Scapular push-ups, a classic exercise to stimulate two main scapular stabilizing muscles

Use These 5 Scapular Stabilization Exercises to Improve Your Yoga Practice

Leah Sugerman, E-RYT 500, YACEP
Updated: 
December 01, 2021

Scapular stabilization is a phrase that’s been buzzing in the health and fitness world for some time now—and for good reason! Scapular stabilization exercises can help to create more power and (as the name implies!) stability in your yoga practice and beyond. This is because the scapula (also known as the shoulder blade) is somewhat of an anomaly in the body. 

The Anatomy of the Scapula

This bilateral, large, flat bone attaches to the humerus (upper arm bone) at the glenohumeral joint and the clavicle (the collarbone) at the acromioclavicular joint. It also forms a somewhat “informal” joint at its attachment to the ribcage at the scapulothoracic joint. 

The scapulothoracic joint is not a true synovial joint because it lacks a joint capsule. Instead, the articulation between the scapula and thorax is formed by the convex surface on the back side of the ribcage and the concave surface of the front side of the scapula. These surfaces glide and slide over one another and allow for a great deal of mobility. 

The shoulder has evolved to be mobile. This allows us to move our upper extremities freely throughout life. But when we step onto our yoga mats or into the gym and start to bear weight in our upper body, we need to invite a bit of stability in as well to support the mobile joints of the shoulder.

There are 17 muscles that attach to the scapula, which means that its placement does inherently have a lot of support. But sometimes, we need to awaken dormant muscles that haven’t necessarily been recruited in a while. 

How to Practice Scapular Stabilization Exercises

For these exercises, you will need two dumbbells of any weight that you choose. If you don’t have dumbbells, you can get creative and use household items like cans of soda, bottles of wine, water jugs, laundry detergent, etc. to hold for weight.

ITYWs (make letter shapes with your body)

These dynamic scapular stabilization exercises help to awaken the many muscles surrounding your scapulae for more awareness and stability.

  1. Lie face down on the floor with your arms by your sides and your palms facing up. Press the tops of your feet into the floor to activate your legs and activate your core by three-dimensionally bracing your center. Keep your full body immobilized in this shape and as you move through the following steps, only mobilize your arms and shoulders.

  2. Create the shape of an “I” with your body by lifting your hands off the floor. Flutter your arms up and down for about 15 seconds.

  3. Create the shape of a “T” with your body by reaching your arms out toward the sides of your mat in line with your shoulders with your palms facing down. Flutter your arms up and down for about 15 seconds. 

  4. Create the shape of a “Y” with your body by reaching your arms up overhead with your biceps slightly angled away from your ears and your palms facing down. Flutter your arms up and down for about 15 seconds.

  5. From your “Y” position, create the shape of a “W” with your body by bending your elbows and squeezing them in toward your side ribs. Reach and extend your arms back out into a “Y” position and then pull back down into a “W” position. Continue for about 15 seconds.

  6. Return back to all the steps for about two or three more repetitions. Option to add small dumbbells in your hands as you move.

Scapular Push-Ups

Scapular push-ups are a classic exercise to stimulate two main scapular stabilizing muscles: the serratus anterior (which move the shoulder blades into protraction) and the rhomboids (which move the shoulder blades into retraction).

  1. Start on all fours in Tabletop Pose (Bharmanasana) with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your hips stacked over your knees. Spread your fingers wide and press into the perimeters of your palms. Activate your core to immobilize your middle and lower back. As you move through the following steps, only mobilize the space between your shoulder blades.

  2. Without bending your elbows, squeeze your shoulder blades toward each other and melt your heart toward the floor.

  3. Keep your arms straight and press the floor away to round your upper back and draw your shoulder blades toward each other.

  4. Continue to move back and forth between retraction and protraction of your shoulder blades for about 30 seconds.

  5. Option to lift your knees off the floor and work the same scapular push-ups in a neutral Plank Pose (Phalakasana).    

Dumbbell Rotational Punches

This classic exercise works to reach your arms forward in front of you while also rotating the torso to protract and retract your scapulae to condition your serratus anterior and rhomboids. 

  1. Start standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) with your feet roughly shoulders-distance apart. Hold a dumbbell (of any weight) in each hand hugged close to your ribs with your palms facing each other. Brace your core.

  2. Pivot on your right foot to rotate your hips and torso toward the left. Punch your right arm forward at shoulder height and extend your elbow fully. 

  3. Bend your elbow and draw your right arm back in toward your ribcage.

  4. Pivot on your left foot to rotate your hips and torso toward the right. Punch your left arm forward at shoulder height and extend your elbow fully. 

  5. Bend your elbow and draw your left arm back in toward your ribcage.

  6. Repeat for about 30 seconds. 

Protracted Plank Pose (Phalakasana)

One of the more well-known scapular stabilization exercises, this spin on a classic Plank Pose helps to strongly recruit your serratus anterior muscles, which are typically underutilized.

  1. Start in a classic Plank Pose with a neutral spine. Kick back through your heels, squeeze your legs toward the midline of your body, and activate your core.

  2. Take a full, deep inhalation.

  3. As you exhale, press firmly into your palms and draw your shoulder blades apart from each other to round only your upper back.

  4. Inhale and return to a neutral spine and exhale to inflate the space between your shoulder blades.

  5. Continue for about 30 seconds.

Shoulder Co-Contraction

Image of shoulder co-contraction exercise.

One of the best ways to stabilize any joint in the body is to co-contract the musculature that surrounds it so that there is equal and opposite pull in all directions around the joint space.

  1. Start in Tabletop Pose on all fours with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your hips stacked over your knees. Spread your fingers wide and evenly space between them. Press into the perimeter of your palms and grip at the mat with your fingertips. Activate your core.

  2. Press down against the floor to very subtly round your upper back.

  3. Counter this by plugging your upper arm bones in toward your shoulder sockets.

  4. Without movement, energetically squeeze your arms in toward the midline of your body.

  5. Very subtly broaden your chest as if making your collarbones smile.

  6. Hold for about 30 seconds in this strongly integrated position. Option to lift your knees and work this same co-contraction in Plank Pose.

How Scapular Stabilization Exercises Create Stability in Yoga Practice

Yoga utilizes a lot of weight-bearing shapes. Plank Pose, Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana), Upward-Facing Dog Pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana), Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana), Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana), Headstand Pose (Sirsasana), Handstand Pose (Adho Mukha Vrksasana), Forearm Stand Pose (Pinca Mayurasana), Crow Pose (Bakasana), and many, many more poses require strength and stability in the shoulder girdle. 

Help your body to build the strength it needs to support these shapes and more with these scapular stabilization exercises. Not only will you feel stronger and more secure in these poses, but you may also find yourself effortlessly floating into arm balances and inversions that you never could practice before!  

 

Judith Hanson Lasater, Yoga teacher, Restorative Yoga, YogaU presenter, the Yoga Sutras and yoga philosophy

 

Leah SugermanLeah Sugerman is a yoga teacher, writer, and passionate world traveler. An eternally grateful student, she has trained in countless schools and traditions of the practice. She teaches a fusion of the styles she has studied with a strong emphasis on breath, alignment, and anatomical integrity. Leah teaches workshops, retreats, and trainings, both internationally and online. For more information, visit www.leahsugerman.com.