Anterior Humeral Glide - The Silent Shoulder Killer
What is anterior humeral glide and why should you care? Chances are its something you’ve never heard of but do all the time. As a personal trainer in a big box gym it’s probably the most common thing I see everyday next to the amount of people I witness furiously half repping bicep curls in front of the mirror.
Anterior Humeral Glide is when the upper portion of the humerus moves forward in relation to the shoulder socket itself with movements where the arm is brought towards the body and even behind it. A classic example is a row movement, or the bottom of the bench press. Basically, the top of your arm bone is trying to thrust itself right out the front of your arm socket to poke someone in the eye.
Picture courtesy of BretContreras.com
But why is this such a bad thing? Because when this happens your humerus is creating a massive amount of pressure on the front of your shoulder capsule which has a lot of implications to keeping your shoulders healthy while lifting. The only thing keeping the humerus in the socket is your bicep tendon which wraps around the head of the humerus and attaches to the scapulae (shoulder blade). The problem is the bicep tendon is not built to handle this and the constant pressure of the humerus rubbing into the tendon can cause severe instability, inflammation or even wear it down to the point of tearing it. Too many repetitions of this and the shoulder socket eventually becomes loose and a loose anterior shoulder is a weak shoulder. Say goodbye to furiously half repping curls in front of the mirror.
This is what it looks like incorrectly and correctly on a cable pulldown – Never bring the bar lower than the clavicle (collarbone) or you are bound to have a ton of glide.
This is what it looks like incorrectly and correctly posing –
Yep the left is me on stage jutting my humerus right out the front of my shoulder socket in the days before I knew what anterior humeral glide was. No wonder that pose was so painful. Notice how in the left picture the portion of the upper arm is actually in front of where the shoulder socket should be and the elbow is further behind the body. The right picture is proper retraction of the scapula and the upper arm is now in line with the socket.
Now that we know what it is, how do we fix it? Well, when the humerus moves we need to be sure that the scapula is also moving to accommodate the range of motion. A large part of this is firstly being aware of what the problem is and knowing how to move the scapula accordingly.
Poor posture greatly contributes to this problem, tight pec minor/major, upper traps, anterior deltoid and lack of thoracic extension can all increase the likelihood of this happening to you. Increasing thoracic extension and strengthening the mid traps, rhomboids and lats can eliminate this. A cue I often give my clients is to tuck your shoulder blades into the opposite back pockets, activating the low/mid traps, rhomboids and lats automatically.
Knowing what to do during rowing movements. When we initiate rowing movements that bring the elbows in towards the body we need to start by retracting the scapulae and allowing them to slightly protract during the eccentric, the scapulae are meant to freely slide around the rib cage. Caution on pulling the elbows too far back during rows though because when you run out of scapular movement you are going to run into anterior glide regardless. I recommend stopping with the elbows once you reach the sides of the body in most cases.
However, pressing movements are reversed. When we press we need to begin with the scapula already retracted to create a stable base for us to press the weight from and unlike rows we do not allow the scapula to protract (come forwards) or we would lose all our shoulder stability when the shoulders are in their most vulnerable position. Pressing builds strong isometric strength in the back and if you try this for the first time you might be surprised to get DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) in the mid/lower traps and rhomboids.
Dips can also be a controversial exercise for causing anterior shoulder pain but as long as the key variables of pressing are followed (retracted depressed shoulder blades) and the upper arm stays above or equal to parallel the ground they should be able to be performed safely.
A safe pressing set up position should have extension in the upper (thoracic) spine, tucked elbows not flared (to prevent shrugging) and retracted shoulder blades to put the shoulders in the most stable position, as soon as you lose retraction and begin to protract all stability is lost. If we set up with a flat back, flared elbows and protracted shoulder blades we would get more and more anterior glide of the humerus the further down we bring the bar towards the chest. I highly recommend incorporating some thoracic extension mobility drills into your routine to give you the safe setup you need for healthy shoulders.
Well there you have it, a fix to the problem you didn’t even know you had. When you perform these exercises incorrectly enough times you’ll almost certainly start to feel anterior shoulder pain which can lead to many more serious shoulder issues down the road. Remember we row from the shoulder blades and we press from the shoulder joint. If you want a long and healthy career in the gym, say NO to anterior humeral glide.