What would Batman be without Robin, Tom without Jerry, Jerry Rice without Joe Montana? The answer is probably similar to the shoulder without the shoulder blade. Just like Jerry Rice needed Joe Montana to throw him the football to score touchdowns, the shoulder needs the shoulder blade to act together to create the movements of the shoulder.
In the gym, most of us want to make muscle and strength gains, which we do so by increasing our volume and intensity with our lifts. But how often do we start to make these gains and suddenly experience shoulder pain, which causes us to alter our lifts or even take time off. If we can better understand the importance of creating a more durable shoulder complex (shoulder joint + shoulder blade), we can better our gains and our performance without the setbacks that are created by injuries.
The Shoulder Complex
The scapula or shoulder blade sits on the outside of the ribcage and is attached to the body by many different ligaments and muscles. One of the most important muscle groups attached to the shoulder blade are the rotator cuff muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, teres minor). The main focus of the rotator cuff is to stabilize the humerus (upper arm bone) in the GH or glenohumeral joint. The rotator cuff also functions to rotate the shoulder and assist in movement of the shoulder, such as abduction and scaption. Another group of muscles attached to the scapula are often referred to as the scapular stabilizers (levator scapulae, trapezius, rhomboids, serratus anterior). These muscles work together to create shoulder joint stability and efficient movement of the shoulder.
Without strength and stability of the scapula, the shoulder will be less stable and more prone to injury, especially with overhead activities like overhead lifts or overhead sport movements such as throwing a ball or swinging a racket. When you lift a weight overhead, the scapula is rotated upward and outward on your rib cage, as the muscles surrounding the scapula work to move and stabilize the shoulder joint. As you increase your volume or intensity of your lifts, your shoulder will require more scapula stability in order to optimize your performance and make the best gains. If there is a lack in scapula stability, other muscles will take the brunt of the load, which may lead to shoulder injuries, such as impingements, rotator cuff or labrum injuries (less time training and more time with me at physical therapy). On the opposite end of the spectrum the stronger your scapula stabilizers are, the more durable and less injury prone your shoulder joint will be. If we can create a durable shoulder complex, we will optimize our human performance in and out of the weight room and on the field!!!
3 Simple Exercises That Help Stabilize Your Scapula and Optimize Shoulder Performance:
Scapula Retraction Row with Long Loop Resistance Band
Start in an athletic stance with feet shoulder width apart, face the anchor point of the band / grab the band, retract and depress your scapula then squeeze your scapula bringing your hands towards your stomach, pause then return to the starting position – allowing your shoulders to protract.
Scapula Ws with Long Loop Resistance Band
Start in an athletic stance with feet shoulder width apart, face the anchor point of the band / grab the band, retract and depress your scapula then squeeze your scapula by bringing your hands into a W or Field Goal Position, pause then return to the starting position – allowing your shoulders to protract.
Scapula External Rotation with Long Loop Resistance Band
Start in an athletic stance perpendicular to the anchor point of the band with feet shoulder width apart, grab the band with the hand further away from the anchor – with your elbow tucked at your side, retract and depress your scapula then squeeze your scapula by externally rotating the hand out, pause then return to the starting position.