everyone knows the great advantages that scapular retraction provides in bench press (discussed for example there).

Now I want to make a point. As explained there (but also there),

The scapulohumeral rhythm is generally accepted to be 2:1, which represents 2° of humeral elevation for every degree of scapular upward rotation.

To visualize it, let's consider the following picture:

enter image description here

To let the shoulder-blades follow its natural movement and prevent shoulders injury, there are some sources (1,2) that suggest not to retract the shoulder-blades in shoulders exercises like lateral raises and overhead press.

Since in bench press there is a certain amount of shoulder flexion (you start with the barbell at the sternum or nipple height with the shoulders partially flexed, and you end with the barbell above your shoulders hence with the shoulders more flexed), this means the shoulder-blade has to rotate a bit upwards to follow its natural pattern. This movement should be performed by the serratus anterior and the upper and lower traps. However, in bench press the shoulder-blades should be kept fixed, stable, retracted and depressed. Isn't this a contradiction? The shoulder-blades are said to be kept packed. But their natural movement is a slight upwards rotation. Should I perform it while bench pressing?

  • Isn't the point of keeping the shoulder blades fixed to get more work done by the chest muscles instead of putting pressure on the shoulders?
    – Luciano
    Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 12:07
  • @Luciano No, that leads to the opposite. t-nation.com/training/tip-for-better-pecs-do-this
    – max
    Commented Dec 3, 2021 at 8:13

2 Answers 2


This is a great observation that I don't see talked about enough.

For everyone who isn't a powerlifter, your scapula should move during the bench.

The main reason pinning the shoulder blades back became a thing is because it allows powerlifters to move more weight. Everything a powerlifter does is to simply get the heaviest weight from point A to point B by increasing leverages and decreasing the range of motion. Pinning your shoulder blades back with an arch in your back will decrease the range of motion significantly increasing the weight they can lift. This technique can cause an inhibition of the serratus anterior, which will often lead to issues such as shoulder pain and impingement down the road. If you are a powerlifter and want shoulder longevity, you need to use other movements that focus the serratus anterior.

  • Thank you for your answer. And yes, I have found no source who tells something about this topic. So, practically, which mind-muscle approach do you use to control the scapular setup? Until now, I only thought to squeeze my shoulder-blades the whole time to keep them fixed. Now, should I think to slightly upward rotate the scapulae whilst pressing? According to your explanation, I'd like to find the good mind approach to move the shoulder-blades as much as they need to be natural and safe, but not excessively to lose stability.
    – Kinka-Byo
    Commented Sep 8, 2021 at 20:33
  • 2
    Think less about what your shoulder blades are doing, let them move freely. A good que that I have heard, is thinking about pulling your elbows/upper arms together as far as they will go. You don't want to be moving your shoulder blades too much, or keep them pinned. Right in the middle where it feels natural is the sweet spot. Commented Sep 8, 2021 at 20:48

Great seeing this discussion! I have also recently learned about this. We don’t need no extreme shoulder blade retractions.

Common cue of depressing the scapula may also lead to neck pain as it lengthens the upper traps and shorten the levator scap.

  • Depressing the scapula in itself will not lead to neck pain. It can if combined with lack of upward rotation exercises.
    – max
    Commented Dec 3, 2021 at 8:07
  • It will if your scap is in neutral and you depress it. Your UT will be elongated as it inserts into the clavicle. For people with existing neck pain, it may aggravate it. Depressing the scap limits the amount of upward rotation
    – Jun
    Commented Jan 15, 2022 at 19:13

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