Top 5 Best Scapula Calisthenics Exercises To Master Calisthenics

The scapula, also known as the shoulder blade, plays a crucial role in calisthenics upper body exercises. Proper scapular control is the hidden secret to learning advanced calisthenics skills. Understanding the importance of the scapula and incorporating exercises that promote scapular stability and control can greatly enhance your calisthenics progress.

Scapula: the powerhouse of the upper body

The scapula, also known as the shoulder blade, plays a crucial role in calisthenics upper body exercises. Proper scapular control is the hidden secret to learning advanced calisthenics skills. Understanding the importance of the scapula and incorporating exercises that promote scapular stability and control can greatly enhance your calisthenics progress.

Understanding the Anatomy of the scapula

The scapula, is a triangular-shaped bone located on the upper back and connects the upper arm bone (humerus) with the collarbone (clavicle). It plays a crucial role in the movement and stability of the shoulder joint.

To train efficiently it is good to know the primary movements of the scapula ->

  1. Elevation: Elevation refers to the upward movement of the scapula as if shrugging your shoulders.
  2. Depression: Depression is the downward movement of the scapula as if pulling your shoulder blades down away from your ears.
  3. Retraction: Scapular retraction involves squeezing the shoulder blades together towards the spine.
  4. Protraction: Protraction is the opposite of retraction and involves pushing the shoulder blades away from the spine as if reaching forward.
  5. Downward Rotation: This movement occurs when the scapula moves downward and inward toward the spine
  6. Upward Rotation: This movement happens when the scapula moves upward and outward away from the spine

Top 5 exercises for scapula control

Now you have a basic understanding of the anatomy and the importance of training the scapula, it is time to get down to business that is why I have compiled a list of the 5 best exercises for strengthening this key area, have fun!

1. Scapular Pull Ups

Scapula pull ups are great for developing scapular strength, stability, and control. Scapular pull-ups specifically target the muscles responsible for scapular retraction and depression, such as the rhomboids and lower trapezius. By actively engaging and strengthening these muscles, you improve your ability to retract and depress your shoulder blades effectively during various upper body movements such as pull ups.

How to perform the scapula pull up:

  1. Start by hanging from a bar or rings with your arms fully extended and your shoulders relaxed.
  2. Initiate the pull by squeezing your shoulder blades together and down towards your spine. Imagine trying to pinch a pencil between your shoulder blades.
  3. Throughout the movement, keep your arms straight and avoid bending your elbows. The focus should be on the movement of the scapulae, not pulling yourself up with your arms.
  4. Once you have fully retracted your scapulae, hold the position for a moment to maximize the engagement of the targeted muscles.
  5. Relax your scapulae and allow your shoulders to protract (move away from each other) as you return to the starting position. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

You can progress the movement by either adding weight, or by pulling more to turn it into a arched back lever raise.

2. Scapula Push Ups

Scapula push-ups target the muscles that retract and protract the scapulae, primarily the rhomboids and serratus anterior. Performing scapula push-ups can help improve push up form and is very beneficial for learning correct scapula position for planche progressions.

How to perform the scapula push up:

  1. Begin the movement by protracting your shoulder blades to separate and create a rounded upper back position.
  2. From this position, initiate the movement by retracting your shoulder blades together. Imagine squeezing them towards each other as if you’re trying to pinch a pencil between them.
  3. Maintain the retracted position for a second or two, feeling the engagement in your upper back muscles.
  4. Next, reverse the movement by protracting your shoulder blades, returning to the starting position.
  5. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions, focusing on smooth and controlled reps

If this is too easy you can make the movement harder by leaning more forward, turning it into a planche lean or using a band for extra resistance.

3. Handstand Shrugs

Handstand shrugs are a great exercise for strengthening the shoulders and upper back, particularly the upper trapezius and rhomboids. By actively engaging and retracting the scapulae during the shrug movement, you can strengthen these muscles and enhance their ability to elevate the scapulae, which is key to proper form when performing the handstand.

How to perform the handstand shrugs:

  1. Start by getting into a handstand position with the chest facing against the wall.
  2. Once you are stable in the handstand, focus on maintaining a straight body alignment and keeping your arms fully extended.
  3. Begin by depressing your shoulder blades, pulling them downward towards your feet. This movement will create a shrugging motion with your shoulders.
  4. Next, elevate your shoulder blades by pulling them upward towards your ears. This is the opposite movement of the depression.
  5. Repeat the shrugging motion, alternating between depression and elevation of the shoulder blades for the desired number of repetitions.

If the handstand shrugs are too hard you can try performing the pike shrugs instead.

4. Scapula Dips

Scapula dips target the muscles responsible for scapular elevation and retraction, mainly the trapezius and rhomboids muscles. By performing scapula dips you will strengthen and stabilise these muscles furthermore scapula dips work great for improving your posture in exercises such as l-sits and dips.

How to perform the scapula dips:

  1. Start by positioning yourself on a set of parallel bars or dip bars, with your hands gripping the bars and your body suspended between them. Your arms should be fully extended, and your feet should be off the ground.
  2. Engage your core and maintain a slight forward lean with your torso. This position will help activate the muscles of the scapula and upper back.
  3. Slowly begin to lower your body by retracting and elevating your scapulae. Imagine pulling your shoulder up to your ears.
  4. Continue to lower your body until you feel a contraction in your shoulders and upper back muscles. Make sure to maintain control and avoid sinking into your shoulders.
  5. Pause briefly at the bottom of the movement, feeling the contraction in your scapular muscles.
  6. To return to the starting position, push through your hands and protract your scapulae (bringing your shoulder blades slightly forward) while keeping your arms straight.

You can increase or decrease the difficulty of the exercise by adding or reducing resistance with the use of resistance bands or a dip belt.

5. Scapula Rows

Scapula rows primarily target the rhomboids, middle trapezius, and other muscles of the upper back that play a crucial role in scapular retraction. With scapula rows, you can strengthen and stabilize these muscles and improve the ability to perform exercises like ring rows and front levers.

How to perform the scapula rows:

  1. find a horizontal bar or use a pair of rings, set at a comfortable height
  2. Keep your arms straight and your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. Without bending your arms, pull your shoulder blades back and together, as if you’re trying to pinch a pencil between them.
  4. Hold the position for a few seconds, feeling the squeeze between your shoulder blades.
  5. Protract your shoulder blades to come back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

It’s important to maintain a neutral spine throughout the exercise and avoid arching your lower back, you can adjust the difficulty by adjusting the height of the bar/rings.

How to position your scapula in calisthenics exercises?

As a general rule of thumb try to keep the scapula neutral or do the opposite of what gravity is imposing on the scapula. By doing so your postures will be strong and tall, demonstrating that you are strong enough to do the exercise.
There is some exceptions to this rule, where doing the opposite of what gravity is imposing on the scapula will have a negative effect on performance, back levers is a good example.

Programming Considerations For Best Results

It is important to train both vertical and horizontal scapula strength, the scapula is a versatile bone that can move in various directions, and having strength in both vertical and horizontal movements allows for optimal shoulder function and stability.
You should pick the exercises that are most relevant to the exercises you are looking to improve or weaknesses you are trying to fix. Perform 2-3 sets of the exercises in your warm-up or at the end of your workout.

What is your favorite scapula routine? leave it in the comments.

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