here (and somewhere else) it is written that:

At the top of the push-up, your shoulder blades should be fully protracted—moving your shoulder blades away from the spine. As you descend, they will retract—moving your shoulders blades closer to the spine, or “packed in” against the spine. This ensures full range of motion (and, again, healthy shoulders). This is different from the bench press, where your shoulder blades stay retracted throughout the entire movement.

Well, I can't understand why we should protract the shoulder blades at the top during push-ups and not during bench press. The muscle action seems quite similar to me in both exercises.

It is written that is a question of range of motion. But it seems like a gamble to me to say that the safest solution is necessarily that with greater range of motion.

I've seen that sometimes the question "should be the shoulder blades retracted during the whole exercise or only during a part of it?" is quite controversial. Some people tell me that shoulder blades retracted are a way to protect my shoulder while lifting weights (and tell me to do it during squat, bench press, lateral raises, EZ curl etc). But at the same time they tell me to do it only during only a part of exercises with long ranges of motion (push-ups, barbell rows etc). If the theory of "shoulder blades retracted means shoulders protected" is true, how can the shoulders be protected during the whole exercise?

1 Answer 1


All resistance exercise involves forces being applied to the body in two distinct positions, with the forces acting in opposite directions. In any standing weighted exercise (squat, overhead pressing, deadlifts, etc), there is a downward force applied to the body by the weight, and an opposing upward force applied to the soles of the feet by the floor. It's normal to only think about the weight being moved in resistance training, however alternate way to consider how the exercise loads the body is to think of the trainee as being sandwiched between these two forces, which they have to resist.

The difference between pushups and bench press can then be seen as different forms of loading through a similar movement pattern. In the bench press, the arms are loaded between a posterior force on the palms and an anterior force on the shoulder blades. The shoulder are kept retracted and depressed so that the shoulder blades remain the contact point on the bench. If you were to protract the shoulders, then the spine would become the contact point on the bench instead, which would have two effects. Firstly, the weight is now being held over a single point of contact (the spine) rather than two points of contact (the shoulder blades), which is a much less stable position. Secondly, the load now must also the transmitted through the acromioclavicular joint, requiring additional muscles (serratus anterior) to support it. These two factors will reduce the amount of weight one is capable of lifting, making the bench less effective at its usual purpose of chest and arm development, and definitely less advantageous for bench press competition, if that is a goal.

In a pushup, the whole body is loaded between the posterior force from the floor and the anterior force of gravity distributed over the whole body. If you simplify the pushup forces to just the weight of the chest over the hands, the anterior force can be thought of as loaded through the ribcage. So let's look at the concerns about scapular protraction in the bench press and see if they apply to pushups.

Firstly, there was the issue of instability with a single point of contact between the shoulders against the bench. In the pushup, the anterior force is applied in front of the shoulders, rather than behind, making it inherently stable. Imagine maximal shoulder protraction in a bench press, with your feet off the ground - it would be easy to roll to the side. But in a pushup there is no lack of balance that could cause you to suddenly roll sideways, unless one arm completely gives in.

Secondly, there's the issue of involving additional joints and muscles as potential weak links in the chain. In the bench press, keeping the shoulder retracted avoids loading of the AC joint, so the AC joint won't limit the weight that the muscles of the glenohumeral (pecs) and elbow joints (triceps) can handle. But in the pushup, the weight is always loaded on the ribcage, meaning it isn't possible to avoid loading the AC joint.

Hence scapular retraction has no advantage in a pushup. And if that's the case, then you might as well actually deliberately protract the scapula at the top of a pushup, in order to also get a training effect on the serratus anterior.

As for your more general question about keeping the shoulder blades retracted during resistance exercise in general, there's no answer to this that is applicable to all exercises. It's common to keep the shoulders retracted and depressed in the bench press for the reasons described above, and in the squat the shoulder are kept retracted and possibly elevated because that bunches the muscles up into a pad that will reduce the discomfort of the barbell pushing against bones, and will keep the bar locked in position on the back. But the fact that shoulder retraction is beneficial in these two exercises (in different positions of elevation and for wholly different reasons) does not mean that there's any need to keep them retracted in other exercises.

  • Thanks for posting this answer. Am I correct to assume this applies to weighted pushups too? Is it safe and beneficial to protract the shoulder blades with weighted pushups? Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 17:55
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    @MikeM.Lin that depends somewhat on the type of weight. Stability of the weight is the main concern. If you have a weighted vest then shoulder protraction is fine as it can't fall off you. But if you're balancing a weight plate on your back, then rounding your shoulders like that could cause the plate to fall off, and in the worst case it could land on your fingers. Commented Jul 28, 2023 at 1:55

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