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  • Writer's pictureJesse Lewis

Feeling Unsteady with Overhead Lifts?

Updated: Feb 7


If you’re feeling unsteady during overhead lifts, you’re not alone. We hear this often from our clients. Whether they’re performing snatches, overhead squats, clean and jerks, or overhead presses, they often complain of feeling unsteady, off balance, or uneven. This can limit how much weight they’re able to lift and sometimes lead to pain in the shoulders.


Let’s dive into some of the reasons that you could be feeling unsteady during your overhead lifts and how a physical therapist will work with you to identify exactly what is causing it.


Asymmetries in the body

Feelings of unsteadiness with overhead lifts can often stem from asymmetries within the body. These asymmetries can alter the way we move and limit how well we’re able to complete a lift. It’s important to note, however, that having slight asymmetries in range of motion or strength can be completely normal based on your anatomy. It’s not always problematic.


Issues may arise when these asymmetries become substantial and start to hinder your performance or cause pain. That’s when getting assessed by a physical therapist can be helpful. They can work with you to assess what is contributing to the asymmetries and whether or not they need to be addressed.


Poor Programming

One of the best ways to gain and maintain overhead shoulder motion is to include exercises that require you to use the overhead position regularly in your programming. Practicing these exercises consistently can help strengthen the overhead position while stretching your muscles and improving your range of motion. On the other hand, not having these types of exercises in your program can be one reason why you feel unsteady in your overhead lifts.


Similarly, practicing unilateral movements—any exercise that trains one limb at a time—can be a great way to address side to side asymmetries in range of motion and strength. If you’re not doing this, that may be why you’re not seeing the results you’re looking for. Our team of physical therapists can help you get the most efficient and effective program while feeling supported in the entire process.


Shoulder Mobility

Another common reason you may be feeling unsteady is limited shoulder mobility. Certain muscles can limit your overhead shoulder mobility if they are too tight. During a consultation with a physical therapist, this will be one of the first variables they look at. To do this, they will assess whether or not you’re able to fully raise your arms overhead and complete your intended movement. If it's discovered that your motion is limited, your physical therapist will work with you to discover why that is.


Spinal Mobility

On top of shoulder mobility, a physical therapist might assess your spinal mobility. Limitations in thoracic extension—the ability to extend your mid back—can limit your shoulder mobility, and therefore your overhead lifts.


Lower Body and Core

Lastly, a physical therapist will likely assess your strength, stability, and how well your lower body and core work together with your upper body. The body works as a kinetic chain where one area can affect the function of another. That’s why it’s so important to get assessed by a physical therapist to figure out exactly what’s causing your overhead lifts to feel unsteady.


Still Having Trouble? We’re Here to Help

If you’re feeling unsteady with overhead lifts but don’t know how or where to start addressing this, reach out. Our team of physical therapists can help guide you and figure out exactly what you need to do to get back to performing at your best as quickly as possible. Reach out to us by filling out this form or texting, or calling us at 202-922-7331.

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