“Shoulder Blades Down and Back”

Is this even a thing that should be done? I’m trying to figure out how to cue my upper body correctly during lifts. There’s so much controversy… is this a good cue? Or is it not?

There’s no single cue that works for all lifts.

Edit: Other than “Yeah Buddy!”


What lift and what issues are you having?

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What about when doing rows for example then?

There are many, many types of rows. Be more specific please.

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The main rows I do are high to low pulley rows or low to high, DB one arm rows, or occasionally banded two arm seated rows. I can’t do much more than that due to a shoulder injury at the moment.

To answer your question, no.

With rows, you need to let your shoulderblades come forward when you’re in the stretched position, and retract them when you’re in the shortened one. The scaps should move in rhythm with everything else.

With presses, pressing with your shoulderblades retracted is the literal definition of impingement.

If you’re a powerlifter, it’s a good way to reduce ROM and push big weight, but for anybody else, if we’re talking about ROM through an entire exercise, there is no compound upper body movement wherein it is beneficial to pin your shoulders down and back throughout the movement. It’s just a bad cue.

I had to spend a long time unlearning bad habits and relearning them. Skip that step, let everything work in unison as it should. Try pinning your shoulderblades down and back, and then flexing your chest, and reach over with one hand and feel the opposite pec. Make sure you’re really pinning them down and back. Your pec will feel like mush. Let your shoulder come forward - the muscle will shorten and contract properly. For pulling exercises, you can’t get proper recruitment of many of your mid-back muscles if you don’t allow them to lengthen.

I’m 100% against the pinned-shoulder-blades camp, unless, like I said, you’re a powerlifter.


Thank you so much!

So literally the only time I’d use that cue is maybe if I’m doing squats or deadlifts super heavy? I use to powerlift and would love to again but that won’t be for some time haha.

I’ve suffered from a subscapular impingement for the past 3 years. Nothing seems to help it completely. I do know though in the past I did WAY too many pressing moves to pulling so it’s probably the reason I ended up with an injury/impingement in the first place. So I’m really trying to emphasis and perfect the above rows mentioned because those are the rows that feel good and since I know I didn’t do enough back work, I’m wanting to do more now hoping that it will help heal my impingement.

Here is an explanation of a drill to practice moving your shoulders blades together (retraction) and then forward, wrapping around your rib cage (protraction). When I do this little move as a Warm Up before rowing my shoulders move naturally, without having to think much about it during the rows.

Here’s a fun cartoon showing how your shoulder blade moves around when you lift your arm overhead.

And here is a Great move that really let’s you work your shoulder blade through a full range of motion, without a lot of fuss.


Yeah, I like keeping my upper back tight in squats, which is why I said there’s no compound upper body movement where that’s the case - for keeping a tight position it can help, but anything involving your shoulders as the primary mover, nope. Also, my shoulder blades are not pinned back during deadlifts, but that’s just my preferred style of deadlifting.

Just to add - I didn’t come up with this myself, and there are a LOT of people who still feel like packing scaps is the way to be with every single exercise, along with the ass-out crew and the sit-back-in-squats crew, and a lot of different conflicting philosophies, so I just wanna put the disclaimer out there that I’m not an expert or super strong or anything, but I do firmly believe that a lot of people have fucked their shoulders up by doing the very thing that they thought would keep them healthy.

@FlatsFarmer posted some awesome videos. I’ll add a drill that i used to do (and should still do) that really helped warm my shoulders up and get down that scap-shoulder rhythm.

Ensure you are hitting enough of your upper back as if you over strengthen your lats in relation to your other back muscles it will probably make things worse.

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Sorry just thought I’d ask about squats and deadlifts!

But thank you - I appreciate the help!

No need to apologize, brother. I wish you a long and relatively pain free life of lifting! Stick around and make a training log.

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This is blowing my mind. Seems like everywhere I look, pinching the scaps together is heavily emphasized.


Pressing and rowing have the same effect on the shoulder complex: thoracic extension, scapular retraction/downward rotation and shoulder internal rotation.

To offset this, reaching exercises like a push-up or landmine press, as well as loaded external rotation exercises are strongly suggested. I’ve put a video of favourite shoulder ER exercise below


Here’s Dorian with a nice amount of retraction and protraction during pressing.

Here’s Dorian, especially at 0:45, with that same pro/retraction.

Here’s Arnold pressing, and even with his limited ROM on the first set you can see the scaps are moving in unison with everything.

Here’s Arnold rowing a lot of weight and getting that sweet ROM and protraction for days.

YEAH BUDDY, here’s Ronnie using a proper rhythm for scaps while pressing the double hundo’s.

Here’s Ronnie doing rows. Observe.

I totally agree with you - it’s everywhere, and it’s why I did it for years while slowing fucking up my labrums and getting AC joint problems. Look at the people with the biggest chests and backs of all time that were lifting before these cues were mainstreamed, and it definitely muddies the waters. The way our bodies are made, mechanically, suggests that pinning the scaps back is no bueno.


So for a good program set up what would you suggest for ratios?
Like would I want to do 2 rowing exercises per 1 pressing (that including landmine press)?
And how often should things like external rotations be done?
I’ve noticed that with my impingement issue that external rotations help make it feel really good so should that be a daily thing?

Any advice would be appreciated if you don’t mind!

So you just let your shoulders move naturally when pressing?

Yeah, but after years of pinching them I had to kind of relearn it, haha. I don’t let them come ALL the way forward - there’s definitely control involved, but they move in unison in order for me to get a proper contraction. Just not poking all the way out, looking ridiculous.