There are a number of things about the landmine set up that I love, my bias has become all but a well-kept secret. Nevertheless, when we’re talking about shoulders, I believe there’s even more to love about the landmine rig. In this article, which is one of the featured articles in our recent flagship handbook- Restorative Shoulder Series, I would like to cover a few reasons and examples why I utilize the landmine set-up with such regularity.
I’ve heard over the years that “with great mobility comes great responsibility.” Considering there is no joint in the body with more freedom of movement than the shoulder complex, it should be appreciated by the coach that we’re going to have to work deliberately on strengthening and stabilizing the area- and in several planes of motion. Mobility and stability, contrary to popular belief, are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the two work much more in tandem than in opposition. Very simply, if the joint has a mobility function, it needs stability to compliment the system. The same being the case for joints that are predominantly referred to as "stability joints", they must have some capacity of mobility in order for the joint to function optimally. A big evolution of my coaching occurred when I stopped perceiving these two as independents, and rather considered it a complimentary relationship that is different for each athlete.
There is no empirical ratio between mobility and stability. The outcome will always be dependent on the joint in question, the abilities the athlete presents, and the demands of their sport. Concepts like the joint-by-joint approach, which has been popularized by Mike Boyle among others, is a terrific starting point. I don’t disagree with this way of perceiving joint actions, however, we have to recognize that there is much more to it than simply exclusively mobilizing certain joints and exclusively using stability exercises with others. Unfortunately, it just isn’t that simple.
In addition to the unique demands placed on mobility and stability of the joint, we must consider the influence joints above and below the shoulder complex can have on movement quality. Because the landmine gives us a favorable position to work from, the athlete can incorporate more lower body inclusion, which typically results in significantly less constraint. In addition to surrounding joints, we cannot overlook the inherent demand for triplanar stability found at the shoulder. As the image to the left shows, there is no movement that occurs at the shoulder (GH joint specifically) that occurs explicitly in uniplanar fashion. As such, the landmine gives a tremendous advantage for utilizing more individualized pressing angles, which can be a great strategy for training around pain- or just developing the joint more completely. An important distinction to those who think this may be “cheating” the lift by using lower body or surrounding muscles, I consider this to simply be functional. Yes, we should have some select exercises that are more isolated or uniplanar in nature, but I find less and less value in that as the athlete returns to full health and function. Unless you’re a body builder or in physical therapy, isolated, strict movements offer little value in the eyes of transference.
Setting Your Athletes Up for Success
The unfixed base of the landmine creates a pivoting, rotary movement capability. This allows us to have unique precision throughout the broad spectrum of path(s) and range(s) of motion at the shoulder. Ultimately giving us the opportunity to identify and strengthen very specific ROM’s under load. There are two additional benefits that I believe the landmine affords us, those being:
i.) Allows athletes coming off of injury/surgery to use more organic movement strategies while restoring pressing strength rather than being constrained to a fixed load. This is also a prudent solution for athletes who just have cranky or banged up shoulders as well to move in a more natural POM.
ii.) Speaking to a healthier (or less injured) population, the advantage becomes challenging them to be strong and stable in this wide spectrum of movement under load. In my opinion, there is more “transfer” with movements that account for multiplanar strength and/or control. With the landmine, we can get that in a variety of ways that are highly beneficial for the shoulder.
The image above is illustrating something referred to as the “hand rule”. For athletes who are coming off a major injury such as a SLAP or rotator cuff tear, this is something that should be adhered to closely. Very simple, the hand rule is used to govern ranges of motion, whereby the hand should stay in the athletes line of vision to ensure a safe ROM. But additionally, this can be a helpful tool used to progressively build into proper overhead mechanics. For athletes who are compromised in overhead flexion ROM, for instance, tend to dump aggressively into lumbar extension or have poor control of their rib cage, the hand rule can be an effective strategy for monitoring load while emphasizing position and mechanics. Moreover, I think the landmine promotes this postural advantage very well.
When we’re using the landmine for pressing, the athlete is in a much better position to move through the upward action with confidence, as their hand can stay within their sight of vision. More technically speaking, this also gives us a safe boundary that precludes them from going into what could be vulnerable ranges of overhead flexion.
The position of the torso relative to the angle of the barbell during landmine movements is another important consideration. By promoting a natural forward trunk lean, the angle of the arm action is in a much more favorable position for preserving unwanted actions of flexion. The athlete can also use this forward lean by driving into the barbell/base of the landmine and using it as a leverage point. Meaning, we can actively push into the barbell as we go through the pressing action to assist with giving the joint some anterior-posterior stability. I believe that keeping the direct vertical axis of the load out in front of the joint (as compared to bearing directly down in an overhead press) is highly favorable for injured athletes.
Ball & Socket Joint, Ball & Socket Axis
Intuitively, I don’t believe there’s a specific structure that benefits from the landmine more so than the labrum. Improving the continuity of the GH joint and promoting coordination between the GH and scapula (shown to the left) is about as labral specific as strength training can get. The inherent demand for omnidirectional stability, in my mind, is a game changer for the labrum and other connective tissue. Giving love to these structures is the underpinning to shoulder strength and restoration.
Compare this with more conventional applications of pressing, for instance a traditional barbell overhead press. With the BB overhead press the athlete is constrained to the fixed nature of the barbell. This limits the freedom of movement for the joint, forcing a predominantly linear POM for the athlete. Aside from inflicting pain, this can also inhibit the arthrokinematics at the shoulder by constraining the utilization of individual movement signatures.
We also need to remain cognizant of what’s occurring at the scapula. Using another conventional pressing option such as the bench press for comparison, the landmine promotes uninhibited full scapular motion, whereas the bench press obviously subdues scapular action. I would argue that there is no better way to train full scapular motion under load than with the landmine. Even if we use a more reasonable comparison, one of the more common tendencies with conventional overhead press variations is excessively shrugging up with the traps and dumping into lumbar extension to stabilize overhead. Whereas with the landmine we don’t have a direct vertical axis bearing down, it’s much easier to control trap engagement while also maintaining a stable, neutral lumbar. None of this is to say there’s anything wrong with bench or OH press, but with an injured population especially, I feel the landmine has some decisive advantages.
When athletes are coming off of injury, particularly those that are severe and/or require surgery there is going to be an enormous drop in confidence. One of the premiere goals for the coach should always be to indirectly improve an athlete’s confidence by taking them from thinking they can’t, to proving they can. A major tool to assist with this is providing them with exercises that promote a higher degree of biofeedback. At the end of the day, no matter how good we are or how tight the rapport is with the athlete your word will only carry so far. We are proprioceptive and kinesthetic organisms- we need to feel to improve.
The landmine does a tremendous job at exploiting weak or undertrained positions/planes/ranges of movement. This prompts the athlete to heighten their consciousness as they can’t simply go into autopilot while going through the set. They will likely have more feedback, or input, to offer you which is always welcomed by the coach. When we get input, we can create conversation, and this is where solutions are truly found.
Progressing Landmine Movements
*Note: Please see YouTube channel to find videos.
The basic progression schemes with the landmine movements are no different than with any other piece of equipment or application. We’re still going through the same process of monitoring and manipulating variables to provide safe and pragmatic training. As you can notice by looking at the chart above, there are several common progression schemes applied:
Notice that nothing listed infers anything about increasing external load. Don’t get me wrong here though, adding external load to movements is an absolutely necessary step- but not until it’s been earned or needed. I feel that there are a lot of coaches who rush through progression schemes simply because they don’t know any better than defaulting to “let’s throw another 10 lbs. on there”. So many intermediate steps that can have tremendous value for the athlete are being neglected when this is the sole strategy for driving adaptation. In my experience, using more of these intermediate progressions/ variations not only helps the athlete to become more proficient with the movements, but also has redeemable value for performance aspects as well. In a sense, I believe that this litany of intermediate progression approach ultimately primes the system (athlete) and transfers directly into both conventional training variations and overall performance outcomes.
If you haven't already done so, please check out our latest eBook, Restorative Shoulder Series for much much more on shoulder health/function. This is an entirely free resource (only need to subscribe to Rude Rock) that includes an 80 page handbook, with over 5 hours of video content and a 6-week training program fully embedded with hyperlinks. I promise you, this one really came together very well, the co-contributors brought some incredible material.