I know the last few weeks on the blog have been pretty dense, and more on the advice side than actual training tips. To bring things back, today I wanted to share a very short post on one of my favorite upper back strength exercises, the “U” with overhead press


Why These Types of Exercises are Important

It’s very common to see gymnasts (and really all overhead athletes) be largely underdeveloped in their upper back and scapula or rotator cuff musculature. I find this causes large negative consequences related to shoulder pain, limited progress in shoulder flexibility, limited power ouput┬áduring gymnastics skills, and more.

Reasons I Like This Drill

  • It’s easy to perform and can be quickly individualized to the athlete’s ability level

  • It incorporates aspects of upper back strength as well as full range of motion control

  • It takes minimal equipment, space, and instruction to implement effectively

  • It can continue to scale upward with the athlete as they develop, simply use a hard band or change the set/rep/volume

To Perform This Exercise

  • Have the athlete start by wrapping an elastic band around a central sturdy pole or upright

  • Have the athlete start in a proper half kneeling position (prevents arching of lower back), with appropriate distance from the upright to have tension on the band

  • Keeping the shoulders just below shoulder height, and the thumbs toward each other, the athlete will first row the bend until their elbows are in line with their body

  • From here, they will maintain the shoulder height position of the elbows with a 90-degree elbow angle and rotate their palms back into external rotation until the 90-90 or “U” position is reached

  • While maintaining the arms in line with the trunk, they will press the arms fully straight until they are in fully open overhead shoulder angle

  • They then follow the steps in reverse order, bending down to the 90-90 position, rotating the palms back to the rowing step, straightening their elbows to the starting position

I usually give athletes 3 sets of 5-8, with the appropriate band, as an active rest between working sets of other exercises like lower body squats, deadlifts, or plyometrics. Give it a try yourself, then try it with your athletes. Hope it helps!

Dave Tilley DPT, SCS, CSCS

CEO/Founder of SHIFT Movement Science