Should I Retract My Shoulders During Deadlifts?

Complete scapula retraction (pinching your shoulder blades together) is practically impossible to maintain during a heavy deadlift attempt. Why? Because scapular retraction relies on small muscle groups such as the rhomboids and traps and is unnatural when a heavy weight is hanging off of your hands. It’s like trying to deadlift with your wrists curled ( false grip).


The rhomboids and the middle trapezius retract the scapula

The rhomboids and traps cannot keep up with the strength of your hips and maintain retraction when the weight is so heavy. At one point you will have to let the shoulders roll forward and assume a more natural position.

In addition, trying to artificially and forcefully keep your scapulae retracted is not a natural position for your shoulders. One of the best ways to cause shoulder impingement is to keep your shoulder blades back during pulling exercises such as rows or pull-ups the whole time. You have to let the shoulders roll or respectively elevate at the bottom of each repetition in order to avoid impingement. That does not mean that retraction is not needed during rows and pull-ups, but it should not be kept throughout the whole movement and set. At the bottom the scapulae should be allowed to protract naturally.

Another side effect of artificial scapula retraction during deadlifts is that your range of motion increases because your arms are technically shortened when you pinch your shoulder blades together. Therefore, you are not only risking tears and impingement, but the weight you lift is limited too. You will never see a heavy deadlift done with retracted scapulae.

One of the main reasons people wrongfully recommend scapular retraction during deadlifts is that it is supposed to promote proper back position as well. However, that’s not really the case. You can retract your scapulae, even when your back is rounded to extreme degrees, and this coaching cue is ineffective for maintaining proper spinal alignment during deadlifts. You can try it for yourself – assume a “Quasimodo posture” and pull the shoulders back. It’s possible.

The most important cue for maintain good posture is to push your chest out. For most people this will arch the whole back at the right places. If you are trying to actively to push your chest out, you cannot have poor posture by default.

It’s quite simple: place your hand 10 inches in front of your chest and try to reach it with your sternum. That’s what “pushing your chest out” really means. You will notice that your posture will improve right away.

To summarize:

– scapular retraction during deadlifts is potentially dangerous and limits the weight you can lift;

– keeping your shoulders retracted the whole time during rows and pull-ups can cause shoulder impingement;

– try to actively push your chest out during deadlifts in order to maintain proper back alignment;

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