What is Shoulder Packing?

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by Boris Bojanovic

For those of you doing further reading into kettlebell concepts may have come across the idea of “packing the shoulder” when taking the kettlebell into the overhead position. Shoulder packing is an important concept but it seems to be misunderstood, quite possibly due to the term “packing” itself. Many people interpret shoulder packing as pulling (packing) the scapula (shoulderblade) down & back as you press the kettlebell overhead.

On first pass this seems like a good idea as the scapula is mobile on the ribcage, and packing it down stabilises it so that the arm can move from a stable platform. But, a problem arises when the upper arm bone (humerus) moves up without the scapula rotating up. As the humerus moves up in a down scapula it will inevitably hit the bony top part of the scapula (the acromion). If you have ever heard the term “shoulder impingement” this is the very definition of it. If you haven’t heard of shoulder impingement then packing the scapula down & back is the best way to cause chronic shoulder pain & risk rotator cuff tears.

Correct scapular movement as the arm goes overhead is called upward rotation. The scapula shouldn’t be packed down & back but the muscles around it should be tight and stabilise it as it moves into upward rotation. The muscles responsible for that are serratus anterior, lower trapezius & upper trapezius (see image below).

The three muscles work in unison to rotate the scapula on itself and keep it a stable platform for the arm to go overhead with a kettlebell without injuring the soft tissues under the acromion in doing so.

That’s it for part one of this series, an introduction to shoulder packing and the proper way to move the scapula when taking a kettlebell overhead. The next part in the series will talk about why pressing overhead safely isn’t as easy as it seems because of our modern hunched over posture. And more importantly how you can make it safe for yourself & your kettlebell clients.

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