In this blog I am going to break down the shoulder position and form required in order to master the pole deadlift and the pole muscle up.
If you were to ask me to choose between a pole deadlift or the pole muscle up I would always choose to perform a pole muscle up and I hope that after you read this blog you will understand why the muscle up is a far less strenuous movement for your shoulders than the pole deadlift.
Most people are capable of performing these skills but the majority are not ready to try them and without being body aware we could potentially be doing our bodies more harm than good.
Trust me when you are ready these skills will come naturally and at ease with no pain or injuries.
Before I get started with this blog I want to make it clear that levers are very important when it comes to bodyweight training and sports, knowing where your centre of mass is positioned when performing certain lifts can play a huge role in how easily you will be able to master a certain skill and will help to reduce the risk of injury. If you have long levers or let's say heavier legs shifting your bodyweight will most definitely be more challenging for you than someone with shorter levers and someone that is lighter.
Your mobility will also have a huge impact on your lifts, how stable are your shoulders? Are you hyper mobile? Do you have the flexibility required to make the skill easier? If you were to read my blog on hip stability I explain how being strong comes with tightness hence more stability and being flexible comes with instability, although in this blog the focus is on the hip joint the information can be applied to the shoulder joint as well .
The list of variables are endless, and sometimes only a coaches eye will be able to see this so please do not get disheartened if you are yet to master your deadlift, whilst working towards this skill remember that there are plenty of other movements that are just as impressive on the pole which are probably much safer for you to try!
Always seek an experts help if you are unsure of what you are doing.
Let's break down each skill separately and talk about them in more depth.
Shoulder Positioning and Form
The pole deadlift: - Your starting position is with your chest rotated outwards from the pole. - Your top arm has to be able to withstand some serious scapular depression. - Your bottom arm is pushing your body away from the pole with huge amounts of shoulder external rotation.
This position I have described above is in itself VERY hard to hold, which is why many people can not yet even hold the hangman position (image below).
The Pole Muscle up:
- Your stating position is with your chest facing downwards and your top arm close to the pole (practically touching it).
- Your scapular is in a much easier position to retract the shoulder than the pole deadlift as your body is soo close to the pole.
- Your core is fully engaged and ready to help support the lift.
- Your bottom arm is in a neutral and strong position close to the body (Not at the shoulders end range like the pole deadlift).
If you are strong, both skills are safe to perform. If you are not quite there yet with either I would suggest that you work on the pole muscle up first.
Shoulder positioning - The Pole Deadlift
For this particular skill you will need to be able to hold a solid hangman before you can even think about lifting your legs into your Ayesha. (See image below)
The top arm
The position requires your top arm to be fully depressed into the shoulder joint in order to help elevate your chest towards the ceiling. When the scapula is depressed you will notice that your chest will naturally want to lift upwards resulting in you to end up in a very arched position (almost parallel to the floor) apposed to a straight body hang.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IM7j3HqYs8 - Please refer to this video of a dead hang scapular depression.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Rhk3l5qY6g - Scapular depression with chest elevation (Skip to 5.42)
Now the only difference is that with pole we are in a single arm hang position making our job a lot harder when it comes to trying to keep our bodies straight and aligned. Due to this, our bodies are always going to find a way to 'cheat'. Most of the time this is where you will see many people rotate sideways mid lift and catch the pole with their top foot in order to compensate for the drop in the shoulder.
Ideally, you should try and keep the scapula depressed throughout the whole movement right up until your legs are in a leg hang holding all of your bodyweight.
However at times when we are fatigued or feel lazy it can become very easy to simply hang from our shoulder which results to our bottom arm to work a lot harder than it needs to, this can lead to multiple shoulder problems and injuries in the future.
The Bottom Arm
The bottom arm is protracting, pushing our bodies away from the pole and helping assist in elevating our chest towards the ceiling in order to stop us collapsing into the shoulder.
A huge amount of end range strength and shoulder stability is required for us to be able to apply force at such a large amount of external rotation, at times the rotation can even be more than a 180 degree angle when we are deadlifting.
When we lift our legs up in our deadlift there will be a point before we are at full lockout where our bottom arm is carrying all of our bodyweight and if we have not conditioned our bodies to hold this load with a bent arm we will collapse.
Once you have mastered the hangman position you can begin to try and lift your knees towards the elbow of your top arm to go into your Ayesha.
Of course a straight leg straddle leg lift will be a lot harder than bending your knees in a tuck.
Work on the eccentric/negative version of this movement until you feel confident with the movement pattern. Eccentric loading will also help you gain maximal strength to prepare you for the deadlift.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGtfe26dfdk - Shoulder protraction without the shoulder rotation (gymnastic bodies is a great page to follow)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nu_lH0zaufE - Deadlift technique and conditioning video.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPKlGlwxr5s - Quick video to help you understand the scapulars movement, protraction/retraction and elevation/depression. I HIGHLY recommend that you watch this.
Shoulder positioning - The Pole Muscle Up
For this particular skill you will need to be able to hold a straddle lift position with the the top arm depressed. (See image below) Image 1 - Pole Muscle up with true grip
Image 2 - Pole Muscle up with twisty grip
The top arm
In order to perform a pole muscle up your top arm has to be fully retracted, this is a safe and strong position for the shoulder to be in and it also helps assist the back in staying neutral and straight for core compression to take place, or in other words for the core to engage and help towards lifting the hips upside down for the muscle up.
When our shoulder is not depressed our back will end up in a rounded position making it very difficult for us to lift into the muscle up. If the back is rounded we will not be able to create that beautiful compressed straddle shape and we will be relying solely on the bottom arm to press our weight due to the scapular not being engaged, this means that we would have to arch our backs in order to get upside down instead of engaging the core and obliques to assist the lift.
Always remember that in anything you do if your starting position is wrong other parts of your body will try and compensate towards performing a particular skill.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CG8kTleAHUQ - The Pole Muscle up. Skip to 0.56s.
The athlete in this video has started from a slightly different position apposed to a dead hang, however she keeps her body very close to the pole and is aligned very well when she pushes up.
The Bottom Arm
In contrast to the pole deadlift in the pole muscle up our bottom arm is not required to externally rotate in our starting position.
The bottom arm is positioned close to our bodies at shoulder width distance apart, making it very easy for us to apply torque and lift a heavier load than if our levers were positioned away from our midline, like the pole deadlift.
As you can see from the images and videos above there is a big difference between these two skills.
Ultimately the bottom arm is in a much safer and stronger position in the pole muscle up as it is in the pole deadlift.
In the pole muscle up there is no room to 'cheat', it's simple, if you are not strong enough you will not be able to perform the lift. Where as in the pole deadlift you may not be strong enough to deadlift however you can cheat your way into the movement it by hanging on your top arm and using your mobility to lockout the bottom arm relying on your joints to do the majority of the work instead of engaging your muscles and using your strength.