What I’m about to share with you are some of the most boring exercises you’ll ever do.
They are simple and, most of the time, easy to do. But they are boring as hell.
That’s why the few people that know them, don’t do them as often as they should.
If you do the exercises I’m about to tell you, you’ll progress much easier and faster to advanced calisthenics skills (like the front and back lever).
On top of that, mastering these positions will give you more control in your movements and your chances of getting injured will be close to zero.
But what happens if you don’t strengthen your scapula?
For starters, your chances of getting injured are much higher. Even with an exercise as simple as the dip, if you fail to keep the right shoulder position, you may get injured.
And, if that wasn’t enough… if you want to progress to more advanced moves, you’ll have to train with them anyway.
So why not do it right from the start?
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know to strengthen your scapula and gain the control you need.
You’ll also learn the exercises and progressions to train with. From beginner to advanced.
In addition, I’ll show you the positions for each basic movement and some things you need to be careful about when performing such movements.
Lastly, I’ll share with you some of the ways you can add these exercises to your current training program.
Enough with the intro.
Let’s dive into…
Table of Contents
The 4 Basic Scapula Positions
Every exercise you’re doing with your upper body is using one or two of the following positions.
In many exercises, if you lose the right position, the risk of getting injured increases.
So pay close attention.
With that said, the most important position to strengthen is this…
#1. Scapula Depression
A good rule to remember is that every time you bend your arms, your scapula should be depressed.
In this position, your shoulders are more stable and able to apply force more safely.
Many people tend to overlook this position and get injured in their shoulders.
To achieve shoulder depression, you press your shoulders downward. Try to get them as far from your ears as possible.
Which leads us to…
#2. Scapula Elevation
This is the exact opposite of scapula depression.
Here your shoulders are close to your ears.
#3. Scapula Retraction
To achieve this position, you pull your shoulders back trying to pinch your shoulder-blades together.
#4. Scapula Protraction
This is the opposite of retraction.
To achieve this position, you push your shoulders forward.
When you’re doing any movement, most of the time you’ll be combining two of the above positions.
For example, in the front lever you’ll be using depression and retraction. I’ll share more examples later on.
If you can’t visualize each position yet, don’t worry. You’ll see each one in detail in the next sections.
Now let’s see how you can strengthen each scapula position.
[Note: In all exercises, your elbows should remain locked at all times.
And, take it easy. The point is to get stronger. Not to injure yourself.
And, one last thing before moving on, train all the positions equally.]
Exercises For Shoulder Depression
To strengthen this position, you need some equipment.
A pull-up bar, or something you can safely hang from, is the most appropriate.
You can also use two chairs (like you’d use dip bars).
The exercise is simple.
All you have to do is:
1. Hang on a pull-up bar and relax. Let your shoulders get as close to your ears as possible (you should feel a slight stretch). That position is called dead-hang or passive hang (see below).
2. Then, by using your lats (mostly) you pull your shoulders down and away from your ears. That’s an active hang (see below).
You can make the exercise easier by using support from your legs.
You can make it harder by doing them with one arm. But that’s a little more advanced.
You can train for reps, or hold the active hang for time.
When you train with this exercise, you’ll quickly notice that it’s a great exercise for your grip strength as well.
If you want to hit two birds with one stone, this is a great opportunity to train your grip without increasing the time of your workouts.
You can find a lot of ways on how to do that in Untapped Strength.
[Note: Take these exercises easy in the beginning. Allow your shoulders to get used to the new range of motion. Do not rush the process. That’s not the point. Remember, the goal is to strengthen your shoulders to avoid injury and progress faster.]
Exercises For Shoulder Elevation
Since this is the opposite of depression, it makes sense to train with the exact opposite exercise.
So, the main exercise to train this position would be the handstand.
Here are the instructions:
- Get into a handstand (preferably with wall support)
- Let your shoulders come close to your ears.
- Press on the floor and move your body up as your shoulders move away from your ears.
Here’s how it looks like:
You can make this exercise easier by doing it from the pike push-up position instead of handstand position.
You can train for reps or time.
If you have access to weights, you can train scapula elevation with shoulder shrugs.
Exercises For Shoulder Retraction
Once again, it’s easier to train this position if you have a pull up bar.
Here’s how to train this position:
- Get into the horizontal pull-up position.
- Allow your shoulder to retract (move away from one another).
- Then, pull your shoulder back slowly. Imagine you’re trying to squeeze a penny with your shoulder-blades.
You can see how the exercise looks in the video below:
Try to maintain your shoulders depressed or neutral at all times.
You can make the exercise easier by bending your legs.
Or, you can make it harder by doing it with one arm.
And, in the same fashion, we move to the last position…
Exercises For Shoulder Protraction
Being the opposite of retraction, you can train protraction with the opposite movement.
In short, with push-ups.
- Get into the push-up position.
- Allow your shoulder blades to come together. For a bigger range of motion, you can pull your shoulder-blades back.
- Then, push down and focus on moving your shoulder-blades forward.
You can see the movement in more detail along with lots of helpful tips, in the video below:
You can make the exercise easier by doing it on your knees.
Or you can me it harder by doing it with one arm.
Now that you know the exercises, and you can see how simple (and boring) they are…
It’s time to look at how they apply to different upper body movements. And, how they can help you become stronger while staying safe.
A good rule of thumb to remember is that your shoulders should always be pressing in the opposite direction of gravity.
For instance, when you’re doing push-ups, in the top position, your shoulders press downward to resist gravity… so you have protraction.
In bodyweight rows, it’s the exact opposite, and you have retraction.
Also, while you’re moving by bending the elbows, your shoulders should always be depressed. That way they are more stable and you’re safer. That’s with all the exercises I can currently think of. Be it pull-ups, push-ups, handstand push-ups, front lever, back lever, planche, dips, etc.
In all of them, when you’re moving, your scapula should be depressed.
Elevation is used only at the top position of the handstand. And is the starting point of the dead-hang pull-ups.
In many exercises, you can use different combinations.
In pull-ups, for example, as long as your scapula is depressed, you can go with depressed-retracted, depressed-protracted or depressed-neutral.
Especially, with push-ups, once you master the depressed position, you can move to some very advanced and “dangerous” exercises, like the dorsal push-ups (see below).
In hanging leg raises, L-sit, and V-sit, your scapula is depressed.
You get the point.
Once you become more advanced, you’ll be strengthening your scapula in each movement you perform.
But to reach that point you have to start right here, at the beginning.
And with that said, let’s see how you can use all the above into your daily practice.
Let me share with you some other useful resources that can help you understand the whole scapula positioning concept a lot better.
Other Useful Resources
One of the main reasons people can’t hold the required shoulder position and injure themselves is because they lack the necessary mobility.
That’s very common in dips and pull-ups.
So a good way to improve your abilities is to increase your shoulder flexibility. There are many ways and exercises to do that, but it’s beyond the scope of this article.
If you want to find out more, check out the articles below:
If you follow the challenge, your pull-ups will increase, your shoulder mobility will increase, your grip will be stronger and, your back will thank you.
- Proper Scapula Positions for Planche, Front Lever, Handstand and Back Lever
- Shoulder Blade Positions For Calisthenics Explained
How To Train Your Scapula
We’re close to the end now.
If you read this far, you know how important scapula conditioning is to everyone who trains with calisthenics.
You also understand the dangers of not training and strengthening each position.
In addition, you know the 4 basic scapula positions and the exercises to strengthen each one of them.
Now, here are some ways you can use these exercises:
#1. In your warm-up
That’s by far the easiest and less time-consuming.
Before your main workout, you can do some light sets [3×10] for each position. You can do the sets in a circuit to save even more time.
You can also use that time to condition your hands and wrists at the same time. You can find some ways to do that in Untapped Strength.
#2. In your rest days
If you follow this method, your work should be a little lighter.
But still, it’s better than not training them at all.
You can train the same way as in #1 (ie. 3×10 in a circuit).
#3. After your main workout
You can do 2 sets of 10 for every position.
#4. As a finisher
I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re a beginner.
But once you’ve mastered the positions and you can do the regular exercises with good form, you can do them as a finisher after your work out.
#5. Do a combination of the above.
Here’s What To Do Next
First, apply what you learned. Otherwise, you wasted your time.
Take a look at your plan and see where you’ll start training with the scapula exercises… write down what you’ll do… and then go and do it… And then reap the rewards.
Then, if you have any questions or thoughts, or you just want to say hi, leave a comment below.
PS. Did I mention that you can join my list and get daily training advice right into your inbox?
I’ll also send you a beginner training plan to use along with the exercises you learned here.
To join, click the link below…