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I have been working out at home for a few months with mostly successful results. I just came back from a shoulder injury that I'm pretty sure was caused by improper form in both bench press and dips: I was pushing my shoulders forward during the movements instead of pulling them backwards having a scapular contraction.

I'm going to come back to the gym after my injury and this time I'd like to make sure that I don't mess my body up again doing anything wrong. At this point, it's not completely clear to me if I should have a scapular contraction while bench pressing only, or also while doing dips, OH press, DL, rows, and pretty much any exercise.

In other words, is there any exercise where having a scapular contraction is actually advised against?

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The bottom line is you want your shoulder in a neutral position. That doesn't necessarily mean full scapular retraction, but it's a cue that helps a lot of people.

Considering your level of experience, and the fact you came off of injury I would advise you to use that scapular retraction, but only to the point where your shoulder is in a neutral position.

A couple caveats:

  • Dips adds a vertical dimension you have to protect against. Engage your lats, and keep the shoulder socket neutral.
  • Deadlifts you can get to a point where you can lift more than you can fully retract your shoulder blades. I wouldn't get too dogmatic on that lift. On these, focus more on engaging your lats.

It's less about the scapular retraction than it is keeping the ball socked of the shoulder in the middle of the joint. Retracting the scapula is easier to understand than engaging your lats on a number of these lifts, but I do find that more effective as the weights get heavier.

  • I'm actually more confused if I think about "keeping the shoulder in a neutral position". Probably because of having a bad posture, they tend to slouch forward, so I'm not quite sure what their "neutral" position would be, while I can easily contract the scapula all the way. Do you mean that I should only do it about half the way for things such as dips? – Antrim Dec 28 '15 at 14:26
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    For dips, I'm concerned about you slouching down. Reference medicalexhibits.com/… for shoulder anatomy. I'm concerned about the humerus scraping the supraspinatus or pinching the biceps tendon. So you need to prevent shrugging while doing dips. Your lats can help prevent shrugging on dips. – Berin Loritsch Dec 28 '15 at 17:34
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I dont think that there is a general approach, there are some practical advices and each person need to test the effiziency and benefit of them. Here are some recommendations that I follow, they might help you too:

  • I contract while benching the whole movement through as I feel more stable, I also focus on keeping the shoulders low (away from the ears)

  • While Overhead pressing I contract only on the upper half of the press during the locker out and try to have my biceps as close to my ears as possible.

  • while deadlifting I only focus on having the breast up and the lats contracted to have the spine in a 'natural' position as much as I can.

  • during barbell rows I contract at the upper part of the movement as closer the bar to my breast I contract

  • for dips I actually focus only on keeping the elbows close to my body and not going down more then 90° as I am more keeping my body errect so my shoulders dont get any problems but I dont think that a scapulae contraction makes sense here.

So from my point of view it makes sense for all Overhead movements and flat benching.

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My name is Ben and I'm a posture Alignment Therapist and Personal Trainer. I've had the same issue you have had about 5 years ago before I learned the ins and outs of correcting postural position. Bellow I will discuss briefly why you are having this problem and what cues you should look at, pertaining to your own body, that is causing this issue...

Shoulder issues are generally a direct result of shoulder position. In your case, it was more than likely improper shoulder position while lifting, causing to over use of your shoulders as oppose to your chest and back (the prime movers for these push and pull exercises).

Often times people that have a rounded shoulder position due to dysfunctional posture have a difficult time attaining a neutral shoulder position. What needs to happen before you lift is corrective exercises that address this shoulder position, often times also addressing other related postural issues such as kyphosis (thoracic rounding) and lardosis (excessive curve of the lumbar spine), as well as other postural dysfunctions that may be leading the improper loading of your shoulders during these movements. Everything is connected and related, so you must look at your overall postural position.

The first step would be to look at yourself in the mirror and analyze where the imbalances are in your structure. Are your shoulders rounded? Do you have forward head position? Is one of your shoulders higher than the other? Is one of your shoulders rotated more forward than the other? Do you have an elevated hip? Do you have one hip that is rotated forward? Do you have an anterior pelvic tilt or a posterior pelvic tilt? Are your feet everted or inverted as oppose to neutral? There are other aspects to look at, but these will keep you busy in thought and research for now in how to address these dysfunctions leading to the compensation that caused your injury.

The key is to bring your body back into balance to attain a more ideal postural position. Once this occurs, your body will start to find proper function within movement in whichever exercise you are doing. As a positive consequence to addressing your overall posture, your shoulder should be able to heal faster because you will no longer be over using the wrong muscles through compensatory patterns.

I know I threw allot at you, so don't hesitate to ask further questions...

Ben

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I don't retract my shoulderblades fully, but engage pretty forcefully the muscles that retract the scapulae in most major exercises: front squat, back squat, deadlift, overhead press, pull-ups, and so on. If you're rounding your upper back forward during any of those then something is weak and wrong.

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