It's a favorite cue out there in the world "squeeze your shoulderblades down and back." Heck, you'll even see me use it sometimes. In the right instance, in the right circumstance. This kind of cue engages us to engage our scapular stabilizers, our lower traps, even our lats, all to help anchor the shoulderblade in our back.
That's a good thing, right?
Stability is good, when you need it, in the position you need it, and when it's balance.
Let's think about the anatomy of the shoulder; as we lift our arm overhead, the shoulderblade needs to rotate upward and protract (glide forward) to allow the humerus to rotate. If it doesn't, we get the pinching or painful sensation in the shoulder. Most often because the head of the humerus is pinching against the socket.
You can try this yourself. Squeeze your shoulderblades together, down and back, and with your thumb pointing to the ceiling, try to lift your arm. Do you get that pinching sensation in your deltoid? That's impingement, and it's going to happen because of the mechanics of that position.
If we squeeze our shoulderblades down and back, the lower and mid trap, and even the lats anchor the scapula and prevent those key motions from happening. This kind of cueing creates a muscle imbalance, and that's how you get injured.
And here's where people usually start yelling about the rotator cuff! "What about the rotator cuff, doesn't it need the shoulder blade secured in the back to engage?"
If you've only ever trained your rotator cuff to engage when your arm is below 90, then sure. Absolutely, your shoulder has to be there.
But your body is incredibly trainable, and your rotator cuff can and should stabilize you in all shoulder positions.
When I say "stop squeezing your shoulderblade down and back," I'm not saying to just rest on your ligaments willy nilly. No, your rotator cuff and other stabilizer must engage in that overhead position, especially if you're loading. That's why I equip a lot of my clients with drills that train their bodies to engage their rotator cuff in overhead positions, while pushing or pulling.
So, if you're working overhead, think less about stabilizing the scapula, and think more about engaging all our muscles in balance.
Easier said than done, right?
One of my all time favorite drills is a simple one. Sit with your knees to your chest, and a miniband around your elbows. Keeping your arms straight, push out against the miniband to engage the rotator cuff, and raise your arms overhead. As the arms come fully overhead, allow the shoulderblade to rise and come forward.
This drill is practicing engaging the rotator cuff in an overhead position, and that's where the juice is.
Got questions? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get you started!