Exercises to Strengthen Your Scapula Muscles

Updated: Jul 4

Hey Reader! This post is a follow-up to my previous post about the scapular muscles ("The Scapula: More than Just a Shoulder Blade"). If you have not read that post yet, go back and check it out (click here to read). You might find that information helpful. But, in case you're like, "I just want to read this post right now," I'll give ya a little recap. Your shoulder blades are stabilized on your thoracic rib cage (i.e. upper back-ish area) by many muscles. When you strengthen and open (i.e. increase flexibility) these muscles, your shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand, neck, and even facial muscles all work much better. So... don't neglect these muscles in your workout routine.


In this post, I will talk about different exercises you can do to strengthen and open the main scapular muscles. These exercises can be completed individually or as a group - it is totes up to you! These exercises are relatively simple from a motor planning perspective (albeit, some may be more physically challenging than others) . Try to include one, or more, of these exercises into your daily routine.


Dandasana "Dan-DAHS-uh-nuh" (Seated Staff Pose)



How to do this pose:

  1. Sit comfortably on your bottom. Extend your legs straight out in front of you. Engage your leg muscles by drawing your legs together. Flex through your ankles (i.e. draw your toes back toward your shins).

  2. Place your hands, palms down and fingers facing forward, just behind your hips.

  3. Inhale and press into your hands. Relax your shoulders away from your ears by depressing (i.e. lowering) your scapulae down your back. Lift your chest toward the sky/ceiling (i.e. "proud chest") by drawing your shoulder blades towards the midline of your back (i.e. retraction).

  4. Hold for 5 - 10 breaths. Make sure you are breathing in/out while you hold this posture. Do NOT hold your breath.

  5. Exhale to release. Gently twist your trunk from side to side to release any tension.

Scapula actions in this pose:

Your scapulae are in depression (i.e. lowering down your back, away from your shoulders) and retraction (i.e. drawing toward the midline of your back). The lower fibers of your Trapezius muscle depresses the scapulae. The middle fibers of your Trapezius muscle and your Rhomboids retract the scapulae.


Adho Mukha Svanasana "Ah-doe Moo-kuh Shvuh-NAS-uh-nuh" (Downward Facing Dog)


How to do this pose:

  1. Come to table top position (i.e. hands and knees) on the ground or mat. Stack shoulders over your wrists, and align your knees with your hips. Point your fingers forward (i.e. away from you) and spread your fingers wide. Inhale.

  2. Exhale. Tuck your toes under. Lift your knees away from the ground/mat.

  3. Keep lifting your legs away from the mat, as you straighten your legs and press your hips up and back. Lift your sit bones toward the ceiling. Do not lock out your knees. In fact, you can bend your knees or widen the distance between your feet if your hamstring muscles are too tight. Your heels do NOT have to touch the ground. Your body will look similar to an inverted "V."

  4. Firm your shoulder blades against your back and energetically widen them apart from one another.

  5. Hold for 5 - 10 breaths. Make sure you are breathing in/out while you hold this posture. Do NOT hold your breath.

  6. Exhale to release your knees to the mat. Untuck your toes and sit up on your shins. Gently twist your torso from side to side.

Scapula actions in this pose:

Your scapulae are in elevation (i.e. raising up your back, toward from your shoulders). This elevation helps to more firmly secure the top of your upper arm bone (i.e. humerus) into the shoulder socket. Your scapulae are also in protraction (i.e. pulling away from the midline of your back). Your Levator Scapulae and the upper fibers of your Trapezius muscle elevate the scapulae. Your Serratus Anterior and Pectoralis Minor muscles protract your scapulae.


Phalakasana "Fall-uh-KAHS-uh-nuh" (High Plank Pose)


How to do this pose:

  1. From Downward Facing Dog, inhale and shift your torso forward, so that you are parallel with the ground. Align your shoulders with your wrists.

  2. Spread your fingers wide. Press firmly into your hands, like you are trying to push your hands through the floor/mat. Widen through your shoulder blades (i.e. protraction) - puff up the space between your shoulder blades.

  3. Engage your legs, glutes, and core to support the weight of your pelvis.

  4. Keep your gaze straight down so that the back of your neck is long and comfortable.

  5. You can always lower your knees to the ground/mat to make this pose a little less challenging. Meet yourself where YOU are at. There is no competition here.

  6. Hold for 5 - 10 breaths. Make sure you are breathing in/out while you hold this posture. Do NOT hold your breath.

  7. Exhale to release your knees to the mat (if not already there). Untuck your toes and sit up on your shins. Gently twist your torso from side to side.

Scapula actions in this pose:

Your scapulae are in protraction (i.e. pulling away from the midline of your back). Your Serratus Anterior and Pectoralis Minor muscles protract your scapulae.


Bhujangasana "Boo-jan-GAHS-uh-nuh" (Baby Cobra)


How to do this pose:

  1. Lie prone on the floor (i.e. on your belly), with your forehead on the mat. Stretch your legs straight back behind you with the tops of your feet on the floor. Place your hands under your shoulders. Spread your fingers wide. Hug your elbows into your body.

  2. Press the tops of your feet and thighs firmly into the floor/mat.

  3. Inhale and lift your chest off the floor. Draw your shoulders away from your ears to depress the shoulder blades. Open your chest by drawing your shoulder blades toward the midline of your body (i.e. retraction). Keep a gentle engagement in your abdominal muscles to support your low back.

  4. Hold for 5 - 10 breaths. Make sure you are breathing in/out while you hold this posture. Do NOT hold your breath.

  5. For a more dynamic version of this pose, you can move back and forth between lying prone and lifting your chest into baby cobra. If you do this, move with your breath. Inhale to lift. Exhale to lower. Repeat as often as you want.

  6. Exhale to release your chest and forehead back to the floor/mat. Stack your hands under your face and rest your forehead on your hands. Bend your knees and windshield wiper your feet from side to side.

Scapula actions in this pose:

Your scapulae are in depression (i.e. drawing down your back) and retraction (i.e. drawing toward the midline of your body). Your lower Trapezius muscle depresses your scapulae. The middle Trapezius and the Rhomboids retract your scapulae.


Dynamic "T" and "I" - A version of Salabasana "Sha-la-BAHS-uh-nuh" (Locust pose)




How to do this pose:

  1. Lie prone on the floor (i.e. on your belly), with your forehead on the mat. Stretch your legs straight back behind you with the tops of your feet on the floor.

  2. Extend your arms out from your shoulder to look like the letter "T" with your palms facing down.

  3. Inhale and lift your arms, legs, and chest off the floor/mat. Gently draw your shoulder blades toward midline (gentle retraction). Keep a gentle engagement in your abdominal muscles to support your low back throughout this entire sequence.

  4. Exhale and bring your arms alongside your body with your palms facing in, toward your body. Draw your shoulders away from your ears by depressing the scapulae. Draw your scapulae toward the midline of your body. Your body now looks like a lowercase "i."

  5. Inhale and bring your arms back to the "T" position.

  6. Exhale and reach your arms overhead, so you look like a capital "I." Gently draw your scapulae away from the midline of your body (gentle protraction).

  7. Inhale bring your arms back to the "T" position.

  8. Repeat this sequence as many times as your body needs.

  9. Exhale to release your chest and forehead back to the floor/mat. Stack your hands under your face and rest your forehead on your hands. Bend your knees and windshield wiper your feet from side to side.

Scapula actions in this pose:

Your scapulae are in different positions based on which part of this sequence you are doing. When you are in the "T" position, your scapulae are slightly retracted (i.e. drawing toward the midline of your body) via the middle Trapezius and Rhomboids. When you are in the lowercase "i" position, your scapulae are depressed (via the lower Trapezius) and retracted (via the middle Trapezius and Rhomboids). When you are in the uppercase "I" position, your scapulae are elevated (via the Levator Scapulae and Upper Trapezius) and protracted (via the Serratus Anterior and Pectoralis Minor). Thus, this exercise pretty much takes your scapulae through their full range of motion, making this exercise highly economical for your body (i.e. you get a lot of bang for your buck).


Summary

Try to incorporate one, some, or all of these exercises into your daily routine, so that your arm, hand, neck and face can move more efficiently and safely. Please keep in mind that these exercises and instructions are merely suggestions from my own personal study and practice of yoga. You are ultimately your best teacher. As my trainer and mentor, Lauren Reese, M.S., E-RYT, always says, "be a student of YOUR body." Listen to your body. If you try one of these exercises, and your body says, "nope, not today," then honor that message.


Thanks for reading!

~Namaste, Jackie Allen, M.S., M.Ed., CCC-SLP, RYT-200, RCYT

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