“What suggestions do you have to help dancers get their shoulder blades to lie flat on their back?” Felicia
Okey dokey! Let’s first talk about the anatomy of the shoulder girdle so it will make sense. It really is important to get those shoulder blades lying flat on the back so they can support the arms in port de bras as well as stabilize the shoulder girdle in multiple movements and decrease the potential for injuries.
Anatomy of the shoulder girdle
The shoulder blades, aka your scapulas, are a fairly flat, triangular bones that hang on the backside of the ribs. They connect the upper arm bone to the collarbone. There are 6 movements of the scapula. You can elevate and depress (essentially a shoulder shrugging motion).
You can protract and retract which is pulling them together and separating them. Picture on left is retraction. That is what I often see dancers do wrong when they are doing their port de bras.
And you can rotate the scapula upwards and downwards, which is describing how the bottom of the scapula moves towards or away from the spine.
We’ve all heard of ‘winging’ shoulder blades, and that is when the inside border of the scapula moves away from the ribs. Some teachers call them chicken wings:) This happens when there is an imbalance in the muscles of the shoulder girdle and may require both doing some stretching and strengthening in the area.
What are common reasons for winging of the scapula?
If they have a rounded of slumped standing posture when they aren’t at the barre, it’s quite possible they have tightness in the pec minor and the latissimus muscles. Those muscles will need to be stretched as you work to strengthen the stabilizer of the shoulder blades, the serratus anterior muscle. This is the primary muscle that will need to be strengthened.
Here are pictures of the 3 muscles I’m talking about.
Stretching the lat and pec minor
There are many different ways to stretch and strengthen these muscles but I’ll give you a couple of my favorites.
I like to stretch the lats by doing a doorway or what I call a C Curve stretch. You may feel the stretch more at the armpit area or more towards the waist and lower back. I’ll move gently looking towards and rounding my lower back to find the sweet spot of the stretch. Another stretch is called the prayer stretch and you can google that one.
A really nice way to stretch out the pec minor is lying on a foam roller and placing your arms on a high diagonal (sometimes I start by first doing slow angel wings to move through a range of motion) Breath and allow your arms to hang towards the floor. Move your arms slightly to find your best places to stretch.
Strengthening the serratus anterior
Now onto the serratus anterior. It is important to properly identify when this muscle is working. Start standing, in good alignment, and draw your hands down towards the floor. Feel the muscle engagement under your armpit? That’s your serratus anterior. I want you to keep that muscle engaged through the next exercise. Start lying on your back with your elbows at a 90 degree angle and the back of your palms lying on the ground by your head. (like the picture above on the foam roller but without the foam roller) Keeping your back lengthened, ribs dropped, slowly slide your forearms and back of the hands upwards. You are using the serratus anterior to keep your scapula drawing towards your pelvis the whole time. This is not easy! Keep them engaged!
If you want a challenge you can do the same thing as a wall slide – starting with your back against the wall, feet slightly away with knees bent. Same instructions – keep the shoulder blades drawing downwards as the forearms keep contact with the wall and are sliding upwards.
Now have them stand and place their hands in a prayer position, pressing the palms together while drawing the scapula downwards. Maintain the placement of the scapula and open thearms easily to second position and notice how wide and open their chests are! Over time they will create better muscle balance and improve their port de bras line.
To your success!