulder flexion = Lower pumphandle due to scapular external rotation and slight upward rotation.
  • 120-180 degrees shoulder flexion = T2-4 expansion and upper pump handle due to maximal upward rotation, scapular plane orientation, and humeral external rotation.
  • Trunk rotation involves ipsilateral posterior expansion and contralateral anterior expansion
  • Full shoulder extension requires anterior scapular tilt, which encourages pump handle expansion of ribs 3-5.
  • Posteriorly tilted thorax has reduced T2-4 expansion.
  • Carries can be used to drive air based on arm position and encourage trunk rotation via arm swing. Start with 0 degrees of flexion and work your way up.
  • Supination can promote posterior expansion; pronation can promote anterior expansion.