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Episode 275: Scapula & Shoulder Mastery: Pain Relief and Performance

Video Highlights

- Why the scapula?
- Basic drill demo.
- Drill advancements.

Today we’re going to look at three specific ways to improve scapula, or shoulder blade, mobility and strength.

One of the questions I get asked a lot in courses is about the shoulder blade, or scapula. In the modern fitness environment lots of people like to do overhead work, in sports obviously we’re doing overhead work. Having a mobile and strong scapula is very, very important for a lot of different reasons in terms of shoulder control, keeping your back healthy, making sure you have decent posture.

There’s a lot of stuff, a lot of reasons that you want to have scapular control.

What I’m going to do is I’m going to take you through three different versions of an exercise we call a camshaft, and you can call it whatever you want. It’s basically making circles with your scapula or your shoulder blade. The three areas that we’re going to do this, we’re going to first do a straight arm version, then we’re going to do a bent arm version and then we’re going to do a banded version utilizing an exercise band to work on some strength.

The basics of this are quite simple in terms of thinking, performing it’s a little bit of different story. We’re going to start off with the easiest position, which is going to be … I want you to take one arm, put the thumb on top, lock the elbow.

The elbow needs to stay locked throughout the standard straight arm camshaft because we don’t want you using your biceps or recruiting it too much to make the motion happen. What you’re going to do is you’re going to stand in neutral, you’re going to take the arm directly out to the side … Not up to the front but out to the side on about a 40-degree angle or so.

From here, what you need to do is you need to focus on your shoulder blade, lift it up to your ear, pull it back to the mid-line, so in other words pull it back to your spine. Now, pull it down to your hip and then punch it forward. We’re going up, back, down and forward. Once we’ve gotten that comfortably we want to go ahead and smooth that out and create a circle.

This is like a motor coordination control drill. It’s giving you some awareness, or hopefully increasing your awareness of your shoulder blade. Notice that as I’m doing this my hand is not making a big circle, which is the number one error that you will see, other than the bent elbow. It’s as if you grabbed a rope, you’re holding onto the rope and your shoulder is moving while your hand is staying fixed in place.

That’s what I want you to focus on. Once you’ve done the straight arm version and have started to master some of these movements, I then want you to go to a bent-arm version. Really simple, flex the elbow to 90 degrees and then repeat the movement.

Muscled man facing away with arms outstretched

Some people will actually find this much more challenging because the motor control feels a little different when you don’t have the long arm lever.

Step one: Straight arm.
Step two: Bent arm.
Step three: We then need to add a band to it.

In this particular case since I’m working my right side, I have an exercise band attached and right now I’m going to keep it basically at hand level.

If we wanted to adopt the same position, I’m going to have to rotate my body a little bit this way and I’m going to get some pressure from the band. Once again, I’m going to go through the basic camshaft. This is just giving me a little additional load and obviously I can have a much heavier band if I want more strength work.

Now that you’ve seen that, here’s the important part: A lot of people that go through our courses, they learn this because this is the basic movement that we teach on our DVDs and our courses, but what we’re always trying to emphasize is that you do not want to have coordination only in one movement pattern or only in one body position.

Once you’ve mastered straight arm, bent arm and done some strength work, now you need to start playing with body angles, or shoulder angles. What we tell people is, think in terms of six positions: I have a top position, I should be able to do a camshaft there. I have a bottom position, I should be able to do a camshaft there, so top and bottom. I have side, directly out to the side. This is a weird one.

You have to kind of figure out how the scapula is supposed to move. Then a cross-body, so my shoulder is staying square but I’m reaching across. This one is often quite complicated or difficult for people, depending on their relative level of flexibility.

We have top, we have bottom, we have side, we have cross-body, then we have just basic front position here and then back where we’re really trying to extend this one becomes probably the most difficult of all of them because of the tension on the scapula and a limited range of motion.

If you’re looking for a really confident scapula, a smart one, what you need to do is, again, think straight arm, bent arm, banded and then six different positions. You do that with both shoulders, give this a little bit of practice over one to two months, what you will find is a massive improvement of freedom in your ranges of motion, your strength levels and also just the general comfort and less tension that you’re going to carry throughout the day.

Good luck with this.

If you have any questions about it please let us know.

Otherwise, enjoy your new shoulders.

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