in this video about pull-ups it is suggested to depress and retract the shoulder-blades before starting a pull-up (and keeping them depressed and retracted during the whole exercise).

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Well, I'd like to know the mechanical reason for this choice. Why don't we want to work our upper traps and rhomboids with full range of motion by gradually depressing and retracting the shoulder-blades during the exercise?

For instance, in bent over row, as explained here, doesn't want we to start with already retracted shoulders-blades, but instead with neutral shoulders, and retracting the shoulders-blades is part of the exercise.

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Which is the reason behind these different choices? Is it due to the fact that the pull-up works the back in the vertical plane whilst the row in the sagittal plane?

  • I think the advice is meant to guard against the impingement that might occur if you leave the scapular retraction and depression until too late in the motion. This may be more important when progressing in weighted pull-ups rather than body-weight Sep 15, 2022 at 14:30

2 Answers 2


Firstly, moving your scapulae through a full range of motion in a pull-up will not work the muscles responsible for elevating the scapulae (i.e. upper traps and levator scapulae), as gravity does the work of scapular elevation during a hang. It's only the muscles responsible for scapular depression (pec minor, lat dorsi) that will be worked. The rhomboids might also get some work in retraction and downwards rotation of the scapula.

Secondly, if the scapulae are kept depressed and retracted throughout the movement, these same muscles are still worked, just isometrically, rather than through a range of motion.

As for your actual question, the video you referenced seems to advocate keeping your scapulae retracted and depressed throughout the movement solely in order to prevent the possibility of keeping them relaxed and elevated throughout the entire movement. This seems unnecessary to me, and I see nothing wrong with relaxing your scapulae at the bottom of the movement (especially if pausing between reps). The only other criticism of this style of pull-up that I can think of is that the initial pull from the depression/retraction of the scapulae could generate momentum to get the movement started, which could be seen as cheating the lats out of some of the work they should be doing.

  • Don't the lower traps also perform scapular depression? (In addition to the lats/pec-minor you already mentioned...)
    – ManRow
    Jan 5, 2022 at 19:47

This is kind of a debated topic from what I have found online, but it seems better for shoulder/scapular health to start depressed, rather than dynamically adding weight(using full ROM). from topic boards on different fitness websites, it's not bad to use the ROM and avoid depressing shoulders, but depressing shoulders will avoid overactive traps, help shoulder stability, and even help your lower traps, which is widely ignored. It's also great for training your body to use lats and shoulder retraction rather than arms. It's a play it safe kind of technique. If you're young and have great shoulders its not a huge concern

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