Protraction and Retraction During Rowing Movements

6 Apr

I recently had a discussion with a client about when to allow for, and when to “resist” protraction of the shoulder blades in rowing and pressing movements.

I think this concept is somewhat misunderstood. Mainly because depending on the movement, I cue the action of the shoulder blades a bit differently.

Let’s start with this basic understanding:

You should allow for the shoulder blades to retract and protract naturally in pulling movements.

A closed chain pushing exercise such as the push up should allow for active protraction, while open chain movements such as the bench press (while training protraction to some degree) should be performed with the shoulder blades retracted.

Additionally a neutral spine, neutral neck, and proper rib cage position should be maintained in most pulling exercises to allow for proper tracking. Certain pushing and pulling movements will be performed with more spinal extension and an upright sternum.

Also we must differentiate between what the shoulder blades are doing and what the shoulder joint is doing. When allowing for protraction of the shoulder blades, we must not allow the shoulders to round, or fall forward.

I tend to cue these actions a little differently depending on the movement and person I am working with.

With smaller movements such as the face pull I want people to actively allow for that protraction so they can feel a solid contraction during the retraction phase. Also, when I use these movements with people with poor thoracic extension I will actually separate the retraction and the pulling motion. For individuals with adequate mobility they will retract as they pull.

With heavier movements such as DB rows, chest supported rows, and barbell rows, I actually cue to try to keep the shoulder blades packed back and down. These movements are performed in the bent over position and if the set up is correct the shoulders should be neutral. Additionally, because the loads are heavier I know protraction is going to occur anyway. By having the person actively thinking about maintaining a “packing” of the shoulder blades they will control the shoulder blades, keep the shoulders from rounding, and perform the movement safely and correctly.

One thing I have begun to use more, and mix into programs are dead stop rows. I like this movement to reinforce the proper positioning of the shoulder blades every repetition. For beginners, and those with inadequate mobility it’s a great way to teach the proper mechanics. For more prepared people, with adequate mobility, it is a good choice to wave in from time to time to reinforce the mechanics. Also of note, the small amount of relaxation each repetition can eliminate any issues concerning grip strength.


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