If you are teaching a class and you notice one of your student’s shoulder blades sticking out away from the rig cage, otherwise known as winging scapulae, this client may be dealing with weakness of the serratus anterior muscle.
The serratus anterior muscle is responsible for holding the shoulder blades snug against the back rib cage. When activated they move the scapulae out and away from the spine.
It is not such an issue is the student’s blades are winging at rest, it is most important to identify winging during movement, e.g. raising arms over head or in plank position, since this identifies them as functionally unstable. If this is the case, the student will benefit from strengthening the serratus anterior muscle because winging can lead to impingement (descent of the coracoacromial arch) and decreased ability for the rotator cuff and other muscles to generate normal strength – ultimately leading to shoulder problems during their asanas.
To best help the student with winging scapulae, encourage them to consult with a qualified exercise therapist or physiotherapist as he or she will likely need a comprehensive program addressing scapular instability. However, I’ve included one exercise that you can teach your class to target this important stabilizing muscle.
Have them stand facing a wall and place their hands against the wall directly in front of them (plank position against the wall). Instruct them to move their chest away from the wall, keeping the hands pressing into the wall. Monitor their upper backs to confirm their scapulae move out and away from the spine, and ensure the client keeps a relaxed and even shoulder posture. Click image (right) for demonstration.
Once the motion has been learned, have them repeat this exercise leaning into the wall on their elbows, with the elbows as high as possible. This new position removes the help from the anterior deltoid muscles and helps isolate the action to the serratus anterior.