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Elevation and Depression: Definition and Examples for Coaches

What are Elevation and Depression?

Shoulder or scapular elevation refers to the upward movement of the shoulder blades, such as when performing a shrug. The primary muscle responsible for the motion is the trapezius. Scapular depression is the opposite movement; it’s when the shoulder blades move down to their natural resting position.

Examples of Elevation

  • Shrugs – this is when the shoulders move up toward the ears; the movement is classified as shoulder elevation
  • Scapular pull-ups – this is when, instead of bending and extending the elbows to move up and down, the movement is isolated to the shoulder blades. As the upper body relaxes, the shoulder blades move up.
  • Olympic lifting – scapular elevation occurs briefly during explosive movements like the power clean, particularly when generating momentum off the initial pull and transitioning to the second phase of the lift before receiving the barbell in a front rack position.

Examples of Depression

  • When retracting the shoulder blades – when trainees bring their shoulder blades back, the position is typically accompanied by scapular depression for a stable base during movements like the bench press. Retraction combined with shoulder elevation leads to a far more awkward and less stable position.
  • Scapular pull-ups – just as elevation plays a role in this movement, so does depression, as it makes up half of the active range of motion. Following shoulder elevation (when the trainee relaxes in a dead hang position), the objective is to retract and depress the shoulder blades to assume a rigid position and elevate the body by a couple of inches without bending the elbows.


1. What muscles play a role in scapular elevation and depression?

The upper trapezius, levator scapulae, and rhomboids work together to elevate the shoulder blades. The lower trapezius, pecs, serratus anterior, and lats are responsible for scapular depression.

2. How should athletes practice and improve scapular elevation and depression?

In addition to practicing elevation and depression of the shoulder blades, such as by performing slow shrugs through a full range of motion during warm-up, athletes should balance their push and pull work to develop the muscles responsible for elevation and depression.

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