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Building Scapular Strength with Pilates Exercises

Building Scapular Strength with Pilates Exercises


Pilates is named after its creator Joseph Pilates (1883-1967), who devised a set of exercises based around what we now call core stability. Joseph Pilates claimed that when practiced regularly and correctly, pilates exercises would balance the body and the mind. Pilates can help with scapular strength.

Pilates exercises not only strengthen the core muscles of the lower back, but also helps in building scapular strength. Scapular, pelvic and lower back stability are important in pilates. Even when not exercising the neck and shoulder.

The muscles that provide scapular strength and stability are:

  • Lower trapezius
  • Middle trapezius
  • Rhomboids
  • Serratus Anterior
  • Rotator cuff

When active, these muscles help to keep the scapula and shoulder joint stable, throughout arm, neck and upper back movement. This allows smooth, controlled movement to occur. Activation of scapular stabilisers is achieved by maintaining width through the chest. Also, allowing shoulder blades to lie flat on the mat, or the surface you are exercising on. During pilates posture is very important.

Normally in those experiencing neck/upper back/shoulder pain, there is almost always imbalances present in the muscles around the shoulder leading to abnormal movement patterns or biomechanics. Examples of this would be a shoulder blade that sits forwards or wings. This as a result of tight pecs or lats. This can overload the shoulder and pinch tendons controlling shoulder movement.

Activating and strengthening the scapular muscles through pilates exercises has been shown to decrease the risk of shoulder, neck, elbow and even wrist injury. Strengthening muscles that anchor the scapular to the thoracic spine and rib cage, ensures that the weight of the arms and forces generated by the arms in weight bearing exercise is transferred to the stronger and more rigid thoracic spine. Rather than overloading more unstable delicate joints such as the shoulder.

Pilates Assists

Pilates assists in improving upper limb movement patterns and scapular muscle recruitment and timing. Which in turn increases joint support when it is most needed. It can also lead to increased awareness of how you use your neck in relation to your shoulder and upper back, further enhancing posture and reducing injury risk. Pilates exercises tend to gently load and strengthen the scapula in different positions i.e. with overhead movement or in 4 point kneel. This helps achieve the dynamic stability the shoulders, neck and upper back require to support them through full range of motion.

When practised regularly, pilates can help significantly reduce the risk of injury and improve sports performance. If you have experienced neck and shoulder issues in the past, and are interested in starting pilates, contact us here to arrange a free one on one assessment with one of our physiotherapists.


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