Best ever scapular stability exercise

This is my new, new favourite exercise. I use it for scapular stability and lower/mid trap activation, but it turns out it does so much more. You’ll notice that it looks a lot like an exercise many of us refer to as crocodile breathing. Except it’s even better because setting the shoulders before you breathe prevents you from breathing by elevating the shoulders. In fact those who typically do that will have a hard time breathing deeply with this exercise because the position prevents their normal breathing pattern.  This should improve from doing this exercise.

I would like to give credit where credit is due. This exercise is very closely based on one that I learned from this fantastic blog post by Hans Lindgren. I found it by searching for scapular stability DNS, figuring that the Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization folk probably had some interesting thoughts on the subject. I was not disappointed:

“The stabilizers of the scapula, as well as all other muscles, need a fixed anchor point to pull towards. That anchor point in this case is the ribcage and the “core” all stabilized by the diaphragmatic contraction. The lower lateral ribcage acts as an anchor point for the serratus anterior muscle when providing scapular stabilization.  Testing scapular stabilization prior to evaluating the diaphragm function would give a false positive result. “

Do yourself a favour and read the post. And then note how similar the exercise I demonstrate in the video above is to the one presented in Dr. Lindgren’s post. I point that out because I don’t want to take credit – I’m just adding the clock to the already great product.

The reason I had been looking for an exercise like this in the first place is that I have been really questioning a common approach to addressing scapular stability, which is to give the person some combination of open chain rotator cuff and serratus anterior activation exercises. The reason I’m not a fan is that I just don’t think they work. This thought process was heavily influenced by a great thread on a few months ago. The problem is that they are open chain. You have to have good scapular control to be able to do them. And of course if you have good scapular control, you probably don’t need them.

This lead me to do some reading which lead me to a great Mike Robertson article on the subject. The genius of this article is in this line:

“If your thoracic spine is in a poor resting alignment, your scapulae will never be in the right position.” 

My reading and thinking also took me to various other sources and has lead to me putting together a 5 exercise protocol that I’ve been using with some of my clients. The exercise above is at the core of the protocol, but I think the others are relevant as well. I’ll post the full protocol next week as a part 2 to this article. You can hope to catch it, or sign up for my newsletter so you can be sure you see it (it only comes out about once a month, but it includes links to these posts).

Thoughts? Anyone question my comment above that the rotator cuff and serratus anterior activation stuff doesn’t work? I’m talking about Ys, Ts, Ws and Ls, as well as the push-up plus, or serratus push-up. The latter is closed chain, but I’m still doubting it’s efficacy.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is an engineer-turned-personal trainer, who gets excited by little “research” projects.


8 thoughts on “Best ever scapular stability exercise”

  1. Good question. And perhaps I should have included a view from a second angle. The notion of the “stickers” is intended as one way to think about the movement. Another option would be to suggest that you roll the shoulders back, or that you try to bring your shoulder blades down and back. Hopefully that helps.

  2. I could not see how those”stickers” would be in any way visible. It looked like you were just hunching your shoulders.

  3. Always ever done it supine. Really the only way when you’re working at that stage of recruitment. My issue with starting off with so much abd is those up traps just love to help out. I find the vast majority will use them to some degree just due to the arm position, regardless of how much cueing you provide. I always start more neutral and work towards overhead. I likely see more dysfunctional (re. injured!) people then you :(

  4. I haven’t played around with different levels of aBduction. Interesting thought. I’ve probably got 40 people using it so far and I haven’t found it to really be a problem. In fact I’ve seen better results in a short trial with this than a year+ with movements like floor or wall slides. Maybe because it’s a prone position vs supine that this hasn’t been an issue? What I do find is the level of movement for some is very, very small. Initially. But it gets better pretty quickly. I will give this more thought and perhaps try that variation with a few people. Good thinking!

  5. Love it Elsbeth! I really like the breathing component. All too common a problem.
    My only question is for those that are really dysfunctional, doing this with the arms this far into abduction may be too much of a challenge, leading to improper recruitment. I usually start at 0deg abd and work upwards as they progress. Thoughts?

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