Reach Roll and Lift

The Reach, Roll, & Lift (RRL) is one of my favorite upper extremity exercises. For me, it makes both a great treatment as well as a good assessment tool for athletes. The movement requires optimal shoulder overhead mobility and stability of the scapulohumeral musculature.

Reach, Roll, and Lift

Reach, Roll, and Lift

To perform the RRL, have the athlete begin on their hands and knees. Place their forehead on one of their hands while the other arm is in front. Reach that arm out as far as possible before externally rotating the shoulder by pointing the thumb up. Have the athlete depress the shoulder blade before lifting their hand off of the ground. Repeat the reach, roll, depress, and lift sequence.

Commonly, athletes will have to bend at the elbow to lift. This allows them to compensate for some level of weakness and / or compromised mobility. Another common fault is for the athlete to not depress the shoulder, making the lift portion easier. Coach athletes away from these faults if they can perform the RRL without them.

For those who have performed mobility work to improve their overhead motion, this makes an excellent follow up as stability work is needed in this new range of motion to help “lock it in”. It’s ability to challenge stability at the end range of shoulder flexion also makes it a very good movement to improve an athlete’s ability to stabilize weights overhead (CrossFitters, weightlifters).

This exercise is surprising difficult for many athletes to perform, making it a great tool for showing them that they have weakness they otherwise wouldn’t realize exist. I believe that someone with optimal shoulder mobility and stability should be able to perform 20 perfect reps. For those that cannot, have them perform multiple sets of perfect repetitions until they reach 20 total. For those unable to lift without compensation, allow them to bend at the elbow but instruct them to fight hard to keep the elbow as extended as possible.

For other potential shoulder exercises, see my article in CrossFit Journal titled “The Optimal Shoulder” ( This article goes further in depth on the anatomical structure of the shoulder as well as the mobility and stability needs for proper athletic movement. While written for the CrossFit athlete, this article is highly applicable to those in other sports.

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