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Scapular Exercises for Stronger Shoulders

Exercises for Strong and Healthy Shoulders
Shoulders permit our arms to move in a wide arc and perform elaborate activities. This mobility is due to superb coordination of muscles and soft tissues around the shoulder and shoulder blades (scapula, SKA-pew-la), and is essential for performing activities in a pain- and injury-free manner. See related article on Rotator Cuff complications impairing shoulder movement.

Conventional shoulder exercises strengthen the larger muscles but tend to overlook the mid-back muscles that stabilize the scapulas. This can often result in muscle imbalance and consequently, bad posture. Even non-shoulder exercises like running on a treadmill with shoulders slouched can lead to stiffness and pain. These conditions increase injury potential and thus the need for corrective exercises.

Michael Bento, personal trainer at the Clubs at Charles River Park, Boston, demonstrates simple exercises you can do at home to develop shoulder strength and protect them from injury. As a bonus, these exercises also help tone the all important core muscles.

These exercises can be performed on a stability ball as shown, or on a work bench. Dumbbells or additional weights are not required. And as I surprisingly found out last week, you can do these scapular exercises while standing and starting with the arms in front! Yaay!


Common Starting Position for Shoulder-Scapula Exercises
scapular exercises

  • Anchor heels to a wall, toes on the floor and slowly roll out on a stability ball.
  • Rest upper abdomen on the ball and straighten body forming a line from ears to ankles.
  • Pull your shoulder blades down, tuck your chin and look at the floor.
  • Start with arms straight, hands in front of the ball (or bench), fingers lightly curled, palms facing each other and thumbs pointing forward.
  • In this position, your core muscles including abdominal and gluteus muscles are engaged in stabilizing your body.
  • For a challenging core-muscle workout, move your heels away from the wall as demonstrated above and use as starting position.


Scapular Exercises: The “T”

  • From starting position, lift arms to your sides and slightly below the line of your shoulders.
  • Avoid shrugging your shoulders towards your ears, moving your head forward or arching your spine.
  • Hold position for 5 seconds and slowly lower your arms.
  • Repeat for three sets of 10 repetitions.

Starting Position for “T”:
scapular exercises
Final Position for “T”:
scapular exercises

Another view of “T” Final Position:
scapular exercises


Scapular Exercises: The “Y”

  • From starting position, raise arms out front to form a “Y.”
  • Hold arms in line with your body.
  • Do not reach over the level of your head.
  • Relax your neck, avoid shrugging your shoulders, or arching your spine.
  • Hold position for 5 seconds and slowly lower your arms.
  • Repeat for three sets of 10 repetitions.

Final position of “Y”:
scapular exercises
Another view of “Y” Final Position
scapular exercises


To balance it all out, the “A”

  • From starting position, raise arms out by the waist to form an “A.”
  • Make sure arms are in line with your body.
  • Relax your neck relaxed and check tendency to raise the head out front, arching your spine.
  • Hold position for 5 seconds and bring arms down.
  • Repeat for three sets of 10.

Final Position of “A”:
scapular exercises


Michael Bento is a personal trainer at the Clubs at Charles River Park, Boston, MA.
mike bento personal trainer


From our Archives: Try other simple exercises at home

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