Strong scapular stabilizers are critical for healthy shoulders, especially for those of us who like to hoist heavy weights high up over our heads. [Please accept my advance apology for the abundance of alliteration that abounds in this article]
What is the Scapula?
Popularly known as the shoulder blade, the scapula is a triangular shaped bone that sits on top of the posterior aspect of ribs 2-7.
It is a part of 3 different joints:
1. Glenohumeral joint
2. Acromioclavicular joint
3. Scapulothoracic joint
The scapula is a unique bone in that muscles are their only connection to other bones, whereas other bones are connected to each other via muscles as well as ligaments.
This design allows for a great range of motion at the glenohumeral joint, providing us with an unparalleled freedom of movement of our arms.
What are the Scapular Stabilizers?
Obviously, the scapular stabilizers stabilize the scapulae…
But we need to dive in a bit deeper so we understand scapular stabilizer function more completely.
The glenohumeral joint is a ball and socket joint and the glenoid of the scapulae form the socket.
But the glenoid, which is a part of the scapula, doesn’t just stay in one place, it must move to facilitate smooth movement of the joint depending on the position of the arm.
An example is when the arms move overhead, the scapulae must upwardly rotate so the head of the humerus doesn’t impinge on structures like the rotator cuff tendons or bursae.
This coordinated movement of the scapula and humerus is known as scapulohumeral rhythm.
When this movement is dysfunctional, the scapular stabilizers aren’t working together properly.
Thus, the type of scapular stability required is dynamic stability – the scapulae must be stable as they’re also moving, as opposed to stable and stuck in one place. [If your scapulae don’t even sit properly at rest, you’ve got what’s known as a SICK scapula and this is something else to look at and address]
Because of its unique design in that it floats atop the ribcage, the major scapular stabilizers are the 4 muscles that connect the scapulae to the ribcage:
- Levator scapulae
- Serratus anterior
Different contributions of each of these muscles occur depending on the position of the arm, but all will be at least a little bit active during movements that involve the glenohumeral joint (upper arm).
Thus, there are two ways I like to train the scapular stabilizers:
1) For proper movement, which requires the arm and scapulae to be moving together in the proper rhythm
2) For strength, which I like to train via isometric exercises so we can set the scapulae in the correct position and then build strength there
The drill we’re going to do today hits the second point.
The 4 Position Pillar Drill for Strengthening the Scapular Stabilizers
Before thinking about reps or sets, learn the nuances of the drill and ensure you’re hitting all of the technical cues.
Then, being able to perform 1 full cycle with a 5 second hold in each position with proper technique is a great feat and you can go from there.
This drill puts together many of the concepts you’ll learn in my Scap Strength course, so if you have trouble with this drill or feel like you’re not capable of or you have pain/mobility issues that prevent correct execution, click here to learn more about Scap Strength to build your shoulders up to the task.