How to Fix Scapular Winging
Scapular winging. It’s a thing.
Forgive the aloof and standoffish tone. I recognize the term “scapular winging” is a thing and that it can be an actual, real-live, medical diagnosis with dastardly consequences.1
But more on that in a minute.
It’s just that, in some ways, I find a lot of fitness pros – personal trainers, strength coaches, and even physical therapists – can often be a little too liberal with use of the term. They toss it around with little understanding of what it actually means and with little “feel” on how it’s interpreted by their clients and athletes.
I’ve long championed the sentiment that most (not all) fitness pros use the initial assessment as an opportunity to showcase how much people suck at doing things and how broken they are, and that, for the mere cost of a 215 pack of training sessions (the equivalent of a really, really nice Audi), they’ll fix you.
Pffffft, who wants an Audi anyways?
Here’s how a typical conversation goes:
Client: “Hey, I’m thinking about hiring someone to train me.”
Douchy Trainer: “Great, I’d be glad to help. We need to start with an assessment so I have ample opportunity to showcase how much of walking ball of fail you are and how I alone can fix you.”
Client: “Uh, okay. When do we start?
Douchy Trainer: “Right now, take off your shirt.”
Client: “Not going to buy me dinner first, huh? Kidding, okay, BAM.”
[takes off shirt]
Douchy Trainer: “Oh……….MY………..GOD.”
Client: “What? What’s wrong?”
Douchy Trainer: “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but, you may want to sit down for this.”
Client: “Okay. What is it?
Douchy Trainer: “I’m sorry to have to tell you, but, but…..you have scapular winging.”
Client: “Is….that bad?”
Douchy Trainer: “I honestly have no idea how you’re able to walk, let alone speak complete sentences. We need to fix this ASAP.”
And this is where the trainer turns into that a-hole nun from Game of Thrones walking the client, Cersei style, down to the training floor to take them through a bevy of corrective exercise drills.
Lets pump the brakes, mmmkay?
Scapular Winging: What It Is
Now, admittedly, the key words used to find this picture were “most fucked up, dumpster fire of a case of scapular winging on the internet,” so don’t get too alarmed.
This is a legit, medically diagnosed case, and not at all normal.
In a general sense, when we say “scapular winging” all we’re saying is that the shoulder blade comes or “wings” off the ribcage.
It’s sorta tricky because this pretty much describes everyone. You, me, George Clooney, your second cousin’s brother-in-law’s nephew’s Little League coach, literally, everyone, has some form of scapular winging.
So, what is it then? How much is too much? And, more importantly, what, if anything, should we do to fix it? Do we even need to fix it?
Dr. Quinn Henoch of Juggernaut Training Systems described this beautifully not too long ago. In short: a true case of scapular winging, like what’s pictured above, is a neurological condition where the Long Thoracic Nerve isn’t doing it’s job of innervating the Serratus Anterior (who’s job it is to adhere the shoulder blade to the ribcage).
The approach or fix in this case hasn’t anything to do with turning on “x” muscle or performing x, y, and z corrective exercises.
It’s not quite that simple.
Scapular Winging: What It Isn’t
I’ll tell you this much: we don’t have a pandemic of people walking around with true scapular winging. The vast majority of people you’ll encounter are owner’s of a completely healthy Long Thoracic Nerve.
They’re not broken. There’s nothing super duper nefarious happening.
What’s likely the culprit is a lack of tension and motor control.
The fix, then, is……..Drum roll…..
If we can figure out ways to introduce load and subsequently, tension, this will not only help to turn shit on (without having to go down the 19-part corrective exercise rabbit hole) but also help people get into better positions via a little introduction to protraction.
Want to “cure” someone’s scapular winging in a matter of seconds?
Watch this. Closed-chain movements, protraction in general, is kind of magical.
Wall Press & Push-Ups That Don’t Suck
Pretty cool, right? That’s some Gandalf shit right there.
Quadruped Rockback w/ Floor Press
Typically the Quadruped Rockback is a a screen used to gauge active hip flexion ROM and to ascertain someone’s appropriate squat depth based of his or her’s anatomy. However, after listening to Mike Reinold speak on the topic it’s also a great drill to cue people into more protraction and upward rotation
Floor Press w/ Upward Rotation
Taking the floor press a step further, we can take away a base of support (and force the stabilizing arm to work that much harder in order to maintain position) and then incorporate some upward rotation.
The umbrella theme here is not to dismiss scapular winging as an actual diagnosis. It is a diagnosis. It’s just not as common as people think, and I wish more fitness pros would stop jumping to conclusions so fast.
Oftentimes the fix is just to coach people up, introduce some load, and get them into better positions.
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Because of the 4th and everyone’s travel plans, Dean Somerset and I extended our sale by one day so more people could take advantage.
That’s $100 you’re saving. Take that money you’ll save and go to a nice steak dinner instead.
Comments for This Entry
RCCame for the rockback progression, stayed for the cat.
July 6, 2017 at 12:08 pm |
TonyGentilcoreShe was not fucking around. Such a diva.
July 7, 2017 at 6:18 am |
LisaEPIC Dagny photobomb. EPIC.
July 6, 2017 at 1:27 pm |
ShaunaAnother great article Tony. I definitely have a problem with "winging". My mom used to call them my wings because they stuck out so far. I never thought there was anything wrong with it and thought that's just how I was. I'm trying to work on it. Any advice what to do to relieve tightness across my knees and quad when I sit butt to heels. I cannot sit with my butt all the way to my heels without pain in the knees and it feels very tight. I'm also trying to decide if I should pick up your Complete Shoulder & Hip Blueprint. I'm a female, 46 year old pretty new personal trainer in a small gym. Would this be helpful for myself and my clients? Thanks!
July 6, 2017 at 3:09 pm |
TonyGentilcoreHi Shauna - that was actually the point of me writing the post: personal trainers and coaches like to make something out of nothing. With scapular winging. while we DO want it to be more flush up against the rib cage, the fact it's not doesn't necessarily mean you're broken. Most of the time it's more competency of movement and motor control.......which is what the drills I outlined work on. With regards to your knees, if sitting butt to heels hurts, then don't sit butt to heels......;o) CSHB - I'd highly recommend. I don't guarantee many things in life, but I can guarantee you'll learn from it. I also have zero doubts you'll be able to "close" a few clients with the stuff you'll learn from it. It'll pay itself off 10 fold.
July 7, 2017 at 6:23 am |
ShaunaThanks so much for your response Tony! I'll work on those drills and won't worry about sitting like that haha, it just makes me mad that it hurts. I learn so much from your articles and I love your sense of humor so that makes them even better.
July 8, 2017 at 12:55 am |
Annie HShauna, I am a 45 year old female personal trainer at a big box gym and I took the Complete Shoulder & Hip Workshop in person before Tony and Dean had it on DVD. I learned so much and use it everyday. Single best investment in my career. I work with the general population with weak back muscles, forward head posture, shoulder pain, etc. This course gave me the knowledge to really help them. I would recommend this course all personal trainers.
July 6, 2017 at 5:36 pm |
TonyGentilcoreThat was lovely of you to say Annie - thank you. Hope you're well.
July 7, 2017 at 6:23 am |
ShaunaThank you Annie!
July 8, 2017 at 12:56 am |
Devin GrayDefinitely going to try out those rockback variations. Question about teaching scapular protraction versus thoracic flexion. A lot of times I'll go to teach protraction, like in a "pushup plus", and see the client round through the upper back instead. I thought I saw it in the "wall press" video (could be way off, in which case, I've got some studying to do). If it is just a common compensation or fault when learning, what drills/cues do you like to use to help clients eventually feel the difference?
July 7, 2017 at 6:49 am |
Tony AuthorWell, protraction you will see/feel the shoulder blades move AROUND the rib cage. Flexion is flexion. People will definitely try to cheat or overcompensate so it's important to be a little more hands on when teaching these drills to make sure the person is getting the right movement in the right areas.
July 12, 2017 at 4:46 pm |
Dane CarletonHi Tony. I recently visited an orthopedic specialist because my left shoulder had been bugging me a few years: it would frequently ache and I couldn’t seem to activate my left back, left chest, or left shoulder in the same way I could activate those on my right. She said my left scapula wings and my PT gave me exercises to strengthen my serratus anterior. Although these exercises are helping with my pushing movements, I worry that my scapula still wings for pulling movements. Furthermore, I still can’t seem to activate my left lat and left lower trap in the same way I can activate those on my right. What would you suggest I should do to prevent winging when retracting my scapula? And how should I do lat pulldowns and dumbbell rows given my tendency to wing? Thanks!
November 16, 2018 at 3:41 pm |
SatyamCan I workout with a winged scapula? I have a winging on my right shoulder. And also I noticed my right peg is bigger than the left. What should I do in this situation.
February 7, 2020 at 2:37 pm |
hayleyHi Tony! Thank you for your sharing! I have scapula winging which does not show in a closed chain movement. But when i do it without load ,like just doing the movement of facepull with barehands , it wings . When i do bench press i can feel the scapula struggling to maintain retraction too (sometimes with a bit of a pinching sensation). What are your thoughts on scapula winging in open chain movements?
February 22, 2020 at 9:51 am |