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Retracted Scapula on Bench-Bad Idea?


Long time lurker 1st time poster who has very much enjoyed a lot of the discussions on these forums and now hope to start one myself.

I have not benched in a while as I had suffered a shoulder injury which I suspect was caused by the exercise, I believe my problem was scapular depression on DB bench actually causing an impingement.
Now I see a lot of articles say to keep the scapular retracted and depressed during chest movements but I don't understand the importance of this.
If the elbows are not travelling lower than the torso I don't see an explanation to keep the scapular retracted.

Would I of been right in my suspicions that scapular depression was causing me an impingement on DB bench as the upper arm angle is higher than typical flat BB bench?

I myself am starting to have doubts on the benefit of non-physiological scapular positions during exercises.
As this whole idea is stated in a lot of articles and literature I am sure a lot of you would disagree with me saying it is actually a bad idea so would be interested in what you guys have to say.


It creates upperback tightness and helps keeps the hole body tight, and stability is of utmost importance in remaining injury free- remeber the saying "you cant fire a cannon from a canoe"

You might simply be doing it wrong (as is the case with a lot of benchers).

This video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byOk4OE_6uI&feature=player_embedded might give you better understanding of WHY and HOW to use your upperback in benching. You might also check out the "So you think you can bench" series over at EliteFTS.


I've always found that by SLIGHTLY pulling my scaps together, my anterior delts take a lot less of the stress from flat benching. I can 'feel' my pecs actually working better. Obviously if you have some sort of structural issue, or a pre-existing injury, this may not be suitable for you.



Scroll down on this page http://tnation.tmuscle.com/free_online_forum/blog_sports_training_performance_bodybuilding_alpha/the_bench_press_yes_or_no and read 'physioLojiks' excellent post. You should get the answers you need in that discussion.


Thanks for the replies. The slight scapular retraction is what I was taught to do by a physio after my injury, but he did not explain it as retracting the scapular but rather having the chest firm, not stuck out completely like a PLer but not slouched, slight retraction is what naturally happens with correct posture so that would be correct.

I understand now, during bench the scapular shouldn't protract but I think people take it too far as I did, full retraction with depression, at least the depression wasn't necessary as Dave Tate doesn't mention it, only retraction.

But then PLing Bench and BBing bench are 2 different exercises. I dont think I have seen any pro BBers mention scapular retraction but then again I dont think many of them flat bench nowdays.

Thanks, I did come across that a couple of times not long ago when looking this up. physioLojiks explained the reason for scapular retraction, so I have no more doubts about it as I was also depressing the scapular which would of been incorrect. Interestingly he did not explain the reason to tuck in the elbows which I find is the biggest downfall to BB bench as a pec exercise and why I switched to DB bench which is traditionally done with elbows out.


Here are two very good reasons for scapular adduction when benching.

1: Mark Rippetoe from "Starting Strength": the shoulder blades, or scapulae, will be adducted, or pulled together, to make a flat spot on the upper back to push against the bench itself. This stable platform is the anatomical surface on which the kinetic chain begins.

Stated another way, when you bench press, you drive the bench and the bar apart - the bar moves and the bench doesn't, but you push against both. The upper back and shoulders push the bench and they need to be tight while doing so, just as the the hands are tight against the bar. Second, the shoulders in their adducted position and the upper back muscles, as they contract and rotate or "tilt" the upper back into a chest-up position, push the ribcage up and hold the chest higher above the bench.

This increases the mechanical efficiency of the pec/delt contraction by steepening the angle of attack on the humerus.

2: Cuz Dave Tate said so.


See no reason to DB bench with elbows out, my elbows are semi-tucked when I press.

My shoulders couldn't handle elbows out pressing, I wouldn't even use a machine with elbows out...


But then overdoing this creates lordosis in the spine, rather than having the chest up high some people will rather just not bring the bar so close to the chest.
The issue here is all the trainers mentioning form are all for PLing bench where you bar MUST come down to the chest and arching the lower back is going to considerably shorten the ROM and allow more weight.

It isolates the pecs better, what problems where you getting with elbows out?
I ask because I wonder what the issue with it is, if it is either an impingement risk or AC joint strain or something else that occurs.


I'm in the same boat as you MaFio. I feel like the more i retract/depress the shoulder blades, the tighter it gets in my shoulders. I lose some flexibility which is causing problems at the bottom of the lift.


[quote]MaFi0s0 wrote:
But then overdoing this creates lordosis in the spine, rather than having the chest up high some people will rather just not bring the bar so close to the chest.
The issue here is all the trainers mentioning form are all for PLing bench where you bar MUST come down to the chest and arching the lower back is going to considerably shorten the ROM and allow more weight.

Rippetoe actually mentions that the form he teaches is NOT a PLing bench press. There is some arch in the lower back, but nothing extreme like a champion PLer. Perhaps you are retracting the scapulae too much? At the end of the day, whatever works best for you, is best for you. Check out Rippetoe's vids on YouTube, they are excellent, but then I like the way Rippetoe explains the angles, the leverages etc...



They may not mention it specifically, but if you watch guys like Branch Warren, Ronnie Coleman, Kevin Levrone, Johnnie Jackson, to name a few, bench they most certainly retract their scapulae.


I agree.

The post you quoted is rife with assumptions.

OP whats with the talk of your elbows not going below your torso? Why do you avoid that?


I was thinking the same thing...but if OP's pecs (or anyone's for that matter) are as thick as Markus Ruhl's, then the bar would hit his chest before the elbows dipped below the line of the torso right :wink:


I have read bringing the elbows down low with a lot of weight puts stress on the joint, not sure of the specifics, but I have also read it can cause an impingement at the back of the joint if the scapula is not retracted, but for some reason even with scapular retraction it is still safer to bring the elbows down only as far as parallel with the ground/torso.

This is Ronnie Coleman DB Benching, he doesnt bring his elbows too low, and he doesnt come up so far as to protract his scapula. Although I dont see him retract his scapula beforehand, or maybe he is doing it subtly and not so much??


I don't need to point my elbows out to work my chest.

The problem with elbows out for me is I like my shoulders not hurting, and intend to keep things that way.


Thats fair enough but for me I do as my pecs are naturally a lot stronger than my triceps due to bone structure.

EMG studies have shown cable work is better than bench with elbows tucked in for the pecs, but with elbows out it is the best exercise for chest, either flat or decline as long as elbows are out.

Typically people will say if your shoulders are hurting you need to strengthen your rotator cuffs.
But articles never say why it is bad to have the elbows out, shoulders hurting could be a lot of things, I was hoping maybe you had got a diagnosis for why your shoulders hurt.


Didn't really want to use myself as 1 person case study because the sample size would be unrepresentative. And I'm a shy guy...

Essentially impingment, had it twice in my left shoulder. One led to 6 months off lifting and couldn't even put a racksack on my back, the other I could carry on training.

My RC's got pretty strong during physio, got up to doing 26lbs for double figures.


Well as I mentioned in the OP that's what I was told I had from benching but I thought it was due to the combination of scapula depression along with elbows out. Where you pulling your shoulder blades down when you were benching elbows out when you experienced the issue?


Injury did not happen suddenly.

First time injury yes elbows were out and scap not retracted, 2nd time setup was good.

My physio wanted to check my elbows were at the least semi-tucked for all pressing.

When you're kicking up 60kg DBs without a spot you're going to loose some tightness in mid back at the start of the set.

Most people who lift for a number of years and train hard are going to get injuries.


Mine didnt happen suddenly either, I dont think I am going to bench anymore, just use isolations for chest anterior delt and triceps, my chest and triceps will never grow in proportion anyway, my triceps will always give out way before pecs on bench with elbows semi tucked in. my other option would be to use only the lower part of the ROM but meh.

I wonder if other exercises like rear delt rows and face pulls have the same risk of impingement seeing as though they are essentially the same movement.