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Scapular Stabilization Exercise

Nadia Santiago
woman exercising

Strengthen your shoulders, improve your posture, and reduce tension in your neck and upper back with scapular stabilization exercise. There are a variety of moves that you can perform during your warmup or as part of your resistance-training routine to achieve these goals.

Exercises for Winging Scapula

The scapula can take on a winged appearance, due to poor posture, such as sitting with your shoulders rounded forward, or as a result of nerve damage. The key is to practice exercises that contract the muscles attached to the scapula. While most upper back and shoulder exercises do this, some are ideal for priming external shoulder rotation.

Rounding and Retraction

Scapular retraction is a basic stabilization exercise similar to the cat-cow combination used in yoga. The key differences are that you keep your back flat and hips stable. For variety, you can complete this same move standing with your hands against the wall.

Wall Slides

Wall slides allow you to practice maintaining proper shoulder alignment by using the wall as a support mechanism. Perform these for a full minute during your warmup to help lubricate the shoulder joint before your workout.

  1. Begin standing with your back against the wall.
  2. Raise your arms up above your head, palms facing forward.
  3. Keeping your arms as close to the wall as possible, slide your elbows down until they reach the side of your rib cage. As you do so, draw your shoulder blades together on your back.

Dumbell Peck Deck

The peck deck, typically performed on a machine to work the chest, can be performed with dumbbells to rotate the scapula.

  1. Begin holding a light to medium set of dumbbells with your arms bent to 90 degrees and your hands over your elbows. Elbows should be shoulder level.
  2. Squeeze your elbows in toward own another, bringing them as close together as possible. Allow your upper back to round.
  3. Reverse directions, drawing your shoulder blades together on your back and reaching your elbows back as far as you can.

Repeat for eight to 12 repetitions, three times through, with your abdominals engaged to avoid arching your back. This exercise can be challenging, so begin with light weights and work your way up from there.

Row Variations

The row is a pulling motion that can be performed in multiple directions. All variations involve scapular engagement. Alternate which one you use on different days or complete them all in one workout for a comprehensive routine. Maximize strength and stabilization by performing eight to ten repetitions of whichever exercise you choose three times through.

Upright Row

The upright row works the shoulders isotonically through drawing back of the scapula. This exercise can be tough for those who lack flexibility and strength in the shoulders, so it's best to start off with light weights.

Low Row

The simplest way to perform a low row is with a cable pulley.

  1. Begin in an upright position, seated or standing, gripping the handles with your palms facing one another. Handles should be at the level of your chest or ribcage.
  2. Pull the handles toward your chest, keeping your elbows hugged tight to your ribcage and squeezing your shoulders together on our back. Make sure to externally rotate your shoulders and lift your chest as you perform this movement.
  3. Return to the starting position.

Avoid rounding your shoulders or leaning your body forward as you row. The entire move should be completed with your body tall.

High Row

The high row is performed the same way as the low row, but with your elbows in line with your shoulders.

Rear Delt Fly Variations

The rear delt fly builds shoulder muscle, reduced the appearance of back fat, and fully mobilizes the scapula by engaging surrounding muscles.

Classic Rear Delt Fly

Perform a classic rear delt fly in one of several ways.

  • Bent over with dumbbells
  • Upright with a cable pulley
  • Leaning back with a TRX, or another suspension trainer

Complete three rounds of eight to ten repetitions during your workout.

TRX Face Pull

A variation on the delt fly that you can complete using TRX suspension training equipment is the face pull, also known as a "W."

  1. Begin by leaning back, facing the anchor point.
  2. Pull your hands back toward the sides of your head and drop your elbows down toward the sides of your rib cage. Lead with your knuckles and draw your shoulder blades down and back.
  3. Slowly release to the starting position.

Complete two to three rounds of eight repetitions.

TRX Y

A more challenging move is the "Y" fly, also performed with a TRX.

  1. Begin facing the anchor point, leaning back, body long like a plank.
  2. Keeping your scapula drawn down and arms straight, raise your hands up and overhead so that your body makes the shape of the letter "y."
  3. Return to the starting position.

Stop after eight repetitions, take a break, then do it again.

Protect and Mobilize

Scapular stabilization exercises are meant to help strengthen and move the muscles around your scapula, so that you have full mobility in your shoulder. They also enhance your posture and protect your shoulders from pain due to injury. Add them to your routine once or twice a week to ensure that you reap the benefits.

Scapular Stabilization Exercise