Here are a few fitness terms you might hear at a gym, in a fitness video, or from a physiotherapist: protraction, retraction, elevation, and depression. Add to this the upward rotation, and a downward rotation. These are primarily used when the focus is on the shoulders. And they are all engaging the scapula, which is an anatomical marvel. They are better known as shoulder blades, so they are technically bones. However, they work with joints and muscles for ensuring a healthy range of motion for the shoulders.
The scapula are also the bones around which a massage feels really good. There is a reason for that. The muscles around it are being worked throughout the day, making it important to strengthen and keep them mobile.
Also Read How to stay fit during summer
“[The scapula] is attached to the ribcage by ligaments and muscles, called the scapula stabilizers. Many muscles attach onto the scapula, including the muscles of your rotator cuff. Often the importance of strengthening the muscles controlling the shoulder blade is forgotten. Having a strong, stable, and well moving scapula is important for all baseball, basketball, swimming, overhead lifting or any sport involving the arm,” states an article on physiotherapy providers westcoastsci, titled Importance of Scapular (Shoulder) Stability.
The best part about training the muscles around the scapula—mainly the serratus anterior, the rotator cuffs and the trapezius muscles—is that they are involved in so many exercises already. So all you need to do is to add just a few extra, specific, moves to an existing exercise, and your shoulders will be happy.
The simplest scapula add-on is what fitness trainers like calling the ‘push-up plus’, a variation of the scapular pushup. The only difference between this and a conventional pushup is that one has to flare at the end—protracting your shoulder blades by pushing further away from the floor after the elbows are locked out. The video below shows you how to do it.
Some people may find it hard to isolate the muscles during a pushup plus, and they can try using the more basic scapular pushup to learn what it feels like when engaging those muscles. This guide by MoveU will help:
We now move to a more fun exercise, posted by Jeremy Ethier, who has more than 5 million subscribers on YouTube. He suggests doing something he calls “serratus jabs” in which the movement is based on a jab from boxing. You can use either a resistance band or the cable machine to do this. The main benefit of this exercise is that it covers for the upward rotation of the scapula which the push-up plus can’t account for. Set up the cable or the band at a lower angle so that your motion is upwards.
“Get into the starting position with your arm by your side and all you’re going to do now is perform an upward punching motion which can be broken down into two distinct phases. Phase 1 simply involves you punching forward, and then phase 2 involves the active protraction of your scapula at the end of the punch,” Ethier says. Repeat the movement once your elbows are back to your side.
Now that you’ve learnt how to activate the scapular muscles and add an upwards motion to them, it is time to focus on the strengthening and the size of them. Here comes the face-pull, the best scapular muscle building exercise. Not only because it is fool proof, but also because of the sheer number of variations and angles it can provide. It is also one of those exercises you can throw on any day in the gym as a finisher or as a beginner. It will put the muscles through abduction and adduction, and also external rotation at the end of each rep.
If you are feeling the burn in your lower back, change the stance and even feel free to do the exercise kneeling down. Even a staggered stance will work, where one foot is ahead of the other. Use a lighter weight when you start off because the efficacy of this exercise is highly reliant on the right form.
“The success of this exercise stems from your ability to maintain good posture. This means you’re standing up tall, elbows pointing out, palms facing in, and shoulders down and back. If the weight is too heavy, there’s a tendency to fall forward and out of this stance, which increases the strain on your lower back and takes the tension off the area you’re trying to target,” says a Healthline.com article titled How To Do Face Pulls With And Without A Machine.
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.