T Nation

Stop "Locking Your Scapula Down"

Holy shit this is driving me nuts.

This is everywhere right now and has gotten worse. And it’s done by a LOT of coaches and it’s flat out WRONG for most of the movements that is being taught with it.

“Locking the scapula down” i.e. putting it into retraction or depression in a movement and keeping it there.

Let’s talk about a few that way any of you guys reading this will STOP doing it.

Pulldowns or rows - putting it into depression (pulldowns) or retraction (rows) before you start the movement.

Do not do this. In a pulldown the scapula needs to move authentically with the humerus. That means you initiate the movement either by driving the humerus down (lats) or the elbows back (upperback).

When you move your arm from overhead down to your side like you do in a lats pulldown, you want your scapula to downwardly rotate and posterior tilt.

In both of these motions you want to have tension around the scapula but you want the scapula to downwardly rotate and anterior tilt as you start and end the exercise.

The scapula should go into depression/retraction naturally as the working muscles shorten.

Laterals - Lock the scapula into retraction or depression to “take the traps out”

This drives me f’n nuts. Eugene Teo made a video about this the other day where he’s coaching someone to do this AND IT’S WRONG. And can literally cause injury and create instability in the shoulder joint.

STOP TRYING TO INHIBIT THE UPPER TRAPS IN A LATERAL. The upper traps literally support the tension of the lateral delt during side laterals. The scapula needs authentic elevation during that movement and you can’t have that happen if you’re locking the scapula down.

This also goes for that shitty as fuck lying cable side lateral raise that is everywhere right now. It naturally locks the scapula down into depression. Sure…keep doing that if you want to permanently fuck your shoulders.

Instead think of this cue - push your arms out to your sides. Don’t initiate with your traps, but don’t try to “keep them out” of it. That’s dumb. Think more in terms of “more output” from the muscle you’re trying to work and not trying to inhibit the involvement of muscles that NEED to be involved.

Chest flyes or pressing -

Same shit. Some of the same people keep teaching this nonsense.

When you press or flye, you need the scapula to rotate around the ribcage for the pecs to fully shorten. That means you DO NOT hold the scapula in retraction when you press or flye. This literally keeps the pecs turned off, i,e, they cannot produce as much output for the movement because they can’t fully shorten.

“But people have said forever to “pack the shoulders””

And people are wrong. If you’re doing a powerlifting bench press then yes, you probably want to do that because you’re trying to limit the ROM. However it’s still going to end up fucking your shoulder over time.

You don’t go into protraction here, but you allow normal movement of the scapula to roll around the ribcage so that the pecs can shorten. Same for flyes or cable crossovers. You can literally test this on yourself right now…

Do a “crab pose”, i.e. most muscular. Now keep your shoulders pinned back into retraction. Can you fully contract your pecs??? Nope.

Now do it normally and allow your shoulders to roll forwards. What happens? Maximal pec contraction. The pec major runs over and inserts on your humerus. When you keep your scapula pinned back into retraction how is the humerus going to come forwards to allow for those muscles to fully shorten? It can’t. So don’t do this.

Stop doing this, guys. And stop following people who promote this nonsense.


https://www.t-nation.com/training/tip-your-lateral-raises-arent-working Have you spoken to CT about this?

Yup. I told him the same. And Thibs is always open to learning and being a better coach too, so he said he’d stop teaching that.

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Will he make a post updating his beliefs? A lot of people will read that article and run with it.

Thanks for the reminder. I’m currently going through physical therapy following my biceps tenodesis procedure. All of my horizontal movements (rows, reverse fly’s) have me retract my scaps first, and then do the movement. I think this is just part of rehab but it did creep into my mind a bit and cause some doubt for how to train when I’m healed up.

This comes back to me being in the mind of someone else. Which I don’t have the capability to do.

That’s up to him. A lot of people are still doing this and I can’t reach everyone. All I can do is give out the information I know and to other coaches as well.

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Understood. Hopefully he does. Not hard to see why soo many people are confused out there. Paul says to do it this way, but his close friend CT says this lol. Who do you believe?

Thank you Paul for this, I was a firm believer of this and always had a hard time fweling my chest. Last time today, for the first time, I actually cramped in my chest doing pec decks… you and scott are the men. Been following his program and your ques and my back is really sore and chest is getting sorer, not that its be all end all, but it leaves ques :blush:

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Once it was explained to Thibs he agreed with me.

What about pull ups and chins?

Same applies. Why would you go into scap depression before you initiate the pull-up? Makes no sense. What muscle are you trying to work? Well you need to initiate with that muscle. And what muscle is providing stability for the joint to support output by the working muscle? So let it do it’s job.

So is there a safer way to bench? Flat backed, not driving your shoulders into the bench? This a bit of a wrench in my gears because I always kinda believed the best technique to move weight was also generally the safest.

Also what about for squats and deads? Presumably for just static load bearing, locking down the scapula is still fine?

You don’t have to be flat backed. You want to create tension around the scap but you don’t want to hold it into retraction as your press.

With a powerlifting bench press you do this to move the most weight. But it’s really a triceps and front delt dominant movement, not a pec dominant one due to setting up the leverages that way. It reduces the ROM, which is why you can move more weight.

For squats, the scapula is not involved in movement so I’m not sure why you’d bring it up.

Deadlifts…create tension in the lats and upperback. don’t lock yourself into retraction.

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this is why you read the explanations, like what Paul put forth in this thread. And you decide for yourself where the evidence points.

You have to apply critical reasoning to anything training-related that you read about (or anything else on the internet for that matter). If you just decide ‘I’m going to do everything Person X says about training, because I trust him and he’s an authority figure’, well… you can safely assume that you will get some things wrong. And that’s actually ok. Training philosophies evolve. Thibs hasn’t always believed all the things he believes now, and I’m sure Paul is the same way. I’ve read articles from Thibs for about a decade and a half, and he has freely acknowledged on PLENTY of occasions that he has changed his mind about things he believed earlier in his career. I remember around 10 years ago or so he put out a video about some isometric training he was playing around with, and very limited ROM. He abandoned the idea relatively quickly, with the admission that there was some reasonable theory behind it, but the practical application didn’t pan out. He had a theory. Tested it. Proved it wrong. Moved on.

TL DR: If you believe the same thing forever, you’ll be wrong about a lot of things forever. No matter how much you know, you can always know more.

Correct. And I had to relearn all of these things over time as well. And as I’ve taught them in my workshops people have been amazing at how suddenly they can feel the muscle working properly again.

If you never change your mind on something, it’s a good bet that you’re not learning or growing.

Thibs acknowledged that he’s been teaching this wrong after we talked about it. The same way I did when I talked to smarter bio mechanics guys as well.

That’s how we get better.


For squats I’ve always driven my shoulders down more than back (retraction), which is largely just something I picked up watching good squatters on youtube. For example Russle Orhii today at 7 minutes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fZH33z-WcI
I’ve just seen that shoulder movement right before the decent as flexing his lats and pulling his shoulders down (and maybe a bit backward).

For deadlifts, are you basically looking for like a “neutral” shoulder position or you are creating tension and then letting the shoulders move and end up where they do naturally?

Agreed. Everytime I advised someone to “Lock the scapula down” at the start of pull down or pull up (especially when this person protract and elevate their shoulders evidently) my reasoning was - He or she have weak middle and lower traps and without starting with “pre-packing” they won’t depress at all or in other words this will teach such people not to “hunch”. And only after they get use to it, natural progression would be to make this in one, smooth move…i mean not pre-packing and then moving but packing while moving. English is not my native language, I hope You get my meaning.

For deadlifts you start in a bit of protraction but there’s tension in the lats. The lats have to be in a strong position to help keep the load of the bar at midfoot. So you need tension in them and you need for the shoulders to be slightly over the bar in order to do this.

The scap goes into depression as the lift starts and then retraction at the top. All of this should happen naturally.


Here’s good read on that matter: