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One Simple Fix for Safe Pressing and Pulling: Proper Shoulder Mechanics

atlanta brookhaven crossfit decatur dr. caleb mechanics pain management physical therapy pressing pulling shoulder weightlifting Sep 07, 2023

We see it all the time: shoulder pain with training. Most often what I see as a therapist in terms of the actual quality of movement (disregarding other factors) happens when people are attempting to press overhead or pull from an overhead position (pull-up motion). Either they are completely unable to perform the movements effectively through a full range of motion, have significant pain with the movements, or both. 


There is one MAJOR fault I see with nearly all of my patients that present to me with shoulder pain during pulling or pressing. There’s also a super simple fix to remedy it that you may have never heard. Let’s dive in: 


The Fault - Shoulder shrugging or a hiked shoulder while pressing or pulling overhead 


  • In terms of proper shoulder mechanics, there is a force couple that exists in the shoulder that involves several muscles including serratus anterior, trapezius (upper, middle, and lower), and levator scapulae 
  • The main goal of this force couple is to ensure that the shoulder blade moves properly and smoothly into upward rotation when the arm is fully overhead with both pressing and pulling.
  • Without getting too far into the weeds on the subject, most people with issues pressing or pulling overhead have an overactivation of the upper trapezius and levator scapulae during movement. This overactivation puts the scapula out of position and leads to poor movement quality, weakness, and if done for long enough, can lead to pain. 


The Fix - Cuing the shoulder blades DOWN at the start of both pressing and pulling overhead 


  • With pressing, this means before a person is about to start the press movement, they intentionally depress the shoulder blades.
  • With pulling, this means before a person is about to start the pull (hanging from a bar) they intentionally depress the shoulder blades similarly to at the start of the press overhead.
  • I will typically cue this by saying “put your shoulder blades down into your pockets” or “create more space between your ears and your shoulders” 
  • This cue allows the movement sequence to start off on the right foot and maximizes the efficiency of the force couple.


For individuals who do not struggle with pressing or pulling weakness, feeling awkward while pressing or pulling, or pain with pressing or pulling, there is no need to over exaggerate this cue. However, for people struggling with pressing or pulling overhead, this can be an incredibly effective and easy cue to start implementing into training. 


Also, if you’re someone looking to get into training but don’t know where to start, or you’re dealing with any sort of injury limiting you from doing the things you love, give Athletes' Potential in Decatur or Brookhaven a call at 470-355-2106 or fill out a contact request form at the link below and we will reach out to you. 

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All the best, 


Dr. Caleb 

Let us help you figure out to live your best active life today! 

 Remember, Movement is Medicine! 

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