Scapular stability has been a phrase cemented in my head ever since I started lifted a couple years back. It was always implemented in my workouts with the trainers I worked with because it was vital to keep the shoulder healthy, especially for baseball players. Now, you’re all probably thinking the same thing I was thinking.
“What the hell is a scapular and how is it helping me?”
The scapular is the fancy scientific way of saying shoulder blade. The scapula is part of the shoulder girdle, which also consists of the clavicle bone.
In basic anatomy, we are taught that the scapulae connect the humerus to the clavicle (the humerus is the bone located in the superior part of our arms). The scapulae also welcome many muscle attachments, including the serratus anterior, pec minor, rhomboids, traps, and lats to name a few. In simpler terms, for the scapulae to function properly, the muscles attached to them must fire together to provide sufficient movement. Before we get into specifics on the scap however, it’s important to have a firm grasp on how shoulder mobility works.
Shoulder Mobility: Overview
Out of all the joints in the human body, the shoulder joint has the most range of motion. This is the reason why the shoulder provides us with the most mobility. Without mobile shoulders, various motions we perform would be difficult to accomplish, if possible at all. For example, a simple exercise like a pushup would most likely result in pain due to immobility. However, the ball and socket joint gives us a great range of mobility, so we don’t have to worry about this.
The shoulder connects the humerus, clavicle, and scapula together with three specific joints. These joints are the glenohumeral joint, acromioclavicular joint, and sternoclavicular joint. Here is how these three joints break down.
Glenohumeral joint: The ball and socket joint (shoulder joint) that connects the head of the humerus to the concave (hollow) section of the scapula.
Acromioclavicular joint: The joint that connects the acromion and clavicle together. The acromion is the superior part of your scapulae.
Sternoclavicular joint: This joint connects the sternum and clavicle together, as it’s name expresses. (2)
Movements (aka where most of you will fast-forward)
Below is an example of movement of the shoulders, it is also one of the most beneficial exercises around in regards to scapular stability!
The movements of the shoulder occur through motion of the scapula and humerus. The scapula can rectract (adduct), protract (abduct), downwardly rotate, upwardly rotate, elevate, and depress. For these movements to occur, the rhomboids, traps, serratus, pecs, levator scapulae, subclavius and lats must be working in sync with the movement they’re assigned too. For example, without proper contraction from the rhomboids (major and minor) as well as the trapezius family, the scapular can’t retract the way it’s supposed to.
Other movements that rely on the humerus include arm abduction, adduction, flexion, extension, medial and lateral rotation, and circumduction. The scapular is heavily involved with arm abduction and adduction because it must upwardly rotate and downwardly rotate, respectively.
Because of the shoulder’s wide range of mobility, something must be “insufficient” in a sense to neutralize this movement. This is how scapular instability is created.
So, if scapular stability is the goal, how do we get there? Thanks to a key article written by Mike Robertson, it’s quite simple to understand how to achieve a stable base for the scaps to function.
“If your thoracic spine is in a poor resting alignment, your scapulae will never be in the right position.” (3)
Thoracic mobility, the key to proper movement with everything we do with regards to our upper half. How often do you see people with rounded shoulders in everyday life? We see it a lot in older people, as well as people that sit in front of a computer 8 hours a day at their office. This poor posture is known as kyphosis, which basically means having a curve in your thoracic spine. If you’ve ever seen the Hunchback of Notre Dame, you can automatically picture the character with the worst posture in the movie.
So how do we make sure we maintain proper posture throughout our thoracic spine? It’s actually a fairly simple concept, it takes basic mobility exercises as well as an emphasis on pulling variations to keep your posterior chain strong. Most of the time when you see poor posture in the gym, it’s usually one of those meatheads that have a hard time scratching their back because all they do is bench. Pushing exercises without a healthy balance of pulling exercises will cause kyphosis. Think about this…
Your body is extremely smart, it evolves with the movements we create. This is simply known as our muscle memory. If you constantly press weights without an adequate amount of pulling movements to retract our shoulder back into proper positioning, you’re going to have poor posture. Plain and simple. If you’re one of the people that have this imbalance, 1) learn how to workout properly 2) here are some mobility drills that can help you out!