Pilates Principle No 4: Scapular Mobility and Stability

Principle 4: Scapular (Shoulder Blade) Mobility and Stabilisation


The next principle is scapular mobility and stabilisaton.  The scapular have only one bony attachment to the skeleton:  at the acromio-clavicular joint (that bony protrusion at the top of the shoulders).  They are slightly rounded in their appearance as they are meant to hug and follow the shape of the back of the ribcage.  Because of the lack of bony attachment, they are highly mobile – they can slide upwards (elevate), downwards (depression), protract (slide around to the sides of the ribs), retract (slide towards each other, towards the spine), upwardly rotate (when lifting your arms above your head), and downwardly rotate (think taking your arms behind your back and reaching towards the floor).  So these little suckers are really very mobile which gives us great motion at the shoulder joint … we can make great big circular motions with our arms quite comfortably because of that mobility.  Ideally, they should sit between your Thoracic vertebrae 2 and 5 with roughly two finger widths from the spine each side…. That’s ideally….. and it’s what we’re aiming for here.

This fabulous mobility allows great range through the shoulder joints, but also means that they are particularly suspectible to muscular imbalances.  There are too many postural defects to explain here, but basically there is a lot which can go a little wrong (or a lot) with the shoulders!  These muscular imbalances can cause all sorts of issues such as impingement, rotator cuff issues, neck and shoulder pain, compression of the neck vertebra causing tingling in the arms/fingers, tight chest muscles, inability to breathe deeply, head forward or flat neck, jaw issues and a hunch back!   A common postural defect is the rounded shoulder posture …. Think bad posture sitting at a desk – you tend to roll your shoulders forward causing the scapula to sit in an elevated and slightly protracted placement.  The muscles required to perform that action get shorter as they adapt over time to their position, while their opposing muscles  get weaker and longer making it harder for them to work.

So once you’ve set principles 2 and 3, this principle aims at starting any exercise with your scapular in the correct position before you move, and then ensuring appropriate movement of the scapular through various movements.  To set your scapular before movement, I like to think about gently drawing your shoulder blades down your spine in a V shape.  That’s a gentle drawing down into the V shape, not a jamming down!  We want to encourage stability, but need to allow for appropriate movement with no tension.  To prevent the shoulders rolling forwards or squeezing backwards, we want to think about broadening across the shoulder girdle or widening the collarbone.


Let’s do an exercise to assist in understanding scap stability through movement:

  1. Lying supine (on your back), knees flexed. Take your arms toward the ceiling with palms facing in and level with your shoulders (zombie arms).  Set your scapula by having the sensation of gently drawing down the back in a V.  Now as you exhale, gently reach your arms toward the ceiling, keeping your spine neutral and still.  You just want to feel the shoulder blades glide around your ribs.  Don’t allow the shoulders to roll forward, stay wide across the shoulder girdle.  Inhale, gently draw them back around your ribs and back to neutral.  Repeat a few times to warm up the muscles and see if you can get a bit more movement through protraction.
  2. Staying in your zombie arms, inhale and gently draw them towards each other on the back of the ribcage without extending the spine or pinching up into the neck. And exhale release back to neutral. This is your retraction.
  3. Lying in the same position, place your arms by your side, palms flat. As you exhale, slide your fingers towards your feet and feel how your shoulder blades slide down your ribcage, or depress.  Then as you inhale, gently glide them up towards your ears without pinching the muscles: elevation.
  4. Now, with your hands lying beside your hips with your palms up, start to circle your arms along the floor to above your head (snow angels), trying to keep your collar bone wide and open. This is upward rotation as they slide up and around to open the shoulder.  Now, snow angel circle them back to the side of the hips, reaching through your fingers: downward rotation.


When all your bits are all in place with reference to the principles, your shoulders can use the full range of motion easily without getting jammed, or pinching which reduces the occurrence of unnecessary strain and injury!  Good bye to neck and shoulder issues!



Julie Ojeda

Pilates Nation


Julie is a fully certified STOTT PILATES® instructor and holds Cert IV Allied Health Assistant; Cert IV Fitness and has completed numerous additional courses in Pilates for Injuries & Special Populations,  Athletic Conditioning, Pilates for Children & Adolescents, Pilates for Pre & Post Natal Clients


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