Fix Your Workout & Save Your Shoulders: Retract Your Shoulder Blades!
Protect Your Shoulders & Back In The Gym!
When it comes to proper lifting form, trainers and fitness gurus tend to harp on making sure your lower body lifts are performed properly. A lot of people end up underestimating how technical upper body exercises actually are, and reserve all that technique work for the big compound lower body exercises.
But proper form on upper body lifts is just as important, and is a huge cause of the back, neck and shoulder injuries that I see every day at Ascent Chiropractic. We could go into the minutiae of perfect form for every lift, but today we’re going to discuss the biggest mistake that most people make when it comes to upper body exercises: not retracting (and depressing) your scapulas.
Retract Your Scapulas!
Your scapulas – or shoulder blades – are big, flat triangular bones that rest behind the rib cage and contain the ‘socket’ that form the shoulder joints. The scapulas must sit at the correct height as well as the correct distance from the spine. They set the stage for arm movement and are attachment points for important muscles that support and stabilize the joints of the spine and rib cage.
Unfortunately, unless you’ve had someone providing instruction and feedback, many people assume that everyone just knows intuitively how to perform bench press, rows, pull ups, chest fly, etc because they seem so basic. But failing to put your scapulas in the correct position is just setting yourself up for the nagging shoulder, rib, upper back and neck pain that so many gym-goers deal with.
In fact, even though everyone is quick to blame the rotator cuff, if you’re dealing with shoulder pain during workouts I can almost guarantee that you’re either not retracting your shoulder blades or are flaring your elbows out on chest exercises.
What Do We Mean By Scapular Retraction?
Scapular retraction and depression – which becomes more important as you approach heavier weights – is done by imagining that you are squeezing a stick between your shoulder blades, and then pulling them down (sometimes described as ‘putting your shoulder blades in your back pockets’).
Of course, there will always be some amount of shoulder blade movement with any exercise that moves the upper arm, especially overhead exercises. But if you focus on driving your shoulder blades down especially at initial movement and return you’ll avoid a lot of issues.
Why’s It So Important?
1. You’ll Be Less Injury-Prone
Keeping the shoulder blades in their correct position allows the joints of the shoulder, ribs and upper back to function optimally and relies less on the surrounding muscles and ligaments for support and stabilization.
2. It Improves Your Posture
Most of us spend hours every day hunched over a desk, computer, smartphone, or (in my case) patients with our shoulders rolled forward. Retracting your shoulder blades and activating your latissimus dorsi muscles pulls your shoulders back, stretches out your pecs, makes your chest look bigger and gives you a more confident posture.
3. You’ll Lift Heavier Weights
Retracting and depressing your shoulder blades gives you a firm base of support and makes every upper body lift – especially chest exercises – much more stable.
It also helps isolate the muscles you’re trying to stimulate. For example, when you fail to retract your shoulder blades on a bench press your front deltoids take on most of the work instead of your pecs, drastically reducing the amount of weight you’re able to move.
It’s so simple, but it makes a huge difference – if it feels weird at first don’t worry, you’ll quickly get used to it.
Dealing with nagging gym injuries that just won’t go away? Make sure you’re using proper form and getting adjusted!
Whether you’re a pro athlete or weekend warrior, study after study shows that regular chiropractic care is an essential part of reaching your full potential in the gym. Need a Brookfield chiropractor? To make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic, call 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.