Workouts & Exercises

The Best Cue Ever for A Better Upper Body

March 5, 2021 by fitnessbaddie


Give your shoulders the love they deserve.

This simple cue/idea I will outline below will drastically improve all your upper body movements if you haven’t been aware of it before, especially rowing/pulling of any sort (which you should be doing a lot of).

In the essence of simplicity, I use this question below to “connect” people to what I want form-wise when they are doing upper body movements when I explain the movement to them.

“What is the front of your shoulder doing in this movement?”

I always take the time to give brief explanations about angles in movement and what to look for. Often when explaining form to someone, theres a huge disconnect between what you are saying and HOW the client or athlete then exhibits the movement. A good coach shortens that disconnect or even better, gets rid of it completely in the quickest amount of time. The sooner you can find ways to make someone move better through your verbal cues and demonstrations, the better a coach you are!!!!! The ability to effectively communicate what you “need” them to do is so important. Just as important is doing it in a way that not only makes sense to them, but allows them to replicate the movement when you are not around because they have a good understanding of what should be happening.

This is why I always take the time to throw in snippets of how joints work when explaining exercises, because I have seen excellent results in my athletes “getting the point” when they have a bit of a bigger picture in mind.

To explain form for upper body movements, I first ask them to pay attention to what their shoulder is doing.

The right answer to the above question is “nothing”. The wrong answer is “rolling forward” or “kind of shrugging”.

Here’s why paying attention to this cue of “what’s the front of my shoulder doing” is so helpful.

Your arm bone, the humerus, inserts into the shoulder socket.

In front, and behind we have all the muscles sandwiching that shoulder joint. The ones we always talk about (rotator cuffs, back muscles, pec minor/major), and that are frequently discussed. Heres a front and back view of the shoulder, chest and back muscles.


Front View


Back View

Now a common problem when doing a push or pull movement is allowing that head of the humerus in its socket to “roll forward” or glide anteriorly because of lack of proper muscular control over the joint through the range of motion. Smaller rotator cuff muscles are weaker than your traps, for instance, and without paying attention to making sure they are doing their work, you end up with imbalances, injury or shitty shoulders. Allowing the shoulder to “roll” means the proper muscles aren’t actually getting to “do” the movement as well as they should. Disregarding the potential injury possibilities….you won’t move as much weight or target your muscles as effectively. This simple and very common mistake has lots of potential for screwing up your upper body strength, posture and shoulder health.

Let’s see some examples.

Here are two vids where I do it wrong FIRST in pushups and cable rows (watch the top of my shoulder) and then switch to doing it RIGHT. Do you notice the difference? Try it out.

Cable Rows –

Pushups –

Just lowering the weight might not fix that form if you don’t know what to look for. Its a bad movement pattern. Get rid of it.

In the second set of reps I am being strict about both where I stop the movement, and keeping my posture correct, because I am remembering that the movement/exercise “stops” if my shoulder starts rolling forward. This might mean using easier variations for a bit if this is a big problem for you.

I have to keep the shoulders down and back. Locking the head of the humerus in its socket and allowing the right muscles to keep it there.

Try these changes on rowing variations and see how it feels. DB Rows, BB Rows, Inverted/Body Rows, TRX Rows, Cable Rows. You name it. I love all rows!:

1. Get your elbows out a little wider. Find that “happy medium” angle, so you can use more of your rotators cuff muscles, rear delts, traps and lats better.

2. Drop your shoulders down and back. Get your shoulders away from your ears. Don’t shrug or hunch (there are some instances where you can allow movement, but for simplicity, this is a good rule in this context).

3. Get your ribs down, and low back neutral by by tightening the abs. This is tied into the “shoulders back cue” because you don’t want to “think” you are pulling your shoulders back by just arching your low back. Be strict if you catch yourself “extending” your low back a lot. Lower the weight until you don’t involuntarily default to that and be conscious of it all the time.

For pushing exercises the same applies. Instead of letting your elbow “drop” or your shoulder “sink”, make the back and rotator cuffs work properly! Stop the movement at the proper place, don’t let gravity take control of anything. This is super important for push movements,  when our focus tends to be in front, but we forget the role of the back, and our shoulders are classically taking a beating.

For a finisher, watch this quick vid from Eric Cressey. He’s pretty much who should listen to about shoulder anything (of course he ridiculously smart with everything else about movement/exercise/training as well).

Eric Cressey –

Eric Helms addressed this too in this vid. The whole video is great, so watch it all.

Eric Helms – Time Under Tension and Chin/Pullups Range of Motion

Next time you hit upper body, let me know in the comments if you feel the difference.  And head over to my page Fitness Baddie on FB and like it. icon_biggrin-3

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