Whether you are trying to master the Extended Butterfly on pole, get your one-armed meathook, or perfecting your Port De Bras, the strength and mobility of your shoulders will play an important role in both the stability and the fluidity of your movement.
When I talk about maximizing my shoulder strength and mobility, I’m generally focusing my attention on my scapulae, or shoulder blades. This is because these flat, triangular shaped bones not only form the central part of the shoulder (connecting your humerus to your clavicle), they also provide the attachment points to 17 different muscles. Each of these muscles plays a role in providing shoulder mobility and stability.
These muscles can be divided into three specific groups:
The intrinsic muscles – These include the subscapularis, teres minor, supraspinatus, and infraspinatus muscles.
The extrinsic muscles – These include the biceps, triceps and deltoid muscles.
Stabilizing and rotation muscles – These include the trapezius, serratus anterior, levator scapulae and rhomboid muscles.
When standing in the basic anatomical position, your shoulder blades should rest flat against your rib cage (if this isn’t the case then you are most likely dealing with what is commonly referred to as winged scapular!). From this position, they can move in 6 main directions, thanks to the assistance of those three main muscles groups.
These directions include:
- Elevation – When the scapulae are drawn upwards, the primary muscles in action are the upper trapezius and the levator scapulae.
- Depression – When the scapulae are drawn downwards, the primary muscles in action are the lower trapezius.
- Adduction (retraction)– When the scapulae are drawn towards each other, the primary muscles in action are the rhomboids and the middle trapezius.
- Abduction (protraction) – When the scapulae are driven away from each other, the primary muscles in action are the serratus anterior.
- Upward rotation – When the scapulae are rotated outwards then up, the primary muscles in action are the upper and middle trapezius.
- Downward rotation – When they are rotated outwards then down into the anatomical position, the primary muscles in action are the rhomboids.
Working to maintain strength, flexibility and mobility is something all dancers should focus on; however, our scapulae (and the muscles that support them) are often overlooked. In order to protect your rotator cuff (a common nagging injury for aerialists), it can be helpful to strengthen these muscles and focus on your scapulae to support your movement.
Here are 3 exercises that you can incorporate into your training, that will help you work on both enhancing the strength and mobility of your shoulders.
Not to be confused with the ‘cat-cow’ yoga posture, scapular push-ups require you to keep your spine straight, in order to focus the movement into the muscles of your shoulder blades.
- Start by positioning yourself in the plank position, with your arms extended, and make sure your hands are in line with your shoulders. Engage through your core, by pulling your navel towards your spine, so that your body forms a straight line from your feet to your shoulders.
- Begin with your shoulders retracted slightly, keeping your abdomen engaged, then push through your arms, as though you were pushing the ground away, protracting through your shoulders and allowing your shoulder blades to slide along your rib cage, opening up your back.
- Then reverse the movement by slowly retracting your shoulders back into the starting position, and draw your shoulder blades together.
- Continue with this movement, focusing on the movement at your shoulder blades, keeping your core engaged and the rest of your body aligned.
What NOT to do –
- Lift or drop your hips. Instead, focusing on keeping the straight ‘plank’ position.
- Bend your elbows. Keep your arms straight and engaged throughout the movement. Plank position, back flat, core engaged, slight pelvic curl Neutral starting position Shoulders protractedShoulders drawn together
This exercise requires a theraband (though it can be done with a dumbbell) and works at both increasing strength and mobility.
- Begin by standing on a theraband with your feet hip-distance apart, allowing the majority of the band to extend out to the right side. Reach across with your left arm, grasping the band up at your right hip. Keep your wrist turned so that your thumb faces down, as though you were grasping the grip of a sword. This is the starting position.
- Start to raise your arm up and across, straightening it without locking your elbow. As you do this, rotate your wrist so that the whole motion is as if you were drawing a sword from its sheath at your hip.
- As your arm raises above your shoulder, rotate your trunk to the left so that you are looking back over your left shoulder. Focus on the movement of your shoulder blades as they slide and tuck down.
- Practice equal reps on the opposite side.
What NOT to do –
- Flail your arm about like you are filled with air and advertising used cars! This should be a slow and controlled movement.
Mini-Band Wall Walks
This exercise requires a mini-band and is fantastic for increasing both scapulae strength and mobility.
- Standing about a foot away from the wall, with your elbows bent so that your forearms are resting against it. Place the mini-band over your wrists and with your hands facing each other, separate your arms about a foot apart, so that you can feel the resistance.
- Start to take incremental steps up the wall, isometrically holding the active external rotation of the wrist throughout the movement. Move up the wall until the elbows are at eye level, then down until the wrists are at shoulder level.
- As you move through the movement, focus on scooping your scapulae as you resist the internal rotation torque of the band that is pulling your wrists together.
What NOT to do –
- Allow the distance between the forearms to decrease
- Allow lumbar hyperextension (arching of the lower back)