Truth About "Squeezing the Shoulder Blades Together" During Exercises
If you have been exercising for a while then you have probably been told to "squeeze your shoulder blades together", or maybe some variation of that such as thinking about pulling your shoulder blades into your back pants pockets. That is all fine and dandy, but there is something we need to do with our shoulder girdle before those cues can really be effective.
These exercises are typically given to people with forward shoulder posture. When the shoulders are rolled forward, the whole shoulder complex is usually rotated downward as well. If we try to squeeze the shoulder blades together from this position it will be difficult and leave us more susceptible to injury.
We first need to ensure that our shoulders are in a more optimal position. The scapula (shoulder blades) need to be sitting on the rib cage in a slight "upwardly rotated" position. To achieve this, try to think about having the top part of your shoulder blades a little further back in space than the bottom part. Also try to ensure that the bottom tip of the shoulder blade is a bit more lateral (closer to the outside) than the upper tip as seen in the first picture below. The second image of someone with forward shoulder shows "winged" shoulder blades and we can see the relationship between the tips of the scapula is opposite the top picture.
Images Copyright E. Osar 2006
So before you perform that row or "wall angel" exercise, make sure your shoulder girdle is in an upwardly rotated position. Think about retracting the top part of your shoulder blades and remember the orientation of the top and bottom tips of the scapula now and then.
Much of the information above is summarized from an article by Dr. Evan Osar called Forward Shoulder Posture and Scapular Retraction Exercises. It is a three part article and you can read it here, here and here. He also recently put out a great video of an exercise he calls the Wall Plank and other helpful tips for learning to maintain more optimal shoulder positioning.