How to Assess the Scapula

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on How to Assess the Scapula is now available.

How to Assess the Scapula

How to assess scapular dyskinesisThis month’s Inner Circle webinar is a live demonstration of How to Assess the Scapula.  In this recording of a live student inservice from Champion, I overview everything you should (and shouldn’t) be looking for when assessing the scapula.  When someone has a big nerve injury with significant winging or scapular dyskinesis, the assessment of the scapula is pretty easy.  But how do you detect the subtle alterations in posture, position, and dynamic movement?  By being able to identify a few subtle findings, you can really enhance how you write a rehab or training program.

In this webinar, I’ll cover:

  • What to look for in regard to static posture and scapular position
  • How to check to see if static postural asymmetries really have an impact on dynamic scapular movement
  • What really is normal scapulothoracic rhythm (if there really is a such thing as normal!)?
  • How to reliably assess for scapular dyskinesis
  • How winging during the concentric and eccentric phases of movement changes my thought process
  • How to see if scapular position or movement is increasing shoulder pain
  • How to see if scapular position or movement is decreasing shoulder strength

To access this webinar:




A Simple Test for Scapular Dyskinesis You Must Use

A common part of my examinations includes assessing for abnormal scapular position and movement, which can simply be defined as scapular dyskinesis.  Scapular dyskinesis has long been theorized to predispose people to shoulder injuries, although the evidence has been conflicting.

Whenever data is conflicting in research articles, you need to closely scrutinize the methodology.  One particular flaw that I have noticed in some studies looking at the role of scapular dyskinesis in shoulder dysfunction has involved how the assess and define scapular dyskinesis.

Like anything else, when someone has a significant issue with scapular dyskinesis it is very apparent and obvious on examination.  But being able to detect subtle alterations in the movement of the scapula may be more clinically relevant.  There’s a big difference between someone that has a large amount of winging while concentrically elevating their arm versus someone that has a mild issues with control of the scapula while eccentrically lowering their arm.

Most people will not have a large winging of their scapula while elevating their arm.  This represents a more significant issue, such as a nerve injury.  However, a mild amount of scapular muscle weakness can change the way the scapula moves and make it difficult to control while lowering.


A Simple Test for Scapular Dyskinesis

One of the simplest assessments you can perform for scapular dyskinesis is watching the scapula move during shoulder flexion.  Performing visual assessment of the scapula during shoulder flexion has been shown to be a reliable and valid way to assess for abnormal scapular movement.

That’s it.  Crazy, right?  That simple!  Yet, I’m still amazed at how many times people tell me no one has ever looked at how well their scapula moves with their shirt off.

However, there is one little tweak you MUST do when performing this assessment…

You have to use a weight in their hand!

Here is a great example of someone’s scapular dyskinesis when performing shoulder flexion with and without an external load.  The photo on the left uses no weight, while the photo on the right uses a 4 pound dumbbell:

scapular dyskinesis

As you can see, the image on the right shows a striking increase in scapular dyskinesis.  I was skeptical after watching him lift his arm without weight in the photo on the left, however, everything became very clear when adding a light weight to the shoulder flexion movement.  With just a light load, the ability to prevent the scapula from winging while eccentrically lowering the arm becomes much more challenging.

I should also note that there was really no significant difference in scapular control or movement during the concentric portion of the motion raising his arms overhead:

scapular winging concentric

This person doesn’t have a significant issue or nerve damage, he simply just needs some strengthening of his scapular muscles.  But if you didn’t observe his scapula with his shirt off or with a dumbbell in his hand, you may have missed it!


How to Assess for Scapular Dyskinesis

In this month’s Inner Circle webinar, I am going to show you a live demonstration of how I assess scapular position and movement.  I’ve had past talks on how to assess scapular position and how to treat scapular dyskinesis, however I want to put it all together with a demonstration of exactly how I perform a full scapular movement assessment and go over things I am looking for during the examination.

I’ll be filming the video and posting later this month.  Inner Circle members will get an email when it is posted.




How to Coach and Perform Shoulder Program Exercises

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on How to Coach and Perform Shoulder Program Exercises is now available.

How to Coach and Perform Shoulder Program Exercises

How to Coach and Perform Shoulder Program ExercisesThis month’s Inner Circle webinar is on How to Coach and Perform Shoulder Program Exercises.  While this seems like a simple topic, the concepts discussed here are key to enhancing shoulder and scapula function.  There are many little tweaks you can perform for shoulder exercises to make them more effective.  If you perform rotator cuff or scapula exercises poorly, you can be facilitating compensatory patterns.  In this webinar, we discuss:

  • How to correctly perform rotator cuff and scapula exercises
  • Coaching cues that you can use to assure proper technique
  • How to enhance exercises by paying attention to technique
  • How to avoid compensation patterns and assure shoulder program exercises are as effective as possible

To access this webinar:




5 Tweaks to Make Shoulder Exercises More Effective

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on 5 Tweaks to Make Shoulder Exercises More Effective is now available.


5 Tweaks to Make Shoulder Exercises More Effective

5 Tweaks to Make Shoulder Exercises More EffectiveThis month’s Inner Circle webinar is on 5 Tweaks to Make Shoulder Exercises More Effective.  Over the years, you tend to pick up on the little things that can make a big difference.  I’m always reading the latest research to find simple little tweaks that I can make to an exercise to change the desired result.  Maybe I’m trying to optimize the mechanics of the scapula, or trying to enhance EMG activity of a certain muscle, or even change the ratio of activity between two muscles.

In this webinar, we discuss:

  • Why little tweaks can make a big difference
  • Why integrating the kinetic chain into a shoulder exercise may be effective
  • How altering hip and trunk movement during exercises change the muscle activity
  • How you can put this all together and make your own functional exercises specific to each person

To access this webinar:




A Better Way to Perform Shoulder Exercises?

It’s pretty obvious that the shoulder is linked to the scapula, which is linked to the trunk.  So why do we so often perform isolated arm movement exercises without incorporating the trunk?  It’s a good question.  The body works as a kinetic chain that requires a precise interaction of joints and muscles throughout the body.


The Effect of Trunk Rotation During Shoulder Exercises

A recent study was published in the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery that examined the impact of adding trunk rotational movements to common shoulder exercises.

The authors chose overhead elevation, external rotation by the side, external rotation in the 90/90 position similar to throwing, and 3 positions of scapular retraction while lying prone (45 degrees, 90 degrees, and 145 degrees) that were similar to prone T’s and Y’s.  The essentially had subjects perform the exercise with and without rotating their trunk towards the moving arm.

A Better Way to Perform Shoulder Exercises?

EMG of the the upper trapezius, middle trapezius, lower trapezius, and serratus anterior were recorded, as well as 3D scapular biomechanics.

There were a few really interesting results.

  • Adding trunk rotation to arm elevation, external rotation at 0 degrees, and external rotation at 90 degrees significantly increased scapular external rotation and posterior tilt, and all 3 exercises increased LT activation
  • During overhead elevation, posterior tilt was 23% increased and lower trap EMG improve 67%, which in turn reduced the upper trap/lower trap ratio.
  • Adding rotation to the prone exercises reduced upper trapezius activity, and therefore enhanced the upper trap/lower trap ratio as well.


What Does This All Mean?

I would say these results are interesting.  While the EMG activity was fairly low throughout the study, the biggest implication is that involving the trunk during arm movements does have a significant impact on both muscle activity and scapular mechanics.  Past studies have shown that including hip movement with shoulder exercises also change muscle activity.

This makes sense.  If you think about it, traditional exercises like elevation and external rotation involve moving the shoulder on the trunk.  By adding trunk movement during the exercises you are also involving moving the trunk on the shoulder.

This is how the body works, anyway.  Most people don’t robotically just move their arm during activities, the move their entire body to position the arm in space to accomplish their goal.

It’s also been long speculated that injuries during sports like throwing and baseball pitching may be at least partially responsible for not positioning or stabilizing the scapula optimally.  I think this study supports this theory, showing that trunk movement alters shoulder function.

Isolated exercises like elevation and external rotation are always going to be important, especially when trying to enhance the strength of a weak or injured muscle.  However, adding tweaks like trunk rotation to these exercises as people advance may be advantageous when trying to work on using the body with specific scapular positions or ratio of trapezius muscle activity.


5 Tweaks to Make Shoulder Exercises Even More Effective

I’m a big fan of understanding how little tweaks can make a big difference on your exercise selection.  If you are interested in learning more, this month’s Inner Circle webinar will discuss 5 Tweaks to Make Shoulder Exercises Even More Effective.  The webinar will be Tuesday August 25th at 8:00 PM EST, but a recording will be up soon after.




How to Improve Overhead Shoulder Mobility

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on my How to Improve Overhead Shoulder Mobility is now available.


How to Improve Overhead Shoulder Mobility

Improving Overhead Shoulder MobilityThis month’s Inner Circle webinar is on how to improve overhead shoulder mobility.  In this webinar I’ll discuss:

  • We we are losing overhead shoulder mobility
  • Why it matters
  • The 4 main reasons why we lose overhead mobility
  • How the body compensates when we lose overhead mobility
  • How to assess for a loss of overhead shoulder mobility
  • What you MUST stop doing immediately with people that have lost overhead mobility – you are making them worse!
  • Corrective exercises to enhance overhead position
  • Manual therapy techniques to improve mobility


To access this webinar:

4 Ways to Improve Overhead Shoulder Mobility

4 Ways to Improve Overhead Shoulder MobilityOne of the most common areas we attempt to improve in clients at Champion PT and Performance is overhead shoulder mobility.  If you really think about it, we don’t need full overhead shoulder mobility much during our daily lives.  So our bodies adapt and this seems to be an movement that is lost in many people over time if not nourished.

I’m often amazed at how many people have a significant loss of overhead mobility and really had no idea!

That’s not really the issue.  The problem occurs when we start to use overhead mobility again, especially when doing it during our workouts and training.  Exercises like a press, thruster, snatch, overhead squat, kipping pull up, toes to bar, handstand push up, wall ball, and many more all use the shoulder at end range of movement.  But here are the real issues:

  • Add using the shoulder to max end range of overhead mobility and we can run into trouble
  • Add loading during a resisted exercise and we can run into trouble
  • Add repetitions of this at end range and we can run into trouble
  • Add speed (and thus force) to the exercise and we can run into trouble


4 Ways to Improve Overhead Shoulder Mobility

In this video I explain the 4 most common reasons why you lose overhead shoulder mobility and can work on to improve this movement:

  1. The shoulder
  2. The scapula
  3. The thoracic spine
  4. The lumbopelvic area

The first three are commonly address, but not so for the lumbopelvic area, which is often neglected.  I’m going to expand on this even more in this month’s Inner Circle webinar.  More info is below the video:


Improving Overhead Shoulder Mobility

This month’s Inner Circle webinar is going to expand on this topic and discuss how and why you want to improve overhead shoulder mobility.  In this webinar I’ll discuss the importance of overhead mobility, how to assess the 4 most common causes of loss of mobility we discussed above, what corrective exercises to perform, and tips for manual therapy.  The live webinar will be on Monday April 20th at 8:00 PM EST, however will be recorded for those that can not attend live.




How to Prepare Before You Throw – Part 1: Prepare Your Body

Working with so many injured pitchers over my career, one common theme that I often hear when players describe how they got hurt was that they did not properly warm up and prepare themselves to throw.  I’m not sure if this is always the true cause of the players’ injuries, however, I hear it often enough that it has to have some significance.

throwing long toss programThis seems to make sense, though.  Throwing is very dynamic and aggressive on the body.  In fact, it is the fastest known motion that the human body performs!  If it could, your shoulder would rotate a full 360 degrees around up to 27 times in 1 second!  That is unbelievable.

I often say injury is just a simple physics equation.  Force = mass x acceleration.  The faster your body moves and the harder you throw, the more forceful it is on your body.

Because of this, you can see how just grabbing a baseball and starting to throw can be stressful on the body.  Throwing is so dynamic and forceful that you want to do your best to put yourself in a position to succeed before you start throwing.  This will help foster a long and healthy career.

To prepare before your throwing program, you really need to do two things: 1) Prepare your body and 2) Prepare your throwing.  In this two part article I will discuss both.


How to Prepare Before Your Throwing Program – Part 1 – Prepare Your Body

It’s funny how common sense tells us to prepare our body for common athletic activities, like running and jumping, yet people often neglect throwing.  The first three steps to prepare before your throwing program involve getting your body ready.


Prepare to Throw Step 1 – Get Loose

The first step in preparing your body to throw is to get loose and work on your mobility.  We’ve studied 1000’s of baseball pitchers and have found a few things when it comes to throwing a baseball:

  1. Throwing a baseball causes your muscles to tighten and you loose mobility of your shoulder and elbow
  2. Not addressing this becomes cumulative and you eventually get a little tighter and tighter over the course of a season
  3. Working to maintain your motion is effective and can prevent lose of motion

One of the phrases I use a lot with my athletes is “I want you to be you BEFORE you pick up a ball.”  What that means is, if you just threw 100 pitches yesterday in a game, I know you are tight.  If you ignore it and pick up and ball and try to throw, you are setting yourself up for trauma.  Throwing will loosen you up (before you tighten up again), but it’s a much more aggressive way to get your mobility back.

Rather, perform some self-myofascial release by using a foam roller, massage stick, and baseball ball.  Here are the ones I use the most on Amazon and because the foam roller is hollow, you can put your other tools inside and all fit nicely in your gear bag:

  • Foam roller – One of the best and hollow to put your other tools in it in your gear bag.
  • Massage stick – The best one on the market, the other more popular ones don’t compare.
  • Trigger point ball – You can use a baseball, but I also like the reaction balls.  The nubs help you get in there and hold it in position on the wall.

How to prepare before your throwing programYou should focus on the entire body with particular emphasis on your lat, back of the shoulder, rotator cuff, pec, biceps, and forearm.  You should avoid the front of your shoulder.  There really aren’t a lot of muscles there and your just smashing your rotator cuff and biceps tendons.

Hit each spot for 30-60 seconds and hold on any really tender spots for 10 seconds.

Notice how I intentionally didn’t say to “stretch” your arm or perform a “sleeper stretch” (here is why you shouldn’t perform the sleeper stretch).  Most baseball pitchers are too loose to stretch effectively and they end up torquing themselves too much and making things worse.  There is a difference between muscles and joints, it’s possible to have tight muscles and loose joints.

There is one shoulder stretch that is effective on the muscles and not too aggressive on the joint, the cross body stretch I call the Genie Stretch.  This can be enhanced even more by using a trigger point ball in the posterior shoulder muscles.  You can and should stretch your forearm, you can’t really hurt yourself here.


Prepare to Throw Step 2 – Warm-Up Your Muscles

Now that you have worked on restoring mobility back to your baseline BEFORE you throw, it is time to get your muscles ready to throw.  In the strength and conditioning world, we refer to this as “activating” the muscles.

You want to hit all the muscles and movement patterns that are need to accelerate and decelerate your arm.  These essentially include the scapula and rotator cuff muscles.  By turning on these muscles, the body will be better prepared for the upcoming activities and throwing.

Shoulder activation throwing programThe simplest way to do this is with resistance tubing.  We use a combination of tools at Champion, but tubing is quick, easy, and portable.

You do need to be careful of your volume of exercises.  These warm-ups are designed to prepare the muscle, not fatigue them, and are not a substitute for strengthening the muscles.  That is a completely different program to be performed at a different time.  We use tubing to simply activate the muscles with low volume sets and reps of 2×10

I use Theraband tubing with handles.  They are the best and far superior to the cheap bands you can buy at the local stores, which have odd resistance and can lose resistance over time.  They are even ~$15 on Amazon.  You can attach the band to a fence or post, or take turns holding with a partner.

I like the tubing with handles and want you to have to grip the tubing, rather that velcro strap them around your wrist.  Grip the tubing helps warm up your grip and forearm muscles and also has a reflexive stimulus to your rotator cuff to engage.

Here is a link to to purchase the Theraband Exercise Tubing I use in the video at the end of this article.  I recommend the green band for Little League age, the blue band for middle school and early high school age, and the black band for the older or experienced pitcher:


Prepare to Throw Step 3 – Getting Moving

The third step to prepare to throw now involves dynamic movements.  You can see that we are building on a logical progression here: restore mobility, activate the muscles, and perform dynamic mobility exercises for movement prep.

Throwing is a very dynamic activity, obviously, that needs elasticity of the muscles.  Stretching and mobility work alone will not turn on the elastic components of your muscles.  Similar to my comments above on stretching, I don’t want a baseball being the first elastic stimulus your body faces.  I want to slowly work up to that so it is less traumatic and aggressive of a jump in stress on the tissue.

We want to dynamically move the joints and have the muscles produce quick contractions,.  This helps prepare the muscle for  by improving mobility and activation.

At Champion, our athletes have a whole portion of their program dedicated to these three steps and assuring that the entire body is prepared to throw, however, I demonstrate a simple arm version of this in the video below.  Perform this and you’ll be head and shoulders above most other athletes.

For pitchers, we use movement prep exercises that mobilize and activate the muscles groups needed to throw, like the chest, posterior shoulder, and rotator cuff.  It doesn’t take a lot of repetitions to prepare the body.


My Warmup Program Before Throwing

Perform this 3-minute arm warm up program prior to starting your throwing program for the day.  This is our bare minimum program that we teach our athletes that are new to the concepts of preparing their body before throwing.  As you can see, you don’t need dozens of exercises or many sets and reps, even just performing this quick warm-up will put you in a more advantageous position to throw than most other athletes.

It is quick and easy and can be performed on the field before practice.  Look out into the bullpen next time you are at a MLB game and you’ll see many players performing this during the game.

I’ve adjusted the order of how I prepare the body a little bit since the filming of this video, so it is a little out of order per the above information, but serves as a great example of a quick and easy 3-minute warm up to be performed after your self-myofascial release and before throwing.


In part 2, I will discuss the next three steps involved in preparing to throw and how I actually start off my throwing programs.


Want to Learn More?


I also have a free 45-minute video on How Baseball Players Can Safely Enhance Performance While Reducing Injuries.  Enter your name and email below and I will send you access to the video as well as a handout of the above arm care warm-up exercises that you can take to the field:

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