Weak, achy and unstable shoulders can result from an injury, inactivity or poor posture. The scapula, or shoulder blade, is one of the main support systems for the shoulder, and stabilizing it is an important part of building strong shoulders.
After an injury, your doctor or physical therapist may advise doing daily scapular stabilization exercises at home. These exercises are also useful for people who don't have an injury but would like to build stronger shoulders and a solid upper back.
1. Scapular Push-ups
Scapular push-ups strengthen the serratus anterior, which helps support the scapula. Perform 15 repetitions and three sets.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand facing a wall. Place your hands flat on the wall at chest height and as wide as your shoulders. Keep your elbows locked and reach your chest toward the wall so your shoulder blades come together. Then, push your hands into the wall and move your chest away so that your shoulder blades move away from each other.
2. Band Pull-Aparts
This simple exercise done with any type of stretchy resistance band activates the posterior shoulder girdle and works the horizontal movement pattern of the scapula. Do three sets of 10 to 15 reps.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand with feet hip-distance apart, core muscles contracted. Hold the band in both hands at chest height, shoulder-width apart. Pull the band in opposite directions, drawing your shoulders back and down. Drive your hands farther apart from each other against the resistance. Hold for a second, then slowly release.
3. Shoulder Shrug
The shoulder shrug strengthens the trapezius muscle, which is responsible for stabilizing the scapula. The exercise also restores flexibility and range of motion in the shoulders. It can performed while sitting or standing and with or without dumbbells. Perform three sets of 10 to 15 reps.
HOW TO DO IT: If you are performing this exercise with dumbbells, place a dumbbell in each hand and keep your arms and elbows straight at your sides. Move your shoulders up toward your ears and hold for five seconds. Shrug your shoulders backwards and downwards and rest for five seconds.
This body weight exercise strengthens the entire back and the shoulders. The muscles targeted include the trapezius, erector spinae, and the deltoids. Do three sets of 10 reps.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie down on your stomach with your arms extended overhead. Lift your arms, chest and legs off the floor, keeping arms and legs straight. Squeeze your shoulder blades back and down. Hold for one to five seconds, then release.
- University of British Columbia: Scapular Stabilizing Muscles: Rehabilitation Protocol
- Pacific University: Scapular-Stabilization Exercises: Early-Intervention Prescription
- Mid-Tennessee Bone & Joint Clinic, P.C: Scapular Stabilization Exercises
- UW Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine: Home Exercises for the Unstable Shoulder
- American Council on Exercise: Shoulder Exercises