May 24, 2016

Scap Activation and Shoulder Mobility/Strength.

In the previous Bootcamp newsletter, Frazer showed us some excellent exercises to do with regards to shoulder mobility and strength, which we both learnt whilst attending the Irish Strength Institute Symposium in Dublin, back in July. I will continue in this article with some more exercises which were shown to us from some highly reputable practitioners within the industry, in particular, Dr. Eric Serrano.

Having played rugby professionally for 5 years of my life, as well as being in an elite sporting environment for over 15 years, in an array of different sports (weightlifting, judo, gymnastics, rugby). One of the key areas of which I have found to be of great importance to an injury free and healthy career; is the ability to recruit or ‘activate’ the correct muscles at the correct time, whether it be lifting a dumbbell above my head, moving furniture around the house, carrying shopping or making a tackle in rugby.

This activation from birth (generally speaking) is something which comes naturally to us, as we don’t have muscle dissymmetries and we haven’t yet strengthened areas which later in life make us ‘lazy’ when performing movements. Take a baby for example, drop something on the floor and they will use a perfect technique to squat down and pick that object up (see photo).


The body will always find the easiest method of performing a physical movement. Take for example sitting at an office desk, what do we do? We slouch! Because we are lazy, we don’t activate our posterior chain, our muscles throughout our back become lax and the weight of our body slumps forward because it is an ‘easier’ way to keep ourselves up at a desk. This causes all sorts of havoc when coming to train, as these muscles have been lying dormant all day, or maybe even a few days depending on how many times a week we train. As coaches we should bare this in mind when training our clients!


We shouldn’t be going straight into lifting heavy, or doing anything strenuous, as that client may end up performing the movement with an incorrect technique and/or using the wrong muscles. We need to ensure that the dormant muscles are activated and functioning properly before lifting heavy/moving vigorously.

One of the key areas of activation within the upper body is the scapular region, every upper body exercise will involve this area in one form or another, so it is essential that we strengthen this area within our clients.


As you can see, this area of the body is very complex. The following exercise is one that was shown to us by Dr. Eric Serrano and performed correctly, can activate, strengthen and mobilise this region to promote and injury free client.


Phase 1

Lie face down on a slightly inclined bench, with feet in a squat position and firmly placed on the floor (core and legs should be tensed at all time). With your face flat against the bench, hands are to be raised up to the side of the head, bringing your shoulder blades together (please see photo). Perform 3 sets of 30 seconds

Phase 2

Keeping core and squat position braced, as well as face remaining in contact with the bench, slowly straighten arms so that they are above head. It is essential that the client is keeping shoulder blades together whilst extending their arms and is trying to reach as high as they possibly can with their hands – put your hands there as a marker of where they are expected to reach (see photo). Over time, the marker for how high the client is expected to reach can be risen, promoting mobility within the shoulder and scapular region. Perform 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions


Phase 3

Now that the movement has been learnt, it is time to start putting some weight through the area. You will find that the clients with more mobility in the shoulders will be able to lift heavier weight. I have seen the strongest of men, with limited shoulder mobility, struggle at a very light weight with this exercise. Start with a weight between 3-7kg and ensure that the client is keeping face on the bench, shoulder blades together, extending the weights to above the head – reaching the target (your hands) and making sure the lift is nice and controlled (time under tension). Please see photo attached for a better explanation. Perform 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.

Some areas to make sure that the clients are performing this movement correctly: Feet are to stay firmly on the ground, Core to be firmly braced, Face to stay on the bench, Shoulder blades together, Controlled lift, with a slight pause at the top of the extension phase Reaching target, which should be higher than head (the more mobility the higher you can put the target).

Thanks for reading, I hope you have enjoyed. Any questions, please don’t hesitate to email me

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