Pull your shoulders down the back

Welcome to the cue corner..

In this article, we are going to talk about a common cue that is used while reaching the arms up overhead in yoga and group fitness. 

“pull your shoulders down the back”


What is it doing?

  • Taking the arms overhead places the shoulders are in flexion.
  • Pulling the shoulders down the back is scapula depression.

When you combine these two together, the resulting action creates an impingement. 

It’s the order that makes it confusing and hard to notice until you’re already in it. If we simply reverse the order that it’s taught in, the impingement can be felt more easily.

Changing the order reveals the disfunction.


  1. Pull the shoulders down the back first (scapula depression)
  2. Raise the arms overhead activating shoulder flexion

The arms stop rising where the impingement is felt. Or in other words, you can’t lift the arms as high while using scapula depression.

Why do people say it?

The cue comes from the dance and performance world. It is meant to appear aesthetically pleasing. In other words it’s done for viewing pleasure. There is no benefit to pulling your shoulders down the back while your arms are overhead. If you disagree please comment below so we can discuss.

What to say instead.

The exact opposite. When reaching the arms overhead and looking for more stability, engage scapular elevation. This will further support the shoulders while they move in that direction.

Pro tip: Try using scapula elevation (shoulder shrug) in downward facing dog to give you more room in the pose.

For more information on how to quantify your asana, check out our Yoga Framework Curriculum, the Text Book for Modern Yoga

About jeffrey posner

First certified in New York City, he then explored the practice of yoga and sacred geometry within the various lineages. He has since studied with the Ido Portal team and completed the Functional Range Systems FRC®/FRA® certifications. Jeffrey is the author of the Yoga Framework “course book”. He has been featured on Yoga Journal, Spartan TV and other prominent media outlets.

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