Why you’re doing your rowing exercises wrong

A common cue during rowing and standing/ prone elevation exercises (lateral raise, y-raises, full cans, etc) is to pinch the shoulder blades together, retracting the scapulae, and really hold that position to lock them there for the duration of the set. The picture below gives a good example:


The reason for this is it gives us a little better posture throughout the movement. However, as the ideas and work of peeps like Mike Reinold, Tony Gentilcore and Shirley Sahrmann, this probably isn’t a good idea. What often ends up happening is the scapular is ‘pinned’ in place and unable to move freely and upwardly rotate as we extend the arm and move into shoulder flexion. The glenohumeral joint is now forced to bear the brunt of the motion, something we try to avoid as normal scapular-humeral rhythm is vital for power generation in all swinging and throwing sports.

In addition, this can feed into some disfunction patterns. Increasing anterior laxity in the shoulder joint, for example, and accounting for some of the internal rotation deficits I see so often in golfers. Further, keeping the shoulder blade retracted the entire time can lead to rhomboid dominance, which in turn can (not always) result downward rotation syndrome; the associated muscle imbalances, compensatory movements and even pain in the neck and shoulder region.

Instead I prefer to coach people to allow their shoulder blade to move. The single cable row below is a great example:

This way scapular can work in a more synergistic fashion with glenohumeral joint, plus you work the scapula both concentrically and eccentrically. You still want to avoid end-range on the way down and control the load. You should feel a nice “stretch” in the bottom position – not to the point where you’re “hanging” on passive restraints – and then return back.

The standing/ golf posture type position is also useful in this instance as scapular function and movement is challenged under the same gravitational loads as when playing.

Note: The barbell bent over row is an exception here, keep the scapulae retracted throughout with that one, your form will go south quicker than pizza on Monday at planet fitness otherwise!


This is a subtle tweak to your rowing motions, but I’ve found it has a really positive effect on the efficacy of the exercise and shoulder health in general.

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