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Power Cleans and scapular retraction (Chris Thibaudeau?)

Are the scapular retractors worked at all during regular power cleans? I was hoping to do a basic program consisting of only bench press, squats, chinups and power cleans and was wondering if the lack of horizontal pulling would have any negative effect on my posture?

Yes, a proper power clean will develop the rhomboids and trapezius (middle and lower portions) which are the main scapula retractor. I say a proper power because it’s the action of maintining a tight upper back that will work these muscles to a great extent. If you get lazy and round the upper back these muscles are not stimulated as much.

If anything, the olympic lifts are better than dynamic horizontal rowing motions when if comes to developing proper posture because they are worked a) isometrically (which is how they must work to maintain a proper posture) and b) as part of a complex movement.

What should I be looking to do to try to maintain a tight upper back during a power clean? Should I keep my shoulder blades retracted at all times during the lift?

David, When you begin the movement, whether it is from the floor, knees, mid-thigh or hip region, start the movement with the scapula retracted and depressed. You want to maintain the scapula flat on your rib cage as all times. Have a partner check this by sliding his hand back and forth and up and down on your scapula. There should be no medial lifting or the inferior tip of the scapula “popping up”. The distance between the scapula and the spine should also be equal bilateraly. You could measure this at the superior angle, medial border and inferior angle or you can have someone with a trained eye look to see if there is equality. As you start the second pull, the scapula must elevate, but still maintain the scapula tight to the posterior ribcage. Same when you rack the weight. Here there is a tendancy to “let things go” when the elbows come around. There will be a brief moment when the scapula will adduct, but as the weight is racked, quickly “tighten” back up again. As an added note, keep the abdominals,particulary the obliques, sucked in and tight with a flat back. Trying to maintain retracted scapula without tight abs will cause your low back to go into lordois which may cause low back injuries. If you cannot maintain good retraction or there is an imbalance, you may have to go back a few progressions to the deadlift to fine tune your shoulder stability. A short course of properly executed deadlifts, stretching of the anterior muscles (if they are short) and shoulder control exercises will fix the problem in no time.

Well yes and no! The upper back should be tight during the whole pulling movement, but to varying degrees. During the initial pull the scapula are retracted as much as possible. This will help keep the bar close to your body which makes the lift easier. The back stays tight during the whole pull for just that reason: to keep the bar close to you, cutting down the lever arm. But when you explode, excessive upper back tightness can actually act as a break. So do not focus on back tightness during the explosion.

Thanks guys. Just one more thing, if I execute the lift from mid thigh, is there enough work being done by the scapular retractors? Obviously there is far less than there would be in a full power clean (but I do not feel I have the technique to do those effectively yet)

Well written answer to the Davies post at the front of this forum. Most coaches never consider recovery. I’ve reached high levels of success at the collegiate level. But being 6’6" and 280 lbs, I couldn’t tolerate consistant training sessions for longer than 40-45 min. Over a period of time I’d just breakdown. Overuse injuries, colds, malaise, etc… No one could argue with my success as the scoreboard is THE ONLY THING If I was less intelligent and followed some “Coach Davies” type of training, I might have gotten frustrated and lost interest.
As far as the cleans go, yes there is a period of “relaxed” scapula retraction during the explosive phase. That’s when the scapula abduct a bit. You are correct as you have written that holding the scapula tight will not allow maximum contraction of the upper traps and act as a brake to the barbell as the bar is being racked.

David, the scapula retractors will be working the most when the bar is perpindicular to the trunk. Not to say they can’t be activated by starting the movement at thigh level.


You can perform lifts from the block initially to learn the proper technique and develop the ability to explode. In the mean time I suggest using snatch-grip deadlifts as an assistance exercise.