You might find your Pilates instructors telling you to engage, anchor, plug, connect, stabilise, and do all sorts with your shoulder blades… and most of you might be thinking – HUH!? HOW!? WHAT!? WHY!?
The shoulder blades (technically known as scapula) are a very unique part of your biomechanics, as they don’t have an attachment point! The scapula lie on your back and due to the lack of attachment they have a great deal of mobility, making it more important than ever to use the muscles to stabilize the area.
When we get lazy, admit it… it happens to the best of us, we don’t stabilize the scapula area so the upper trapezius and other surrounding muscles over work as a result.
There are many ways in which these super mobile shoulder plates can move:
- elevation (upward gliding)
- depression (downward gliding)
- retraction (inward movement towards the spine)
- protraction (outward movement away from spine)
- upward rotation
- downward rotation
So how do I ‘connect’:
The shoulder blades will always move with the arms, therefore it is important to keep the shoulder blades slightly connected throughout movement to prevent injury and to keep control in the movement. Connection of the scapula refers to thinking of gently sliding the blades in towards the spine and slightly downward in a “V” position. Keeping a balanced weight through both shoulders. Maintaining open collar bones will help maintain a neutral and connected scapula area. You want the shoulder blades to lie flat on the back without any of the edges of the scapula sticking out.
Like the other principles of classical Pilates, you should be mindful of the scapula connection/stabilisation for all exercises; even exercises that seemingly don’t involve the arms or upper back. This is how Pilates becomes a full body exercise method.
In the gym you work on singular muscle groups, just arms or just legs. In pilates we might have an exercise where the mobility is primarily of the legs but all of the stabilisation and facilitation of movement is down to the other parts of the body that are engaged and correctly connected.
*It is important to work with your pilates instructor to find out where your ‘natural resting position’ is for your shoulder blades; everyone has a different resting position. From that knowledge he/she can help you understand the action you will need to create a supportive and neutral scapula area.
Applying this practice to life and other training:
Running has been a big example for us on the blog so far. Well again you can see how this applies as when we run the mobility is in the legs; it is much easier to run with the head and torso balanced, stable, and aligned than it is to run with your back swaying behind your pelvis!
So what we are trying to say is… doing concentrated exercises in the gym is great for building hardcore strength and a little toning but doing Pilates exercises that involve mobility of the legs with neutral alignment of the other principle areas (like scapula area) will have many benefits that go far beyond focused strength and toning alone.
Muscles surrounding the scapula that will help build strength and stabilisation to the scapula:
- serratus anterior
- middle trapezius
- lower trapezius
- the latissimus dorsi helps out