Tuesday Night Tips: Protraction, Retraction and Levator Scapulae?

I was watching someone train chest tonight during my workout. What initially struck me about his form was an apparent partial range of motion while he was performing a dumbbell flat bench chest press. He reached the dumbbells towards each other at the top but his elbows never straightened. He looked like he was giving a bear hug. I was wondering if this was just an issue with his technique, perhaps he didn’t know any better. Then I watched him perform a seated cable chest press and noticed two more things.Number one he wasn’t protracting and retracting his shoulder blades and number two he had little to no lordotic curve in his cervical spine. Related? I would say so. Now without performing any further assessments on this individual, I can only go off of his static and transitional posture.

Amongst other muscles that are most likely in a tonic state are the levator scapulae and the Sternocleidomastoid (SCM). Some quick info on the lev scap:

Origin: Transverse processes of C1-C4

Insertion: Superior vertebral border of the scapulae

Bilateral concentric actions include extension of the head and neck and downward rotation of the scapulae

Levator Scapulae

And the SCM:

Origin: Sternal head-top of the Manubrium

Clavicular head-Medial one-third of the clavicle

Insertion: Mastoid process, lateral superior nuchal line of occiput

Bilateral actions include flexion of proximal cervical spine.


His proximal (top) of his cervical spine is stuck in flexion by bilateral contracture of the SCM and the distal (bottom) and middle of his cervical spine is stuck in extension by bilateral contracture of the levator scapulae. He could even potentially be diagnosed with torticollis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torticollis.

I am addressing what I postulated were the two most tonic in this situation, but of course there could be other issues regionally and throughout the rest of the kinetic chain. I would like to see what happened if we could release his SCM and lev scap and undoubtably his pecs and lats too. He probably needs some t-spine mobility, re-education of his scapular kinesis, and cervical osteokinematics. It would be much easier to then perform integration style pressing movements. His chest press would look much better.

If he continues with these movement impairments then in the short term he may experience medial elbow pain, rotator cuff tendonitis or headaches. Longterm he could be looking at degenerative changes in the cervical spine, sterno-clavicular joint and acromio-clavicular joint.

Well…there is about twenty minutes left in the 2010 A-Team movie (I like that name!) and it’s about 1:30am so I’m going to wrap up, thanks for reading

Eric Beard
CEO A-Team
Corrective Exercise Specialist


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This entry was posted in Corrective Exercise, elbow pain, neck pain, repetitive strain injuries, rotator cuff, shoulder injury and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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