Monday, April 4, 2011

Anterior Humeral Glide: A Common Mistake During Pulling Exercises

I am sure all of you have read about the importance of balancing out pushing exercises with pulling exercises.  There are a lot of trainees out there who sit at a desk all day and then decide it is okay to go to the gym and perform every variation of the bench press imaginable (got to hit that chest from all angles... am I right?!) and then call it a day.  These people will usually end up with shoulder pain and terrible posture.  Unless you think the guy below has a sexy posture then you better start doing some pulling!

However, there is a catch - you cannot just perform a pulling exercise to receive the benefits.  You also have to perform the exercise correctly by engaging the right muscles.  In this post, the muscles I want to talk about are your scapular retractors.   These are the muscles that will help pull your shoulders back and give you a more optimal posture.

 I think Lee Haney knows how to retract

One goal of pulling exercises is to retract the scapula.  However, it is very common for people to have difficulty with this.  Common mistakes you will see are:

1) Shrugging because of upper trap dominance
2) Using too much bicep to “pull” the weight up
3) Extending at the low back to substitute for retraction
4) Flexing the wrist to gain extra range of motion and/or
              5) Anterior humeral glide

I am sure I am forgetting others, but as you can see, there are a lot of ways to “cheat”.  

In this post, I am only going to cover number 5 above - anterior humeral glide.  It is a very common problem, which is why I want to discuss it.  If people are interested I can cover some of the others as well.

Anterior humeral glide can occur for multiple reasons, but the important thing is to recognize it and try to fix it.  This glide is problematic because it can cause or further aggravate anterior laxity of the shoulder capsule, which can lead to shoulder pain and dysfunction.  Also, it can lead to poor posture.  Your shoulders will tend to fall forward making you look as though you are slouching. 

I have provided a video below that details this mistake in regards to pulling exercises.  I also give some tips for how to cue your clients out of this and into a good position.

NOTE: This problem can also occur during pushing exercises at the end of the eccentric phase (eg. when a person is at the bottom of a push-up or a bench press).  If you do not squeeze your shoulder blades together in either of these positions, then you will often see an anterior glide.

Also, do not be afraid to lighten the load to get them to effectively use their scapular retractors - if they cannot hold for a second at the top, then the load is probably too heavy. 
If these cueing and loading strategies do not work, then you may need to resort to other corrective strategies such as soft tissue treatment and/or rotator cuff exercises.  For soft tissue treatment, I would first examine the posterior shoulder capsule as it can often be stiff and restricted, which will not allow the humerus to glide posteriorly as it is flexed.  Next, examine the pecs as they can become dominant and pull the humeral head anterior.

For the rotator cuff, I would examine the subscapularis.  The subscap should work to pull the humeral head inferior as well as posterior.  If this muscle is weak, then its pull will be offset by other strong muscles such as the pec major that pull the humeral head anterior.


Learn to retract properly by squeezing the scapula back without allowing the humeral head to glide anteriorly.
        1) Put hand back by shoulder blade and tell person to squeeze shoulder blade 
            back to touch hand.
        2) Point to anterior part of humerus and tell person to pull it back.
        3) If performing a unilateral pulling exercise try to pull with the other arm at  
            the same time, which may allow for better proprioception.
        4) Lighten the load.   
        5) Make sure the problem is not due to soft tissue restrictions and/or a weak 

Hope this helps!  If anyone has any other tips or suggestions, leave them in the comments.  It is always great to hear other cues!

***Sorry about the crazy font types and sizes.  I am not sure why blogger keeps doing that.  I will try to get it fixed for future posts.


  1. Zach, what's wrong with wrist flexion during pulls?

  2. Zach,

    What's your opinion on "proper" retraction i.e. what is your goal for the client's scapular positioning at the end of the row?

    Should there be an element of depression as well as a posterior tilt with the retraction of the scapula?

    Where do the rhomboids play in relative to the middle and low traps?



  3. @Niel-It is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can give the appearance that the person is pulling the weight towards them when they are only bending their wrist to get their range of motion. You will often see this at the end of the range of motion-people will flex their wrist to finish the last part of the movement vs. fully retracting.

  4. @Eric- It depends on the angle of pull. For a strictly horizontal row, I largely coach just retraction without emphasizing posterior tilt or depression. If someone is having trouble because they like to shrug then I may have them think about pulling their shoulder blade back and down.

    In regards to the rhomboids question, this will depend on the grip in terms of rhomboid vs. middle trap activity. However, in any strict horizontal row you will largely be training both rhomboids and middle trap.
    Lower trap and upper trap may be involved in the retraction, but the goal is for them to balance each others pull out so that there is pure retraction without any shrugging or depression.

  5. Zach- EXCELLENT blog. I really appreciate you taking the time/effort to write blog posts on coaching. As a young strength coach in the field, I think you hit the nail on the head with creating a blog aimed toward coaching (as opposed to exercises, programming, assessment, etc.). Keep the great posts coming!

  6. Thanks a lot Stevo!! If there is anything you would like me to cover let me know.

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  8. Zach,

    Great post. Question: can you do self massage with a lacrosse ball or something on your posterior capsule?