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Scapular Mobility Exercises
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on Jan 21, 2017
If you have shoulder pain and stiffness while using your arms overhead, I encourage you to add scapular mobility exercises to your self care routine, as optimal movement of your shoulder blades along the posterior surface of your ribcage is vital to ensuring proper biomechanics of your shoulder joints when your arms are raised overhead.
If you're new to scapular mobility exercises, I would start with the Cow-Cat drill found here:
Once you feel confident controlling your scapulae while doing the Cow-Cat movement pattern, if you are able to raise your arms overhead, you might try the scapular mobility exercises shown in the video above. But please note that it is always a good idea to take your shoulders and spine through a thorough warm-up before doing any hanging exercises. For my shoulders, I typically do a series of resistance band exercises found here<, and for my spine, I do all of the mobility exercises found at our Spinal Mobility Exercises Archive.
If you can't bear your full body weight while hanging from a secure bar or rings overhead, you can keep one or both feet on the ground, and bend your knees as needed to allow for scapular contraction as you lift your body upward.
To begin, try lifting yourself upward with just your shoulder blades while keeping your elbows straight. Even an inch or two of upward elevation of your body while actively contracting your shoulder blades will yield improvement in scapular mobility over time. Be sure to keep your core engaged as you pull upward and also as you lower your body. For best results, it's helpful to emphasize quality of movement over quantity of repetitions.
When you are able to comfortably raise and lower your body using your shoulder blades only, you can further improve scapular mobility by taking your shoulders through slow backward circles, again using only the muscles that control scapular movement and keeping your elbows relatively straight.
You can also take your shoulders through forward circles, always emphasizing quality of movement of your scapulae.
If you do pull-ups or work up to doing pull-ups, even with some assistance from a machine or rubber bands, it's best to start from a fully passive dead-hang and to focus on controlling the first few inches of your upward ascension with the muscles that govern scapular movement - this applies to close, regular, and wide-grip pull-ups.
For an overview of exercise progressions that you can work at to improve your mobility and balance in a systematic way, please feel free to visit our Mobility Exercise Progressions page here:
For some suggestions on how to set up a simple workout area at home, please feel free to view:
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