Scapula exercises and scapular workouts will help you build strength and stability in your upper back so that you have better control of your shoulder girdle and upper back muscles.
But, what are the best scapula strength exercises? How should you structure a shoulder blade workout for functional strength and upper back definition?
In this article, we will discuss how to put together an effective shoulder blade workout for strength and stability in the muscles controlling the scapula and provide step-by-step instructions for some of the best scapula exercises for strength:
- Push-Ups With Presses
- Resistance Band Alphabet Soup
- Reaching Rows
- Stability Ball Push-Ups
- Resistance Band Push-Ups
Let’s get going!
A Complete Scapula Workout
The best scapula workouts improve muscular endurance as well as muscular strength. The muscles control scapular function and stability and need to develop stamina as the priority, though strength is also important.
For this reason, with scapula exercises that really just target the muscles controlling the scapula rather than the larger and stronger upper back muscles like the traps and lats as well, it is better to work with lighter weights and higher reps.
Essentially, aim to follow the recommendations for increasing muscular endurance rather than guidelines for hypertrophy or strength.
This means you should do three sets of at least 15 reps per exercise at 65% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM) for the load.
Once you can perform 15 to 20 reps with the resistance you have been using, you can move up in weight or resistance.
Here are some of the best scap exercises to include in your scapular workouts:
#1: Push-Ups With Presses
Any type of push-up is a good scapula exercise, but for workouts where you really want to strengthen your scapula stabilizing muscles, such as the serratus anterior, you can perform this push-up variation.
Essentially, after you are back up after performing the push-up, you will continue pressing through the floor to further protract your shoulder blades and lift your upper back beyond neutral.
This extra pressing motion involves scapular protraction and then retraction to return to the starting position, which makes it one of the best scap exercises for the serratus anterior and rhomboids.
Furthermore, the extra push upward extends the range of motion of the exercise, increasing your time under tension to help maximize your upper body strength and hypertrophy gains.
Here are the steps for this scapular strength exercise:
- Get into the standard position for a push-up with your toes on the ground and your hands stacked under your shoulders. Make sure that your body is in a straight line from the top of your head to your heels.
- Keeping your core and glutes tight and maintaining that straight line posture with your body, bend your elbows to lower your chest towards the floor. Pause for one second just before your chest touches down on the floor.
- Press through your palms to raise your body back up to the starting position as you extend your elbows.
- Continue pushing through your hands so that your shoulder blades protract forward and your upper back rounds up above your shoulder level.
- Hold this top position for one second.
- Slowly lower your body back down toward the ground by bending your elbows and retracting your shoulder blades as you move into the next rep.
#2: Resistance Band Alphabet Soup
Many of the best upper back workouts include scapular exercises for the rhomboids, levator scapula, and the serratus anterior such as the Y, T, I, and W exercises.
These scapula exercises are typically performed with dumbbells, but using a resistance band helps provide constant tension throughout the range of motion to accelerate your improvements in strength and maximize the effectiveness of the muscular endurance of the muscles that stabilize your scapula as they move through their range of motion.
Additionally, this resistance band scapula exercise is fantastic for strengthening the rotator cuff muscles, which in turn, help provide better control of the shoulder girdle, including scapular motion.
Before you start working with a heavier resistance band, build up the number of reps that you are doing to 15 to 20, and then switch to a firmer band.
Here are the steps to perform these postural and scapula exercises with a resistance band:
- Anchor a resistance band with handles to a secure attachment point around chest height.
- Hold a handle in each hand and step back from the anchor point until there is a little bit of tension on the band. Keep your chest up, shoulders down, core and glutes engaged, and feet shoulder-width apart.
- Then, you will perform 15 to 20 reps of the I, Y, W, T, and L.
- Perform all of the reps of each letter before moving on to the next letter.
- For the letter I, bring your arms straight up overhead with your elbows fully extended.
- Pull back on the band by retracting your shoulder blades and squeezing your rhomboids, posterior deltoids, and rotator cuff muscles.
- The range of motion will not be particularly large, but you want to make sure that there is tension on the band, even in the starting position when your arms are straight up overhead.
- For the letter Y, keep your arms straight and move them out to a 45° angle.
- For the letter T, straighten your arms out to the side so that they are parallel to the ground.
- For letter W, keep your elbows down by your shoulders but raise your hands up and out to the sides.
- For the letter L, each arm is making an L rather than your whole body, so bring your upper arms out to the side as if you were going to do a T, but then bend your elbows and straighten your lower arm and hands directly up towards the ceiling so that your elbows are at a 90° angle away from your body and your hands are up overhead.
#3: Reaching Rows
The single-arm row is an excellent exercise for your lats, traps, rhomboids, and posterior deltoids.
This variation increases the activation of the serratus anterior, a key muscle involved in stabilizing the scapula.
By reaching forward before initiating the row, you separate your scapula even further than normal, requiring the serratus anterior and rhomboids to help retract the shoulder blades through a larger range of motion.
As such, this is one of the best scapula strength exercises to increase functional strength and stability in the muscles controlling the shoulder blades.
Here are the steps to perform this one of our scapular exercises:
- Set the cable pulley or resistance band at shoulder height with a single handle attachment.
- Hold the handle in one hand and step back from the anchor point so that there’s tension on the band or cable.
- Stand in a staggered stance with the opposite leg in front and the leg on the side, holding the cable in the back.
- Brace your core, keep your shoulders up, and make sure that your hips and shoulders remain square to the anchor point and one another.
- In the starting position, the cable should be pulling your arm forward a bit so that you feel a good stretch in your back and through your serratus anterior muscle.
- Then, bend your elbow and engage all of your upper back muscles to pull the cable or band towards your body along the outside of your ribs.
- Hold the end position for 2 to 3 seconds.
- Slowly return the cable to the starting position, reaching forward as far as possible so that you again feel that stretch or pull between your shoulder blades with your scapula protracting forward before initiating the next rep.
#4: Stability Ball Push-Ups
The reason that this push-up variation is good for your scapula workouts is due to the fact that the muscles that work to stabilize the scapula have to engage throughout the duration of the exercise because your feet are balancing on an unstable surface.
You have to actively squeeze your rhomboids, rotator cuff muscles, serratus anterior, and your upper traps to provide a stable base of support for your scapula to control shoulder movement.
#5: Resistance Band Push-Ups
Another one of the best scapula exercises is the resistance band push-up.
This exercise builds muscular strength and endurance in your rhomboids and serratus anterior. You will be increasing not only your contractile and dynamic strength but also your isometric strength and stability.
Here are the steps:
- Place a small loop resistance band around your wrist and get into the normal push-up position with tension on the band.
- Perform standard push-ups, keeping your hands planted in place so that you are actively pushing against the inside of the band with your wrists and engaging your serratus anterior throughout the duration of the set.
For more shoulder workout ideas, check out our guide here.