Best exercises for the subscapularis – 76 gas credit card account login


When it comes to muscular imbalances (and pain) we regularly want to strengthen the long and weak muscle(s) and get the tight and or overactive one(s) to calm down. So not only do we want to pick exercises that wake up the long and weak muscle, but we want to pick exercises that, if not simultaneously, calm down the tight/overactive one.

Often times the tight/overactive muscles in this case are pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi. This is because the subscap isn’t internally rotating the humerus like it should be. So, other internal rotators, like pec major and the lat, pick up the slack. Infraspinatus and teres minor pick up the slack as humeral head depressors.

In comparing the activity of the muscles I’m going to only look at the upper subscapularis in relation to the other muscles we’re looking at. This is because I’m really not sure how important the distinction between the two is. The authors go out of their way to talk about the importance of the subscap being separately innervated. However, they mention the upper subscap has been found to be dysfunctional in those with shoulder pain, but make no such mention of the lower subscap. I’ve also seen other authors make no distinction when it comes to the shoulder issues and simply stick with, “strengthen the subscap.”

Furthermore, the upper subscap is the portion of the muscle that consistently had the highest activity, and the exercises were ranked nearly identical in terms of effectiveness between the two sections. So again, while there may be a better approach, I’m just going to look at the upper.

All right, so from looking at the chart we can see exercises such as the diagonal would be a poor choice due to the fact that pec major is more active than the subscap. This is important as simply taking the authors data at face value could lead one to suggest the diagonal is a great exercise as it was ranked as the second best.

I put the IR High first because it had the biggest difference between subscap activity and other muscles with at least a 38% difference. The push-up plus and dynamic hug are next as there was still a good sized difference between the subscap and other muscles, 16 and 12% respectively. These exercises get the serratus anterior involved too, which is often overstretched and weak also.

This means if you are trying to strengthen your rotator cuff and keep your shoulder healthy, performing internal rotation with your arm by your side (IR Low) could cause you to spin your wheels, if not make things worse. This is because you are strengthening pec major just as much, if not more, than the subscap. In other words, get rid of this exercise:

You’ll notice the opposite hand is pressed down on the shoulder joint. This is to make sure the humerus does not glide anteriorly during the movement. This is crucial because the whole point of doing this exercise to get the shoulder to stop protruding.

Performing IR High already helps a lot to make sure this doesn’t happen since the muscles that cause anterior glide are primarily dormant, however, it can still happen. Therefore, putting the hand on the humerus and pushing it down and back only helps. Also, it gives the client a better understanding of why we are doing this particular exercise, as well as how we are going about ceasing their shoulder pain. This can be hard as hell to do with an exercise where a lot more is going on e.g. push-up plus.

I’ll say getting people to perform the exercise prone has proven to be more difficult for me, so I tend to go with the standing version first. If you go with the prone variation make sure 1) You can see your elbow to make sure it’s not moving forward and backward (sign you are using the deltoid/lat instead of the subscap) and 2) That the humerus is not moving anteriorly.

My experience with weightlifters e.g. bodybuilders and powerlifting types is they are typically very stiff in their pecs and lats- both internal rotators. So, if you have them do an external rotation motion, such as the shoulder rotations described in this post, they often won’t be able to get to 90 degrees, primarily due to pec tightness. (Lats aren’t as stretched when the shoulder is abducted 90 degrees.)

However, they often have pain going into internal rotation, due to the anterior glide issues (and excessive scapular anterior tilt) mentioned in the post. In general, the internal rotation muscles do not need work. Specifically though, avoiding anterior glide / properly engaging the subscapularis does. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s weak though. If I remember correctly, there are even studies out there showing one of the biggest predictors of lifting success is subscapularis size.

Furthermore, plenty of these people can do the motion properly, albeit with also potentially less ROM, if coached correctly. It’s not like they necessarily need 4-6 weeks to get stronger. (The external rotation ROM limitation does usually need some time.) That said, we’re talking a comparatively puny muscle compared to the lats / pecs. Some dedicated strengthening only helps.

Long story short, there’s nothing that says a person can’t have issues going both directions. In fact, with internal / external rotation with the shoulder abducted 90 degrees, in those with a weightlifting background, it’s rather common to have issues going both ways.