The Best Way to Avoid Post-Workout Neck and Back Pain? Nail Scapula Stability

Photo: Getty Images/Caiaimage/Sam Edwards
Typically, a Barry's Bootcamp class is 60 minutes of nonstop (very, very) intense movement. From running to sprinting to the weight training (and back and forth between them over and over again), you don't get much of a chance to stop and breathe. But this morning, instructor Sarah Otey had the part of the class on the floor take a couple of minutes to focus on scapula stability—because if you're working with your shoulder area incorrectly, you're going to mess up a whole lot of things.

Your scapula plays a pretty major role in your workouts, particularly when doing upper body stuff. "It's your shoulder blades, where all the back muscles connect," Otey tells me. "So scapula stability is all about stabilizing the shoulder blade for us to do planks or overhead pressing—or basically solidifying it in a range of motion where we need our shoulder joint to be stable."

When you're doing rows, for example, and you don't push and press with your shoulder correctly, you can really mess with your neck and upper back area... which is already screwed over when you're sitting at your desk all day. "When we row, we're working to retract and depress the scapula to its greatest range of motion, which is different for everyone," says Otey. "Unfortunately if people aren't aware of how to do this—most raise their shoulders up to their ears and just bend and extend their elbow—this leaves them in a dangerous position to create unnecessary stress on the neck and upper trap, leading to headaches and neck pain and also pain in the shoulder itself, which is often an impingement of a ligament at the front of the shoulder and sometimes even elbow and wrist pain." Yeah, no thank you.

So what you wanna do is work on controlling your scapula through its movement—which, Otey says, includes everything from elevation to depression, retraction, protraction, and upward and downward rotation.

"There are a ton of other exercises to practice scapular control or stability in any range of motion," adds Otey. "Lat pull downs, dumbbell or kettlebell get-ups, windmills, halos, are a few others I use to get people moving their shoulder joint properly." To properly warm up the area before slaying arm day, do Otey's moves below:

Scapula push-up

Scapula controlled articular rotation

Band pull apart

Push-up hand release

Speaking of the halo exercise—here's how to do it. And if your shoulder blades are in knots, try shoulder flossing to make them GTFO. 

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