The Wrong Way to do Shoulder Exercises

A couple of weeks ago I posted on the relationship of shoulder impingement and poor ratios of upper and lower trapezius strength.  For those that follow my writings, you’ll know that I am constantly stating that we need to emphasize lower trapezius strength to optimize shoulder performance.

I often see people recommending that their patients retract their scapulas during shoulder exercises to put the body in “proper posture.”  Well, if you are not careful, you may run into a good amount of people that don’t retract well and tend to shrug.  This is again the upper trap dominance that we see so commonly.  These people tend to pull their shoulders back and UP, not back and DOWN.  A big difference.

Watch this video for an example.  Notice that the person is shrugging while they retract.  One simple technique that I do to correct this is to have the person just bilaterally externally rotate their shoulders (similar to the “W” exercise that I talk about in last years JOSPT article) to get their shoulders back and down.  This recruits the external rotators and the lower trapezius.  Then hold this position and repeat the exercise.  You can see the noticeable improvement in technique.

5 replies
  1. Mike Reinold
    Mike Reinold says:

    Good thoughts Christie, that may be the perfect patient for this. Craig, I agree with you lat and rhomboid comments, for sure. I actually have an upcoming post on the lat, similar to this one! Good timing!

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Speaking of a failure of scapular setting w/ popular retraction exercises (i.e. rowing), what are your thoughts about the Lat Pull Down and how 99% of our patients shrug their shoulders when doing a pull down exercise!

    It is also interesting how many people believe the rhomboids are scap depressors, thus they falsely conclude strengthening them will automatically facilitate scap depression.

    Craig Liebenson, D.C.
    [email protected]

  3. Christie Downing, PT, DPT, Dip. MDT
    Christie Downing, PT, DPT, Dip. MDT says:

    Good thought to do ER first…never thought of that. I've never told someone to retract and raise the arm for the very reasons you've posted…but I've also had good success trying to simply cue them to "anchor the shoulder blade down" as they raise the arm. Perhaps your technique will be good for those who "don't get it."

  4. Nicolas
    Nicolas says:

    Hi Mike,
    I just would like said thank you for share your professionals knowledge. Please keep in that way! Cheers from Chile

    Nicolas Lopez

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