The subscapularis is part of your rotator cuff muscles. Subscapularis exercises can help to prevent injury and strengthen the muscles of the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is the the root of most shoulder pain complaints in active people, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If you experience pain in your shoulder, be sure to seek medical attention to determine the cause. Do not attempt to push through the pain.
Purpose of the Subscapularis
The subscapularis muscle, which is the largest and strongest muscle of the rotator cuff, is one out of four muscles that make up the rotator cuff apparatus. The supraspinatus, teres minor and infraspinatus make up the other three. The subscapularis muscle is shaped like a triangle. It originates at the subscapular fossa and transitions to a tendon, which inserts at the lesser tubercle of the humerus.
This muscle is named the subscapularis because it is located underneath the scapula or wing bone. The subscapularis helps to stabilize the shoulder joint. Its primary function is internal rotation; however, it also helps to adduct the humerus.
Although this muscle does not tear as frequently as the other rotator cuff muscles do, any injury that does result can cause weakness in internal rotation movements, according to a September 2018 article published in Sports Medicine and Arthroscopy Review.
During the contraction of the subscapularis, internal or medial rotation of the humerus occurs. The subscapularis is the primary rotator cuff muscle responsible for this function. Underneath the subscapularis tendon lies the bicep tendon.
Strength in the subscapularis muscle is essential, especially for overhead activities. Athletes and active people who throw or use overhead motions are more prone to tendonitis, tears and other tendinopathies. An injury of the subscapularis will typically cause pain in the front of your shoulder. Your healthcare provider can help determine if this is the injury you have or if the pain is due to other rotator cuff muscles or a biceps strain or injury.
Why Strengthen Your Subscapularis
The most mobile joint of the human body is the shoulder complex. The muscles surrounding the shoulder complex create mobility and stability of the shoulder joint (glenohumeral). It is imperative to keep these muscles strong, especially for athletes who participate in overhead activities, according to a July 2017 article published in the Journal of Sports Sciences.
Muscular imbalances or overuse can lead to chronic shoulder issues and can cause instability or impingement. Therefore, it is vital to prevent injury by being sure that your subscapularis muscle is strong, particularly if you are an athlete in overhead sports. Subscapularis exercises can meet this end.
Subscapularis Exercises for Strength
A November 2014 World Journal of Orthopedics article concludes that the subscapularis muscle could benefit more from eccentric contractions, the use of which is considered a guiding principle in the rehabilitation of tendons. Eccentric contraction of the subscapularis occurs when the muscle is lengthened under resistance.
The following subscapularis exercises will help to build strength in the muscles of the rotator cuff, as well as provide enhanced stability and mobility of the shoulder joint. Perform a subscapularis workout once or twice per week for the most benefit.
Using an exercise band may be more suitable if you have a current subscapularis injury or tendinopathy. In this case, please consult your physiotherapist or other health care professional. These exercises should only be performed on your own if you are healthy and injury-free. Keep in mind that these exercises are typically performed using a low weight load.
Move 1: Cable Standing Shoulder Internal Rotation:
- Stand with your side facing a cable pulley that is locked at elbow height. Alternatively, use an exercise band.
- Grip the cable handle with the arm closest to the cable machine. Keep your elbow locked against your side and bent at approximately 90 degrees.
- Internally rotate your shoulder and pull the cable towards your body until your forearm is crossed over your belly. Be sure to keep your elbow pressed against your side and in a fixed position throughout the entire movement.
- Return to the starting position and repeat for desired repetitions.
- Switch arms and repeat on the other side.
Move 2: Dumbbell Shoulder Internal Rotation
- Lie on the floor on your right side with a dumbbell in your right hand. Your upper arm should be close to your body.
- Bending your elbow at 90 degrees, hold the dumbbell upright above your elbow. You can lean back slightly to allow for a full range of motion if necessary.
- Lower the dumbbell towards the floor while keeping a 90-degree angle at the elbow. You should feel a stretch in your shoulder. You may hold your elbow with the opposite hand to provide more support.
- Lift the dumbbell towards your body while internally rotating your shoulder until your forearm is vertical.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
- Switch sides and repeat with the opposite arm.
- Journal of the Belgian Society of Radiology: "Shoulder Anatomy and Normal Variants"
- Sports Medicine and Arthroscopy Review: "Anatomy and Physical Examination of the Shoulder"
- ExRx.net: "Cable Standing Shoulder Internal Rotation"
- Journal of Sports Sciences: "Muscle Recruitment Patterns of the Subscapularis, Serratus Anterior and Other Shoulder Girdle Muscles During Isokinetic Internal and External Rotations"
- ExRx.net: "Dumbbell Shoulder Internal Rotation (on floor)"
- The Mayo Clinic: "Rotator Cuff Injury"
- World Journal of Orthopedics: "Eccentric Training as a New Approach for Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy: Review and Perspectives"