Is your (lack of) scapular stability cheating your thoracic mobility?

I feel like a kid in a candy store at the moment as I’m working on what is looking more and more like a really great at hoome exercise program for improving scapular stability. Why do I feel a need to blog about it? Because I’m seriously jazzed. (do people say that anymore?). Here’s the cool confluence of events or moments from the past month that have led me here:

- I went to yoga with a good friend of mine one Sunday morning. It was a very relaxing, light stretching type of yoga, which was perfect for me as I’m very much a beginner in yoga, and I can definitely use more stretching. During one of the poses, I noticed my friend’s shoulder blade was winging like crazy – it was basically at a 90 degree angle to her back. She is experienced in yoga, and is able to do the move fully, although as I watched, I thought “hmm, is that really okay?”.

- She later noted that when she misses yoga for too long, she tends to get tightness in her neck. She feels that the spinal rotations she does in yoga is what keeps that in check. Hmmm…

- I started looking around the interwebs for material, and came across a great article by Mike Roberstson about scapular stability where he discusses the concept that scapular stabilization exercises maybe aren’t really the answer because the real problem may not be that the scapular stabilizers aren’t functioning, but rather that the thoracic spine posture is either too flexed or too straight, and that doesn’t allow the scapula to sit properly. He also discusses the involvement of the diaphragm and ribcage, and how proper breathing is necessary for there to be scapular stability (I’m paraphrasing).

- A client of mine is recovering from a shoulder separation from laying out in ultimate, and is doing some scapular stability exercises for it. He reminded me that his other shoulder isn’t great either and asked if we could do some scapular stabilizing exercises. I was a bit flustered by this request because, based on discussions I’ve had, a book I recently read by Evan Osar, articles like the one I note above, I don’t really believe traditional scapular stabilizing exercises are effective. But I didn’t feel comfortable enough with my approach to really provide a useful alternative. I certainly don’t want to be a naysayer: someone who says “nope, that doesn’t work”, without providing an alternative. So I said nothing but continued to think.

- This past Saturday I was supposed to play in an ultimate tournament, but I woke up with that sore throat/I’m getting a cold feeling. Given that I had been exposed to several sick people over the past week and that it was going to rain all day, I opted to bail on the tournament in favour of lounging on the couch. I’m so glad I did on two levels: the feeling passed without my getting sick (knock wood). I’m also glad I did, because I spent the day reading and thinking and experimenting, all of which lead me to come up with what I think is a really great scapular stability program. I’m testing it for 3 weeks on myself (I’m on day 3), the client with the shoulder issue (he’s starting day 1 this afternoon), and my yoga friend (she’s starting as soon as I get the relevant videos uploaded as she’ll do them without in-person coaching).

Look for results in just over 3 weeks! In the meantime, here’s a little teaser.

Ever tried the quadruped extension-rotation exercise? It’s one I use at Custom Strength often. Here’s an Eric Cressey video of it:

 

It’s a thoracic spine mobility exercise. Or is it?

This morning, as part of this whole scapular stability/thoracic mobility project I’m working on, I noticed something interesting: I’ve been cheating the quadruped rotation exercise. The picture on the left is of me at the top end of  my left side rotation range of motion, and the picture on the right is of me at the top end of my left side rotation range of motion after setting my scapulae.

tspine rom with unset scap

tspine rom with stable scap

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quite a difference! Which begs the question, where is that extra range of motion coming from on the left? If it was thoracic mobility, it would be there in the picture on the right too. Cheating time!

I can’t wait to see how this movement looks in another 3 weeks.

 

Elsbeth Vaino, CSCS, B.Sc., is a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada, who gets easily excited about movement.

 

2 thoughts on “Is your (lack of) scapular stability cheating your thoracic mobility?”

  1. Hey Sam, I think it would be a stretch to call this a core ex – sorry! But shoot me an email and I’ll happily suggest some for you for your team. Also – check out my new scap stability ex video post. I think you’ll like it.

  2. Question for you! Would this qualify even remotely as a core exercise? Given the rotational aspect, it seems to me that it could very well be.

    I’m coaching at a new college and these girls have a built in 5 minute “abs” session at the end of practice. I can’t wait to overhaul it away from crunches and add all the movements I just learned in the Core is the Core Program! It would seem to me that something that focuses on shoulder movement would be great for handlers and newbies alike.

    Please keep me posted on your progress! As someone with limited shoulder/thoracic spine movement, I’m intrigued!

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