Tag Archives: scapula

Wall Angel Series

This video is on our wall angel series which might be the best scapular movement we do.  When done correctly, wall angels are one of the hardest exercises I’ve ever done.  Simply put they aren’t fun and they will make athletes sore in area’s they didn’t know exist.  We generally perform wall angels for 3-5 reps with controlled tempos as in a 5 count up and down w a pause at the top and bottom.  Or we might do a 2-3 count up and down with a 5 count pause at the top and bottom.  In either case we want control.

Quick points:
1. Make sure athletes keep their spine flat on the wall.  Don’t arch or let the rib cage flare up.
2. We want them actively driving their arms into the wall not just sliding up and down.  Even if they can’t get their arms to the wall we want them actively trying.  This alone helps to stretch out the anterior shoulder and chest into more external rotation.

1. Once we have worked for several weeks on the wall angel we can progress to include more dynamic stability using the bands.  Athletes partner up and can move the bands in any direction.  The more the better.  The athlete on the wall is forced to stabilize in any number of direction at a given moment.
2. The last progression that didn’t make it in the video is performing the dynamic stability version with the eyes closed.  Athletes now can’t react to what direction they see the band moving.  This really requires much more stabilization and kinesthetic awareness.


Scap Wall Slides for Throwing Athletes

Scap wall slides are great for the overhead athlete to activate the serratus anterior, a big time muscle for the overhead / throwing athlete. The serratus is an overlooked muscle in the grand scheme of shoulder function, but it might be on the of the most important for throwing athletes.  Right now, we’re perfomring scap wall slides as an activation warmup series prior to all our upper body work.  We usually focus on 2-3 sets of 5 reps with controlled movement and pauses at both ends.

Serratus Anterior Posts

Check out some of these previous posts for more info on the serratus and the scapular function and how to tie more serratus work into your training.

The Scap Dip

A great movement for training scapular depression is the scap dip.  Scap depression is extremely important for shoulder health as well as stability.  Depression helps to keep the scapulae out of a rounded over, and pulled forward position.  The pec minor as well as the lower trapezius are responsible for scap depression.  Often, the lower trap is inhibited, and has been lengthened through training, or as a result of lifestyle.  Any work we can do activate the lower trap is important.   When we do pulling movements we want to emphasize not only retraction but depression as well.   I touched on the importance of that in a post found HERE  a few days back.    

Scap Dip - Bottom


An important muscle that often gets left out of scapular health is the lats.   The lats can play the role of the devil as it is an internal rotator of the humerus.  However, in the case of the scap dip the lats assist in scapular depression as well.  By focusing on depression we can even out the pull exerted upward by tight levator scapulae, and upper trap, as well as the rounded posture possible with tight pec major / minor.  With this posture comes an increased risk for shoulder problems, and instability.    

Scap Dip - Top


 Again, it’s important to focus on technique when utilizing scapular movements.  A perfect example is in the  top portion of the scap dip.  If poor technique is used the scap will move into anterior tilt at the top of the motion.  The movement is now completed by the pec minor.  This takes out the lower trapezius and actually puts it on stretch rendering it useless.  We know that the pec minor is commonly a tight, overactive muscle.  We don’t want to make it any shorter causing a natural anterior tilt of the scapula, again putting the shoulder at risk.  All too often athletes don’t maintain proper technique throughout the scap dip to gain any true benefit. 


Don't let your athletes do this at the top


Athletes have to make sure they keep a tall chest throughout the scap dip and the shoulder blades pulled back and driven down to complete the movement.  This will fully activate the scapular depressors, which is what we’re after in the first place.  

Are your scaps working?

When we do pulling movements we should be thinking about retraction and depression of the scapulae (shoulder blades).  Many athletes perform pulling movements incorrectly, compensating with humeral hyperextension.  In humeral hyperextension the humerus moves behind the torso with no action coming from the retraction of the shoulder blades.  

As athletes pull only with the arms the scapula goes into anterior tilt, and loses all stability.  Essentially, none of the scapular stabilizers are doing their job.  Not only that but when the scaps move into anterior tilt we contract the pec minor instead of actually training the back.  Putting the humerus into hyperextension isn’t a good place for it.  It is extremely stressful on the anterior capsule putting athletes at risk. 

This is my best attempt at humeral hyperextension when pulling, instead of true scapular retraction and depression.  The following video is a better look at how the pull should be done.  Notice that the arms don’t move behind the toso.  It’s the scap performing a large majority of the movement with retraction. 

Teach athletes to retract and depress the scaps first then pull with the arms.  Sometimes it may make more sense to athletes when you break the movements up into parts.  We actually use 2 part movements at various times throughout the year with baseball.  Before we begin regular pullups we learn the scap pullup.  After scap pullups we move to our 2 part pullups.  From there we implement a full pullup.  Using this progression helps our athletes to integrate their scaps into the movement, and stop shortchanging themselves.  

To really activate the backside musculature like the middle and lower trap I like to have athletes visualize squeezing the  scaps down and back throughout the entire movement.  I’ve found cueing athletes to get a big chest helps in this department.

Protraction and the bench press

Question: Isn’t the bench press training the scapula just the same as the pushup?  Wouldn’t this hit my serratus every time I bench press? 

First off the bench press and most forms of db bench presses do not allow for movement whatsoever of the scapulae.  The scaps are pinned beneath the athlete’s body to the bench.  Typically no movement occurs.   Efficient bench press technique actually calls for retraction  and depression of the scaps.  Generally, you want to be as stabile as possible back there while benching.  Athletes can produce more power from a stabile platform, and in effect produce a bigger bench press.   Not only that, but unstable scaps during a bench press cause increase stress on the shoulder capsule and can result in disaster.  For the sake of this topic though we’re not worried about  a bigger bench press.    

We already talked recently as to proper pushup technique and the beauty of pushups hitting the serratus with protraction.  That post can be found HERE if you didn’t catch it the first time.  Again this is one of the reasons why pushups are so great.  They allow for full range of motion of the scaps to occur.  Pushups variations make up a large majority of our upper body training for our pitchers and quarterbacks.    But pushups aren’t the only option you can utilize.   In the past I have included several cable variations of protraction and presses, and more recently have implemented band scap presses, seen below.  

I make sure our athletes fully retract their shoulder blades, then fully protract and pause at the end to really activate the serratus.  It’s important to get the full range of motion on each rep. 

Band Scap Presses - Start
Band Scap Presses - Finish

The Other Shrug

I’m sure a lot of coaches and athletes out there have seen the overhead shrug done before but may wonder why it’s good for shoulder health. 

Lets start out by examining the anatomy of the scap a little bit.  There are three muscles responsible for upward rotation of the scapula.  Again, upward rotation of the scapula is extremely important for athletes in general and overhead throwing athletes especially because it helps to create space in the subacromial space.  Highly, highly important to help prevent impingement.   The three muscles that create upward rotation work as a force couple and are the upper trapezius, serratus anterior, and the lower trapezius.   The diagram below shows exactly how these three muscles work together to create upward rotation. 

Force couple for upward rotation

We talked about the serratus anterior earlier this week and how to get it functioning again.  If you didn’t see that post you can find it HERE.   We clearly see an example here of why the serratus is so important.  Often times the serratus as well as the lower trap is inactive and inhibited.  This happens by improper training  as well as today’s sedentary lifestlye.   If these two muscles are inhibited upward rotation is clearly compromised.  The result is dysfuction in the scap, and possible future shoulder problems. 

Now when we do regular barbell, or db shrugs we get lots of work from the levator scapulae.  The LS is responsible for scap elevation but is also a downward rotator of the scap.  This isn’t a good thing for the reasons we touched on earlier and why upward rotation is so important.  We don’t want downward rotation of the scap.  We never want to close down the subacromial space.  

Levator Scapulae - Evil Downward Rotator

So when we perform the overhead shrug, we create upward rotation of the scap.  Hence, we get activation out of the lower trap, serratus anterior, as well as the upper trap.  The levator scapulae is the left out of the picture because as upward rotation occurs the LS is put on slack.   In many people the levator scapulae is very overactive.  Tension in the LS can cause scap dysfunction as well as headaches. 

Start of the overhead shrug

 So for our athletes we mostly perform the overhead shrug with a light weight for high reps, usually 20+ reps.  We start with the bar and gradually progress our athletes to weight only when full range of motion can be acheived.  Use a grip similar to a snatch grip.  Emphasize driving the shoulders to the ears and all the way back down.  Compensations occur when the athlete bends the elbows to get movement and or pecks the head forward and back with no motion occurring in the scap.  Some may not be able to perform the overhead shrug because of pain in the shoulder with any overhead activities so use common sense when prescribing the exercise. 

Finish position