T Nation

Face Pulls & Nailing Form to Correct Scapular Issues


4 months ago i decided to stop training in the gym to finally put a fix to my posture. Am 35, have lifted since i was 12, i played semi pro soccer till i was 30 & have played tight end in american football since. i’ve had excessive lordosis / kyphosis since i was young, to the point that every season i would pick up a knee/hip or shoulder injury. But i was still strong /athletic in spite of my poor posture.

Am in off-season now, getting older & understanding function much better. So decided to make a real effort to fix my posture. my anterior pelvic tilt, i feel i have fixed, i stopped stretching hamstrings, did lots of low level core work & glute activation work & i honestly think the time off constant squats & deadlifts have helped.

My upper body i’ve been trying to do lots of thoracic extension, band work. Mostly great & i feel so much better, i feel like it’s taken years off me.

The one thing i am struggling with still though is facepulls & how the scapular moves.

i do the pull & then try to externally rotate & ALWAYS my upper traps seem to kick in, my shoulders roll forwards & my scapular tilts forward. i can’t figure it out as to why i’m doing it & how i can stop it.

ive spent a lot of time working on straight arm band work for scapular retraction but still feels like i don’t actually have good control.

any help or experience from anyone here would be appreciated, am just trying to get myself to the point where i can go back into gym & lift & know my body is capable in good strong posture



Hey man, I’ve been dealing with the same issues. The answer is super easy. You have to start the move with the right tilt to your scapula. You have to have the scap position to get the external rotation in the shoulders to put you in the correct position to do the move before you start.

Once you teach yourself the right scap tilt everything should start to improve.

These are scapula.

Under your skin they could look like this.

From the side you can see the “tilt” of the scapula. “Good” is vertical, flat against the ribs. “Bad” is scraps tilted forward, with the top of the scapula and the shoulders rolling up and forward.

If you stand sideways and look at yourself in the mirror, “bad” tilt with rolled forward shoulders looks like this.


You can see the bottom of the shoulder blade pushing “back” while the top pulls “forward.” Bad tilt.

With “good” scap position the shoulder blades will be more flat against the rib cage.

Good tilt vs bad tilt would look like this under your skin.


What do you think? Are you with me so far? Can you picture the scapula tilting? Can you see the bad vs good?


I think you just described exactly what i am dealing with & i am lucky to have you reply to my post.

Am 100% with you, can picture the good vs the bad. but whats the next step?


The next step is to learn to use the serratus muscle to pull the shoulder blade into the right tilt.

This is the serratus.


Stand in front of a mirror like this, with your arm out to the side. Only stand sideways, so you can see your scap tilt and your serratus area in the mirror.

With your other hand, touch the area under your arm, on your ribs, where your serratus should be.
Kinda like this. Only flat hand, laying open on ribs.

So now you’re looking at yourself sideways in the mirror. One arm extended out, towards the mirror. The opposite hand is on your rib area, over your serratus.


Now, keep your arm straight and rotate your thumb up, like granting mercy to a gladiator.

Look at yourself in the mirror while you do it. Rotate your upper arm. Don’t turn your wrist or elbow to turn the thumb up. Externally rotate your upper arm to turn your thumb up. Look at your scapula tilt while you externally rotate your upper arm to turn your thumb up. Watch your scapula go from bad tilt to good tilt as you externally rotate your upper arm to turn your thumb up.

While you turn your upper arm, and watch your scapula, “feel” your serratus working. “Feel” the muscle tighten, to pull the scapula into good tilt, so you can rotate the upper arm, to turn the thumb up.

You should be able to feel your serratus, while you watch your scapula tilt into position, as you externally rotate your upper arm to turn your thumb up.

When you get it, you should be able to feel your scapula come around and touch your fingertips.


Really appreciate you taking time to reply like this & it is extremely helpful.

knowing this & understanding this, where do i go from this?


Check out a ewe-tube video called “The Best Scapular Stabilisation Exercise with Dr. Evan Osar.”

The doctor goes through some common moves for external rotation and thoracic extension, and explains why they aren’t effective until you get the serratus going to control the scapula. Then he shows some good moves to learn how to integrate the serratus and scap tilt into the rest of your motions and movements.

In post #958 I linked my favorite moves to do with good scap position to increase shoulder ROM.

In post #4 of this thread I link some of my favorite exercises to do for individual small muscles while using good scap tilt.


Mr Flats,

lucky i posted my question & you were around to answer! this is really helpful.

This first activation drill i can really feel, the 15min video on the best scap stabilisation exercise was awesome, but just playing around with a few of the exercises & don’t really feel it anywhere, it just feels like overall tension if that makes sense?

also now feel a little confused, because of every other piece of literature i have read or video watched talks about the pro /retract on a row for example & that seems to be a recipe for further dysfunction.

How has your progress been? & has the whole process changed how you think about training?

at the moment, i can only see myself wanting to train lower body. because it seemed like everything! impacted my shoulder rounding, obviously i want to get back to lifting upper but i feel like work to be done


Oh man, good questions. 1st, you dont have to call me mister, mister. Bro is cool.

The overall tension makes total sense. When you loose control of the “right” muscles for posture and shoulder stabilisation, the “wrong” muscles take over. Like compensation for your limitations. Being used in the wrong way makes them tight, which limits your joint motion. This makes you move incorrectly, or compensate. This makes you tighter, which further limits your ROM. That leads to further compensations, and diminishes the range your joints can move through. That causes further compensations, bad posture and more incorrect motions. And more tightness. It’s a viscious cycle.

If you’ve been having this problem for awhile you probably have super tight lats, biceps, front delts. Also tight pecs (especially pec minor), tight upper traps. And also all kinds of tight little B.S. muscles like the Levator Scaulae and coracobrachialis and who knows what else.


You may need to do some stretches or foam rolling or massaging to loosen up the tight muscles to allow you to get the most out of activation/stabilisation exercises.

When you loosen up the “wrong” muscles, it becomes easier to tighten and contract the “right” muscles. After a while, contracting the “right” muscles will help you to stretch the “wrong” muscles. As a result the motion of your shoulders will improve. This will make it easier to use the “right” muscles. Using the “right” muscles will loosen up the “wrong” muscles. This will allow the joint to move better. Before long, your lower traps are strong and tightened your lats are lengthened and your posture is improved. And your shoulder doesn’t roll forward.

Then you notice you don’t need to slip into ATP to lift your arms over your head. Or you don’t need to hyper extend your lower back to get your sore shoulder/arms under the squat bar. It’s a virtuous circle, and everything gets better.

Some stretch stuff I like



I can’t even be too mad about the protraction/retraction advice leading to further distfunction. “Down and Back” or “squeeze together” is so so close to tilting the scaps that I can understand the confusion. For most dudes engaging the serratus and getting the scapula in the right position is so fundamental and easy they don’t have to think about it. They get tight and it just happens. “Good” lifters or athletes never have to worry about this stuff. They just “get it.” That’s why they are good.


my bad, was just being polite & don’t know your name.

Completely makes sense, i guess when i was a kid playing nintendo probably putting myself in bad posture, then going & doing loads of bench, curls & leg extensions compounds the whole thing.

i have practised the wall plank variations a few times today & i feel a little more confident. The biggest help has been that serratus move with the gladiator position. i actually feel my serratus activate which is a weird feeling.

I have a sports massage therapist who treats me & she always says my levatator scap is super tight, makes a lot of sense

appreciate the pics & videos, am building up a library now :slight_smile:


how do you do a row now for example? do you even think about pro & retraction? or is it like that Dr Evan said, just stable scaps & move from there?

So true on those guys that don’t have to worry, seeing some athletes with really prominent serratus anterior & you know that they have no clue how they got there!!

thank you so much for the help, means a lot.


When your shoulder rolls forward enough it pinches up or “impinges.” To avoid the painful pinch you can start moving your arm funny. This leads to other problems joint tennis or golfers elbow. This makes pulldowns/chins suck. After awhile it gets so bad rows hurt the bicep/shoulder.

My rows were messed up For a long time. It took me years to stop with the protraction/retraction. Now, it’s like you and the Doc said, tilt the scaps and go from there more naturally.

A “Special” back workout to build back towards a “regular” back workout could look like;

  1. Band stretch for lat/pec/bicep. Then do a serratus move.
    Repeat 3 times each.

  2. Lower Trap move like trap 3 raise or prone trap raise or scarecrow. Focus on scap tilt and serratus to start. Then squeeze lower traps. Hold at the top for a 6 count to be sure you’re hitting the right muscles. Then an isometric hold, extending dumbbells behind you to hit rear delts, while squeezing lower traps and serratus.
    Repeat 3 times each

  3. Chest Supported incline shrugs. Active serratus, good scap tilt. Arm completely straight. Squeeze lower traps. There is a difference between BS “retraction” and shrugging with mid and lower traps. Figure it out with this exercises.

After that rear delts on the cable.

Except this guy is kinda sloppy. And you will focus on good scap tilt.
Repeat 3 times each.
  1. Some stretch something like this
    Followed by this lat activation drill
    Repeat 3 times each.

Obviously, go slow and do everything with good scap tilt and total focus on activating the right muscles. If anything didn’t work or feel right, switch to a better exercise. If you did that for a month, while doing some stretches/mobility stuff outside the gym, I think you would be ready for rows.


thankyou so much for this routine, this will be my go to, maybe i could do this 2x per week & hit legs in both sessions too?

in terms of frequency of other movements for serratus activation, scapular stability etc… how often are you doing it? or were you doing it? to get upto speed… currently i’m spending around an hour a day on a bunch of exercises. now with all this extra, am trying to think how i can package it all together

Oh & what do you train for now?


No problem man, I hope it works for you.

For years my training has been like

Ignore this stuff and get a sore shoulder.

Get hurt and have BS training.

Intensely get after it and Halfway fix it.

Train smart for awhile.

Ignore it and get a sore shoulder.



This year I’ve been able to understand what’s going on better.

As for a routine, you could do like;

Gentle lat/pec stretch in a doorway, a couple thumbs up serratus activations and a few arm circles every day, in just a couple minutes in the morning.

More serious stretching and foam rolling, then serratus activation and rotator cuff exercises twice a week.

The workout above once or twice.

Currently, right now I’m on a body part split. I’m doing 1 or 2 “serious” shoulder mobility/ stability "sessions per week.

Arm circles against the wall every day.

Then chest day/back day/ shoulder -tricep day /leg day. I do serratus activation and rear delt, mid trap stuff as a warm up or part of the workout on all the upper body days. I’m really working on getting all my lifts back. My bench press is a little unstable, chin ups hurt, and my incline is weak. But I’m getting better. I can seated press dumbbells and do pulldowns, shrugs and rows again.

I can also brush my teeth without pain. And reach back to put on a coat or grab the whiskey bottle off the top shelf. Some of that stuff is almost as good as lifting better.

As you figure out what’s working, and drop what’s not working it gets faster/easier to get through the little exercises.


Am glad to hear those day to day things are improving there for you! there have been times where i couldn’t drive because my shoulder was so painful. so it’s good you making head way!

the routine outline looks great, i’ll follow that fully. once again truly greatful & indebted for your kindness. Really wasn’t expecting such a thorough breakdown.

oh one more thing, any tips on chest stretch? does scap position effect it? i seem to only feel it in the front of my shoulder whatever way i slice it up.


Thanks man. I feel like you will be able to make some progress too.

The exercises and routine may work, or some of that stuff may not be exactly right for you. Or some of the lifts/moves may be too easy or too hard for where you are currently. So, be “inspired” or whatever, but you may need to kinda “fine tune” stuff.

Pecs look like this.

A basic stretch could look like this.

You can see dudes serratus, lat, rear delt kicking. Serratus pulling “down” to raise the chest “up.” You can almost see ( or maybe like, imagine) the external rotation of his upper arm. Like “opening up” his chest. You need the external rotation to put the shoulder in correct position to take the stress off the front delts.

Sometimes laying on the floor is easier.

Sometimes your lats and stuff under your arm is too tight, so you gotta roll it out to release it to allow your arm/ shoulder into the right spot.

Or you gotta work on your pecs, or your teres minor or some shit with a lacrosse ball.




Really helpful! thanks man :slight_smile:

i cut all my exercises back yesterday & simplified & felt more motivated + achieved more.

do you ever get confused with the lat & serratus? i find it difficult to tell what is contracting between the two!


Yeah, it can be confusing and difficult. Or really just a huge pain in the ass.

They are supposed to work together, but there is like, “timing.” And you can’t really Isolate one vs other, only like emphasize. So it is difficult.

That’s why it’s not super effective to do “general” back stuff like rows and Pulldowns/chins and deadlifts and focus on the bar/weight and not your back muscles. It’s even harder to focus on one piece during a “big” “heavy” move.

Keep at it. You can do it. Everything upper body builds off this. If you can restore this Fundamental motion, all the more complex stuff that starts here will get better.


So true & it’s frustrating to only realise all this now!!

most of my programs over the past 15yrs were based around starting strength & i understood the reason i wasn’t more posturally sound was that i wasn’t “strong enough”

also with training for a sport a lot of my focus was on power & speed of bar, i thought if my coach is telling me my technique is good then all is fine.

on a positive note, i really do notice a difference from all the intel you dropped, i was doing my exercises this morning & first time i felt a mild soreness in my serratus & moving my arms overhead feels smoother. means a lot that you have taken this time to help