Scapular Strength and Stability

With the CrossFit Open 2016 upon us we are learning a lot about our strengths and weaknesses ( well I know I am) . We are challenging ourselves and getting to see the progress we have made , some of which we may not have given ourselves credit for till we went outside our comfort zone and competed in this world wide competition .

After open wod 16.1 from all the posts I read and conversations I had  with other athletes the biggest surprise seemed to be  the overhead lunges and the effect they had on their shoulders. Glaring scapular strength and instability issues came to light. For me this was no surprise as this is an area I struggle with and I am actively working on. Through exercises and side work programmed for me by my coach at CrossFit Perpetua , I am seeing great progress in this area that is translating into all aspects of my upper body strength and overhead stability .

People new to CrossFit and training (myself included) often overdevelop the upper traps .  While these are important for moving big weight and will be of benefit , if you want healthy, pain free, strong, unimpeded shoulders there are a lot more muscles that need to be in balance!

An often overlooked muscle is the lower trap, which is very important to overall scapular stability. If you want to improve overhead strength and stability along with pulling, pressing and pushing then get those lower traps healthy and strong! This will also help to stop overloading the rotator cuff muscles (an all too common issue that I myself have suffered from too ).
Everyone should be doing shoulder mobility and stability work even if you have yet to encounter a shoulder pain or issue. Prevention is better than cure as they say!

I recommend that all athletes discuss this with their coach and ask them if they can recommend some exercises or side work that will help to develop scapular strength & stability along with range of motion. It may not be as exciting as those big lifts or intense workouts but mark my words if you want to progress, give the time to building strength and working mobility. This will prevent injuries and hitting numerous brick walls in your progress.

With this in mind here are some of the exercises I do to work my lower traps and improve my scapular strength and stability.


Get in the push-up position: straight arms, tight core, and straight legs. Retract your scapula, and then protract it. (Tighten your shoulder blades, and then spread them apart.) Keep your arms straight the whole time. Range of motion will be extremely short in this exercise.


Set up on a pull up bar with arms at full extension. Without flexing your elbows, pull your shoulder blades together. You should rise several inches as the scapula are pulled together. Hold, then return and repeat.


Using an elevated bench lay down on one side, you can lean Grab a dumbbell/plate in your hand and let hang down in front of body off the bench. Palm should be turned toward body and arm straight. This is the starting position.

Initiate the movement with scap retraction raising the dumbbell up until is above your shoulder. Pause, then lower dumbbell back down slowly to starting position.


Begin with your arms extended straight out in front of you, holding the band with both hands. Initiate the movement by moving your hands out laterally to your sides. Keep your elbows extended as you perform the movement, bringing the band to your chest. Ensure that you keep your shoulders back during the exercise. Pause as you complete the movement, returning to the starting position under control.


Stand up tall hold the band between each hand with the elbows at the side and bent to 90 degrees.  Keep the palms facing up and the thumbs pointed out.  Retract the shoulder blades and pull the band apart, trying to keep the elbows close to the body. Return slowly to the starting position.


This is just a small selection of many exercises that can help.  Talk to your coach about which are best for you to start with and they can set you rep schemes, band strengths, weights and tempos to suit your ability and specific needs.



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