Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Revisiting the Scap Clock Drill

The scapula is an area of importance for proper upper body mechanics. It is the circuit board that controls the mechanics of the shoulder. Unfortunately, it is grossly overlooked in many exercise programs or simply poorly addressed. Many trainers tend to add in some simple push up pluses or rows to "target" the scapular muscles (mainly the infraspinatus and teres minor); however, many exercisers mistaken the function of the scapula with other back muscles.

With conventional rowing, many novice exercisers miss the mark with scapular function. Actually getting the shoulder blades to move is challenging for people that are deconditioned or what I like to term "anterior chain dominant".
Anterior Chain Dominance is characterized by people that are predominately seated for most of their day. They are slouched in chairs staring at computer screens and typically have excess weight causing anterior pelvic tilting; as well as tight /inactive hamstrings and glutes. To add insult to injury, many of this individuals feel the answer to their weight problems is performing countless ab crunches. Performing hundreds and hundreds of abdominal crunches weekly places much unneeded stress on the cervical discs, and posteriorly tilts the pelvis. With the hopes of gaining 6-pack abs, many exercisers simply develop overly tight anterior (front) muscles. These tight muscles may include:

Cervical flexors
Upper Trapezius
Pec Minor/Major
Psoas
Biceps
Rectus Abdominals
Hip Flexors

With poor posture being a hot topic among personal training, it is only fitting to address the scapula region. Many trainers think it is simply rectified by adding more rowing to the exercise program. Rowing is a key player in combating anterior chain dominance, but we have to begin with focusing our efforts on the scapula. This is the area that begins to 'freeze up' and cause lay persons to experience pain and discomfort.  Albeit,  the core is a major factor when addressing anterior chain dominance; for the sake of this post, I'm going to focus on the scapula.

The muscles of the scapula are responsible for dynamically stabilizing the shoulder blades, as well as being mobile enough to allow for proper joint function. When the scapula stablizes correctly, the humeral head that makes up the glenoid-humeral joint is able to move freely without restriction. This is aided by a strong rotator cuff group that acts as a braking mechanism. The rotator cuff "clenches" the head of the humerus and doesn't allow it to run against the 'roof' of the acromium and clavicle.
The problem lies when someone comes in with shoulder pain and it is diagnosed as impingement. Impingement means that the rotator cuff muscles are actually rubbing against the 'roof' of the acromium and causing inflammation. In long term cases, it become a tendinosis problem that hinders daily activity. In most cases, a physcial therapist, trainer, or doctor always focuses on strengthening the rotator cuff muscles. However, many professionals lack looking to the scapula for proper stabilization during shoulder movment. The scapula acts as an achor for the rotator cuff muscles. Without optimal rigidity, the rotator cuff cannot properly do what it is designed to do: grasp the humeral head.

This is where the Scap Clock Drill comes into play. It is not a beginner drill. You should not present any pain or discomfort in the shoulders prior to performing this exercise. It is simple to perform and easy  to include within a program. All you need is a blank wall--without any obstructions (walls, picture frames, posters, etc, etc). Next, you will need clean hands. No gym owner will like dirty hand prints on a smooth wall. Also, this drill cannot be perfromed on a mirror. Its been tried and your hands will not glide as smoothly. As I said earlier, this is not a beginner exercise; but it is not an advanced exercise either. I like intermediate.

Begin with standing facing the wall (as close as you can). Your nose should be about an inch away. Then, take 2-3 steps back. Depending on your height and leg length,  your steps can be modified. At this time, you should be about 6-8 or so inches away from the wall. Place your hands on the wall, with arms staright. Keep your core strong and scapula tight. Slide your hands in various position along the wall mimicking a clock face. As you slide your hands further out [from your torso], your body should get closer to the wall. It is easy to lose the tightness in your shoulder blades and core, so pay attention to that throughout the drill. Perform numerous positions to really accentuate range of motion. Don't stick with one motion because its the one you are best at. Try diferent angles. If you have pain with certain angles, modify your step and distance from the wall. The object is to place most of your weight into the walls through your arms/hands.

To progress and make this drill more challenging, you can load the exercsie using your bodyweight and gravity's help. Best luck!

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