I love working my shoulder blades. If you’ve never heard of such a thing, I’m about to change your life forever with scapular retraction.
I never thought much of it until I made the process part of my workout routine. Since then, I’ve never looked back. It’s called scapular retraction and I promise, you’ll love it.
Stay tuned for some of my best tips, along with some amazing advice from several experts in the field, including Physiques of Greatness, Physical Therapy Nation, and StoneClinicPT. Let’s get right to it!
Many people don’t realize that they’ve been doing so many motions incorrectly their entire lives. Let’s start with explaining why scapular retraction is such a necessary technique to understand.
There are several benefits associated with proper shoulder flexion and retraction, including the following:
Many people cut their workouts short because they feel spent. But this isn’t necessarily because their bodies can’t handle any more.
It’s because they’ve been using improper form. They’ve essentially become their own Achilles Heel. By not protecting themselves by using the best form, they’re selling themselves short.
So the next time you work out, make sure that you’re setting your body up for success. You’ll notice the difference within the first few minutes.
Posture isn’t just about standing up straight. It’s about keeping your body aligned properly so that every joint, bone, and muscle can function the way it’s supposed to. Poor posture can lead to sore hips, sore back, sore neck, headaches, and more.
Those with good posture usually have more confidence and can find themselves more successful, especially if their appearance is crucial to their line of work. Imagine if you were meeting with a salesman. One with a better posture is going to come off as more authoritative, confident, and trustworthy.
This might be a superficial benefit, but for some, it’s the only convincing argument they need to give scapular retraction a shot. Scapular retraction is a skill, and once you get used to it, you’ll find yourself doing it more and more without even thinking about it.
Sometimes when I’m at work and sitting at my desk, I suddenly find myself going through the motions. I know I look and feel better.
Increased Squat Capability
Think you can’t squat?
Think again. The one thing that could be holding you back is improper shoulder alignment. If you’ve given up on squatting, I urge you to try again with the proper form.
All your friends will wonder what changed when they see your success, and you’ll be able to tell them that it all came down to your shoulders. Just remember to set up before you even unload the bar or you’ll have a very unstable base.
It’s not uncommon to hear of injuries related to bench pressing or squats. Many assume it’s because they were lifting too much or lifting for too long. But the reality is that most of the injuries can be traced back to improper form, including scapular position.
If you simply lie back on a bench and start lifting, you will injure your shoulders eventually. It’s not a question of whether or not you will.
It’s a question of when. Prevent injuries by properly setting up before working out.
It’s important to understand how to correctly position your shoulder muscles. Otherwise, you put yourself at risk of injury during your workouts, especially when bench pressing or doing squats.
This concept can be difficult to understand though, especially if you’re a beginner. So let's begin by explaining what this technique is.
First, let’s identify where the scapula is. It’s the flat bone behind your shoulder. You have one on each side. If you look in the mirror or on someone else’s body, you’ll easily see what we’re talking about.
Follow these steps from Physiques Of Greatness to get started with scapular retraction:
1. Begin the retraction by shrugging your shoulder muscles up as high as you can. This will flatten the scapula and scapular retraction muscles.
2. Then, rotate your shoulder muscles back as far as you can go. Your chest will stick out.
3. Finish by dropping your shoulders down. Your shoulders should be locked, along with your elbows, and your upper back should be completely straight.
I recommend looking in a mirror the first few times you try. You’ll be able to see if you’re flattening your shoulders or not.
You can also ask someone to spot you while you practice. I know when I first started, the movements felt awkward. You might need a little reassurance that you’re doing them right.
To summarize, just remember to shrug, rotate, and drop. To make sure that your shoulders stay tight, you should also arch your back slightly. Make sure your chest is sticking out and you should be good to go.
If you’re still struggling with the motions, imagine that someone has placed a stick between your shoulder blades and you have to squeeze them to hold it in place. This should help you get the motions down.
3 Exercises for Retracting the Scapula
Now there’s more to this than just standing around squeezing your shoulder blades. It’s an important part of proper exercise form.
If you spend your free time at the gym, mainly on the weight bench, this scapular retraction exercises section is for you.
Let’s go over three main exercises you can complete while retracing the scapular. Don’t feel like you have to jump into these all at once.
Take your time to learn them, understand them, and then execute them flawlessly.
If you own a Bowflex pr1000 home gym, you’re sure to love each of these exercises. You’ll also quickly realize how important scapular retraction is during shoulder flexion.
1. Your bench should be at a 30-40 degree incline. Go ahead and set up, or retract the scapula, and then begin the exercise.
2. Reach up to the weight bar and lift it off.
3. Start your repetitions, making sure to come all the way down and press all the way up. You should make sure that there is no pain associated with each fluid move.
4. Complete your set, place the weight bar back in place, and release.
1. Begin by setting up. Remember to shrug up, roll back, and bring them back down. As you lie down on the bench, arch your back and keep your chest pushed out. Dig your traps into the bench to keep everything tight.
2. Reach up and grab the weight bar. Don’t let your shoulders come off the bench. If you need to, have someone lift the bar and place it in your hands. You never want to lift your shoulders off.
3. Bring the weight bar to your nipples and push up. The motion should be painless and fluid.
4. Complete your repetitions and replace the weight bar.
5. Remember that your elbows should never stick out when lifting weights on a flat bench. You’ll wake up with shoulder pain the next day if you allow your shoulders to bend awkwardly.
Dumbbell Bench Pressing
1. Set up and retract while holding onto your dumbbells. No matter if you’re doing a flat bench dumbbell bench press or an incline bench press with dumbbells, you should always retract the scapula.
2. Come down and arch your back. Dig your traps into the bench.
3. Twist your wrists 45 degrees and stick your chest up.
4. Begin your repetitions by pushing straight up and bringing the dumbbells back down in a smooth motion.
5. There should be no pain or discomfort.
6. Complete your set, release, and sit up.
Full video here:
Once you start to see the difference in your workouts, you'll wonder how you’ve been getting by without knowing this little nugget of knowledge.
Just like with any type of weight lifting, make sure that you have a spotter. They can let you know if they notice your shoulders start to slump or they can practice the technique with you until you know you have it down perfectly.
Like anything, it takes a little bit of time to get used to, especially if you’ve been lifting incorrectly for years. But when it finally does click, you’ll love the results and the safer workouts.
Manual Scapular Retraction with Pectoralis Minor Release
If you’re looking for a way to retract your scapula without doing the work yourself, there is a technique you can ask a close friend or family member to complete. This is like scapular retraction with physical therapy, and it can make an impressive difference in how you feel on a daily basis when executed properly.
Just make sure that you both understand the process before completing it.
When done correctly, your scapular will be manually retracted and any tightness in the pectoralis minor will be released. It feels great and leaves you with better posture and a more relaxed body.
Follow these steps from Physical Therapy Nation to do a manual scapular retraction.
1. Lie face down on a flat bench. A bed will work, but it will be trickier. You don’t want the surface to be too soft.
2. Have your scapular retraction partner stand on one side. They will reach over you as you position your arm behind your back. They should scoop their arm around your shoulder and clasp their hands together.
3. Next, they’ll use their body to hold you in place and then lean back while gently pulling back. Their forearm will be pulling back on your shoulder. The shoulder blade will be retracted and you’ll feel some pressure where the pectoralis minor attaches.
4. Hold the stretch for several seconds.
5. You can then repeat on the opposite side. Your retraction partner will need to move to the other side to do this, which is why a small bench is preferred. The stretch should feel like there is a release. If you feel pain or discomfort, release the position.
Full video here:
I like to have my husband complete this stretch on me when my shoulders are feeling tight and stressed. A few seconds on each side is all it takes to release the pressure and make me feel like I just soaked in a relaxing hot bath for an hour. Skip the massage and do this stretch instead!
If you’re not comfortable with someone else performing the stretch on you, or don’t have anyone who can help, set up an appointment at your local chiropractor’s office. They’ll be able to perform the stretch and give you some pointers for doing your own at home.
Scapular Retraction with a Band
Here’s another way to accomplish scapular retraction if you’re struggling. All you need is a resistance band.
1. Secure one end of the band, either in a doorway or by having someone hold it for you, and then stand straight and hold on to both sides.
2. Pull back simultaneously, envisioning that stick between your shoulder blades like we discussed earlier, until you feel the stretch taking place.
3. You should never have pain in the front of your shoulders. If you are experiencing discomfort, try lowering your arms a bit.
4. Based on your skill level, complete a set of repetitions and then enjoy the release.
Full video here:
Scapular retraction with band assistance is perfect for those who worry that they’ll over-retract and cause more harm than good. It’s also great for anyone who travels a lot.
It’s easy to pack a band and keep up with your retraction exercises on the go.
If you don’t have a doorway or someone to help you, you can also do a different version by standing upright, holding the band at shoulder height, and pulling the band apart while keeping it close to your body. Make sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together and keep the band at the same height.
There are many benefits of scapular retraction and protraction. Once you fully understand what the movements are doing for your body, you’ll wonder why you never heard of this spectacular stretch before. It will help you get more from your workouts, prevent injury, and enjoy a more relaxed body.
I know I could never go back to how I felt before learning about scapular retraction, and I’m sure you’ll say the same.