The Squat Fix: Scapular Stability Pt 2

Scap Stability Cover pt 2

Welcome back to Squat University! Last week we started a conversation on scapular stability. The muscles that control the scapula help stabilize the barbell during an overhead squat or snatch movement in a strong and safe position.

Previously, we introduced the T & Y screen as a tool to expose possible weak links our scapular stability. Today I want to share with you two of my favorite corrective exercises to address overhead instability.

1) External Rotation Press

2) Kettle Bell Turkish Get-Ups

Focus on your posture while performing each movement. An exercise performed with poor posture (i.e. rounded shoulders) only reinforces the problem we’re trying to affect. If you want to see any lasting improvements in your overhead stability, you MUST use good posture!

External Rotation Press

When athletes struggle to keep the barbell overhead during a snatch or overhead squat, they often allow the bar to fall forward. In order to fix this problem we need to focus on activating the muscles that resist this forward collapse (the scapular stabilizers on the back of the shoulder).

Step 1: (Row) Grab a resistance band with your right hand. Pull the band towards you in a rowing motion. Your hand should finish directly in front of your elbow with your arm parallel to the ground. This engages the muscles that stabilize the shoulder blade.

Step 2: (External Rotation) From this position, rotate the shoulder backwards. Your hand should now be facing the ceiling with your elbow bent to 90 degrees like an “L”.

Step 3: (Press) Next, push your hand overhead and hold for 5 seconds. The muscles that stabilize the shoulder blade should be working hard to keep your arm from falling forward.

Step 4: Next reverse the pattern and return to the start position. Lower the arm to the “L” position. Rotate forward until your arm is parallel to the ground. Finally, press your arm forward to end the movement.

Here is a quick video from physical therapist Mike Reinold demonstrating the exercise.

Recommended Sets/Reps: 10 repetitions of 5-second holds in the overhead position for each arm.

Kettle Bell Turkish Get-Up

The get-up challenges the athlete to create scapular stability through a progression of movements. During each transition, every muscle that stabilizes the arm must work to keep the weight from falling forward.

Step 1: Start by lying on your back. Your left leg should be straight with your right knee bent. Hold a small weight with your right hand. Press the weight towards the ceiling.

Get Up 1

Step 2: Next, rotate your body onto your left side, propping yourself onto your elbow. Try to keep your left foot from coming off the ground during this transition. To maintain this position, think about forcing your left heel through the wall in front of you as you rotate.

Get up 2

Keep the weight from falling forward! To help with this, imagine yourself balancing a glass of water with the hand that is holding the weight. If your arm falls forward, the water will spill from the glass.

Get Up Glass Cup

Step 3: Push yourself upwards into a side plank. Pause during this transition and feel for the position of your scapula.

Get up 3

Step 4: Pull your left foot under your body and shift your weight onto your left knee. Pause again in this position for 3 seconds.

Get up 4

Step 6: Twist forward into a split kneeling position. Pause in this position for 3 seconds. Feel the muscles in the back of your shoulder working hard.

Get Up 5

Step 7: Stand straight up, keeping your arm locked out above your head.

Get up 6

Step 8: To finish, reverse this same order of movements until you are lying again on the ground.

To progress this exercise you can a heavier kettle bell. You can also move to using a barbell for added difficulty.

Recommended Sets/Reps: 3 sets of 10 repetitions

Final Thoughts

My hope for this lecture is to give you a few tools to address your overhead stability problems. If you want to perform overhead barbell lifts with good technique and without pain, it is vital that you improve and maintain good scapular stability.

Until next time,

Dr. Aaron Horschig, PT, DPT, CSCS, USAW


The Squat Fix: Scapular Stability Pt 1

Scap Cover Photo

Imagine for a moment a young boy helping his father set up a tall ladder. The young boy kneels at the base of the ladder, firmly securing it to the ground. The father then pushes the ladder upwards, leaning it against the side of their house.

Ladder Photo .jpg

This illustration is precisely what happens at your shoulder every time you move your arm! (1) The shoulder blade (scapula) acts just like the young boy in this story. The small muscles that attach and move the scapula help to “steer” your arm into place by keeping the base in a stable position.

The muscles of the upper back work together to maintain the barbell in a good position during overhead barbell movements. Think what would happen if the father tried to set up the tall ladder without the help of his son to secure the base? This would be a recipe for disaster. The same scenario occurs when athletes perform overhead squats and snatches with poor scapular stability.

Assessing scapular stability

While there is a lot that goes into assessing your scapular stability, one simple test you can do at home is the T & Y screen. This is an easy way to uncover possible weak links in the muscles that secure your shoulder blade (17 to be exact).

Start by assuming a kneeling position with your chest facing the ground. Hold one arm directly out to your side (as if making one side of the letter T). Make sure your palm is facing toward the ground. Have a partner then push down on your outstretched arm for 3 seconds. Try to keep your arm from moving!

Next, take your outstretched arm and move it to an elevated position (as if now making one side of the letter Y). Again, have a partner push down on your outstretched arm for 3 seconds. Try to resist this movement as much as you can!

What did you feel? Was it easy or difficult for you to maintain your outstretched arm position? If you had a hard time keeping your arm from moving, it means you may have poor scapular stability.

Final Thoughts

Athletes who struggle with poor scapular stability often have difficulty with the overhead squat and barbell snatch movements. If left unchecked, this problem can even lead to the onset of shoulder and/or elbow pain. If you want to stay healthy and reach your true strength potential, focusing on stabilizing your scapula during overhead lifts is vital!

Next week we will discuss a few of our favorite ways to create a more stable platform for our overhead barbell lifts.

Until next time,

Dr. Aaron Horschig, PT, DPT, CSCS, USAW


1) Terry GC, Chopp TM. Functional anatomy of the shoulder. J of Athl Training. 2000; 35(3):248-255.