T Nation

Shoulder Girdle Elevation/Depression


I always notice lots of emphasis on protraction/retraction balance when addressing issues at the shoulder (not just on this forum, but in general). When we talk about balancing pulls and presses, it seems to be in reference to "front to back" balance. The common underlying concern is that protracted(forward) shoudlers will lead to generally unhealthy movement patterns, decreased ROM, increased risk of injur etc.

There doesn't seem to be as much consideration of elevated shoulder girdle and its similar effects on shoudler health.

The two often go hand-in-hand anyway, but it seems very often that the same guys who have visible "high" shoulders --whose shoulders fly up to their ears when they do pulldowns -- who can't get all the way up on pull-ups but can get their forehead to the bar 20 times -- are also the same ones with recurring shoudler and elbow issues.

Anyone have any thoughts/experience on this?


I heard that...

Computer posture was UP and FORWARDS (overuse of upper traps).

The opposing movement is... DOWN (depression) and BACK.

So, depression, yeah, as you say.

Need to make a conscious effort to relax those upper traps on your face-pulls, yup.


I'm not an anatomy wiz so bear with me.

I want to say an elevated shoulder girdle is a more advanced issue than just an internal rotation/impingement issue.

I've had a lot of problems with shoulder balance and health because information wasn't specific enough to go beyond "balance your upper body from front to back with more pulling exercises" or "do more upper back work."

Common advice has been to "keep the elbows in to hit the lats," but most lifters aren't aware that the lats actually internally rotate the shoulders....

So movements like pulldowns, rows, straight arm pulldowns, chinups and pullups aren't ideal for shoulder health if the lats are the prime movers.

Obviously you can target the lower traps and rear delts by flaring your elbows, but that never seemed natural, at least not to me.

Consequently, movements like pull aparts, external rotations, and face pulls, which are very good for shoulder health, are almost non existent in gyms.

I've been meaning to make a thread screaming that upper back work means lower traps and rear delts and not lat work but I never got around to it.


Yes, the idea of down and back is exactly what I was thinking. I think we just think of the "back" part too often, and practice our horizontal pulls from a shrugged position.

Kakarat, your anatomy knowledge is better than some I went to school with with lots of cool initials after their name now! I agree that too many think of the "back" as lats, and think of the lats as the opposite of the pecs. But as you said, they are internal roators and are more similar than different.

Do any of you have any specifci exercises that you use to train depression specifically?

I have used a straight arm dip (works like a backward shrug) with some that I train, with some success, but I feel like there could be better approaches, or at least different angles.


I primarily do a lot of pull aparts and I've found that the more my scapulae are in and my shoulders external rotated, the more my scapulae are likewise depressed.

The exercise in the following video seems very promising like the other exercises I listed, and I'd also bet doing them over your head instead of to the side would help a great deal with depression.


that is interesting about flaring the elbows - i didn't know that. i do facepulls in an attempt to prevent shoulder problems and was aware of consciously depressing my shoulders, but i will be more mindful of my elbow position and how altering that alters things. thanks.

the closest i've come to the idea of depression is the idea of 'packing' the shoulders on the pull up bar. i used to get some shoulder problems because i'd hang loose and the bones in the shoulder joint would kind of pull apart. practicing really holding the arm in the socket even with the weight of gravity pulling my body down... and then working an anti-shrug then pull elbows down start to the movement. not sure if that makes sense.


I like the pull-apart idea, I have used similar exercises. One variation was laying flat on the floor, face down, with dumbbells. I find something that often happens though is someone who is over-elevated will tend to keep shrugging on horizontal exercises like that

Interesting idea on the pull-aparts done overhead. with cables I guess? I'll have to play with that. Maybe even a high-diagonal angle, while seated or kneeling?

alexus, that downward packing is exactly what I was getting at in the first place, the "anti-shrug." Sometimes its just a matter of doing it consciously. For some reason we always talk about it when pressing, but it gets ignored on the exercises where we can train it most.

Other times I find people who are phyiscally unable to anti-shrug, whether its tight upper traps/lats, or weakness in the lower traps, rhomboids. Thats when we have to get creative in correcting it!


This might be exactly what you're looking for.


I like to use a tennis ball (and eventually something harder like a baseball) using my bodyweight to lean back against a wall - to release my traps. If I do that as part of my warm-up it helps me be able to relax them during my training session. I think in a lot of people (especially computer work) they are chronically tight. WHich makes it fairly impossible to will them to relax.

It mgiht also be a mobility issue. A lot of people have trouble with wall slides. I try and do wall slides without shrugging - but that makes it significantly harder. Maybe not shrugging affects the ROM of the shoulder joint because not shrugging limits the rotation of the scap? I don't know...

I have often wondered whether you are meant to shrug up against an overhead barbell (and conversly 'pack down' against a pull up bar) or whether you should be able to extend your arms overhead without shrugging?

I don't know.


Yes, I don't think you want to be shrugging in those situations. If you are, it's because your lower traps aren't strong enough to provide stability so your upper traps are taking over and also causing you to shrug. I think lol

The best way to fix these issues in my eyes is to train your rear delts and lower traps until they are overpoweringly strong compared to everything else and most of the flexibility will come along with the getting good at the right exercises.