Week 27

Welcome to week 27!

Last week, I introduced hanging leg raises. This requires the ability to depress your shoulder blades while hanging with your arms straight. So let's spend some time making sure scapular depression is something you can do with your arms straight in an overhead position. This is actually not an easy movement pattern to execute. Think about it: when have you ever strengthened this pattern in your daily movements? For instance, when you reach for an apple high up in a tree, you intuitively shrug up at the shoulder to make yourself "taller"... the last thing you think of is... "ooooh let me depress my shoulder blade". Nevertheless, scapular depression is indeed a prerequisite for pull-ups, overhead pressing, sandbag carries and hanging leg raises. It's something we should all be spending time on strengthening (myself included).


The Role of the Scapula

The scapulae (shoulder blades) have a very important role in upper extremity function. The scapulae provide a stable base from which glenohumeral (shoulder) mobility occurs.

Scapular instability alters your shoulder biomechanics in a bad way. It can cause a lot of stress on the anterior shoulder capsule, increase the chances of rotator cuff impingement (upper trap dominance), and decrease shoulder mobility.



What is scapular instability? Pretend your scapula is a canoe in the water, and you are standing in the canoe. You represent the arm. So, scapular instability would be like throwing a basketball into a basketball hoop while standing in a canoe. Since the canoe is unstable, your arm will be difficult to control and the basketball will probably not go where you had intended (in the hoop). Basically, you want your scapula to be like a giant army tank that is parked on the ground (a super stable base). That way, when you throw the ball, it will go in the hoop. I made this analogy up and was laughing out loud creating this graphic!!!!



When there is a weakness or deficiency of the scapular musculature, it alters normal scapular positioning and mechanics. Take a look at this photo to understand this concept. As you can see, I had left scapular instability: look at the altered left scapular positioning and mechanics. I clearly had left upper trap dominance. I lucked out and didn't have rotator cuff impingement, but I had left thoracic outlet syndrome (tingling in my fingers).

When the scapula fails to perform its stabilization role, the shoulder complex function is inefficient. This can result in decreased neuromuscular performance and injury of the glenohumeral joint.

Conclusion: Scapular stability makes your shoulders nearly bulletproof, and this makes it possible for you to learn how to do really cool things with your body! The stronger your foundation is at stabilizing you in space (Structure, Stability), the more success you will have at building strength and mobility (Specialty). That dang S-pyramid just keeps showing up! I'll talk about the S-pyramid in an upcoming week! Stay tuned.

If you look up "scapular stabilizers", this will be the answer: the serratus anterior, rhomboids, levator scapulae, and traps. No one ever mentions the lats, but I sure do! Here's why:

In most people, the latissimus dorsi actually DOES attach to the inferior angle of the scapula! Pouliart et al investigated the anatomy of latissimus dorsi in 100 cadavers and found that in many specimens there was a connection to the scapula. The majority of people (79%) had either direct or indirect attachment to the inferior border of the scapula, while the remaining 21% had no attachment at all. So for most people, the lats assist the rhomboids in retraction of the scapula (pulling the shoulder blades back and together).  Pouliart, N., & Gagey, O. (2005).  Clinical Anatomy, 18(7), 493–499.

The concentric action of the lats is shoulder extension (think lat pulldown). BUT, everyone overlooks the ECCENTRIC role of the lats with overhead pressing. When you extend your arms overhead, your lats are lengthening, which means they CONTROL shoulder flexion. Unless you can activate your lats, then you won't be able to maintain tension in your lats as you extend your arms overhead. The goal is to be able to maintain tension in your lats throughout the full 180 degrees of shoulder range of motion as you raise your arms overhead. So if one of your lats is weak or not firing, this can interfere with overhead pressing, handstands, and even getting into the starting position of a pull-up.

You may have noticed that the Strength Academy is focusing on strengthening the larger muscles that attach to your shoulder blades, particularly the serratus anterior, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and the middle/lower trapezius muscles. Think of these muscles as the "core" of the shoulders. We can nickname it "the shoulder core".

This week, we are going to work on:

  • improving your ability to isolate the feeling in your TVA
  • scapular stability




Banded L-Sit Prep

It's all about creating a network of feelings.

How do you improve your ability to isolate the feeling in your TVA? By identifying the key feelings you are trying to create in your body during the L-sit. This means paying close attention to the feelings you get when you do:

  • L-Sit Prep (digging deeply into the TVA) ... using a band will really help you dig deep and get your hips way back.
  • Pushing into the ground (digging deeply into scapular depression). Get angry at the ground... push hard!


Banded Snow Angels

I couldn't think of a name for these. So I'm calling them "banded snow angles".

Warning: Bean was screaming at the top of his lungs because he is Siamese. If you have a Siamese, then you already know this is pretty standard, really. 😂

Lock your low back with your TVA so it won't extend. Keep both arms straight and both shoulder blades depressed the entire time. Watch yourself in a mirror for biofeedback. You can do these seated or in stance.

Work with the ranges you have: you may not be able to hold the band vertically overhead. It's ok if you hold it a bit forward of vertical (like how you overhead press a sandbag a bit forward). It's ok if you "snow angel" a bit forward too. Over time, you'll open up more. Think of extending your t-spine... this will help you open up more!


Unilateral Scapular Pull-Downs

Keep your arm straight. Don't cheat by contorting your torso. Make sure the cable or band is pulled down by the scapula depressing. Isometric holds of the depressed position are always a good idea!


Hanging Scapular Pull-Ups

I show beginner, intermediate and advanced versions. Work within your current range. Don't compensate your way into end-ranges.

Keep your arms straight.

Play with the "bipolar" variations and isometric holds.

Don't death grip the bar (this will actually disengage your lats).



Day 1: Sequence #34

Day 2: Sequence #29 (week 23)

Day 3: Rest

Day 4: Sequence #35

Day 5: Rest

Day 6: Sequence #34 or 35 (you decide)

Day 7: Rest or review exercises from previous sequences that you know you need to revisit or do a sandbag carry (#SandbagCarrySundays)


Sequence 34: Overhead Extravaganza!

  1. Banded L-Sit Prep or L-Sit: hold 30s (or as long as you can), 5x
  2. Banded Snow Angels: 10 Left Arm, 10 Right Arm, 10 L R R L, 10 R L L R
  3. Unilateral Scapular Pull-Downs: 3 sets of 10 per arm
  4. Hanging Scapular Pull-Ups (you can do scaled or hanging versions). For all of these: do them in slow/controlled manner and for the last rep, include a 3-5s isometric holds when maximally depressed. If these aren't available to you yet, then work on the hanging holds from week 6 & the stick pulls from week 3.
      1. Do 5 reps bilaterally pronated grip.
      2. Do 5 reps bilaterally supinated grip.
      3. Do 5 BIPOLAR reps L side (pronated). Either use the strap or decrease your grip with one hand. Scale with yoga block as needed.
      4. Do 5 BIPOLAR reps R side (pronated). Either use the strap or decrease your grip with one hand. Scale with yoga block as needed.
      5. Repeat 1 thru 4 two more times!
      6. Finale: Bilateral Hanging hold until failure. Make sure your shoulder blades are depressed. Advanced folks can do the single arm version.
  5. Single Leg Wall Crow - 3 sets each side: hold for 15-30s. (week 19). Scaling option: Dog Push-Ups 3 sets of 5 controlled reps. Hold the bottom of the push-up for 1-3 seconds (week 2)
  6. Ball Press Hold - 6x. Pull your hips up as high as you can and hold until failure (ultimate goal is 30s). (week 17). Scaling option: Blanket Slides - 5 sets of 8 to 15 reps (week 5)


Sequence 33: Back Attack

  1. Banded L-Sit Prep or L-Sit: hold 30s (or as long as you can), 5x
  2. Bow & Arrow: do it 3 times per side until you cramp (week 21)
  3. Teres Major Row Holds: (week 7)
      1. Hold the end range row for 20s per arm.
      2. Then do 3 sets of 10 rows per arm.
  4. Lat Row Holds: (week 7)
      1. Hold the end range row for 20s per arm.
      2. Then do 3 sets of 10 rows per arm.
  5. Prone ITY's routine: do the real time routine (week 13)
  6. Chin-Over-Bar Hold (2 supinated, 2 pronated) + Slow Eccentric: Scale as necessary. (week 13)
  7. Crow - 5 attempts, hold as long as you can. If you need to, scale with a yoga block under your forehead (week 22). Scaling option: Low Crow Hold 3 sets - hold for 20s. Scale by keeping your toes on the ground (week 5)
  8. Tripod Headstand: Play for 5-10 minutes (week 18) ..... or..... 3 sets of ME rope pulls until failure (week 26)



On day 7, post your hanging scapular pull-ups.