Yoga for Posture – 31 – Stretching a Tight Subscapularis

Let’s talk about stretching your tight subscapularis muscles.

Wait, wut? What the hell is a “subscapularis?”

Shoulder Anatomy
Shoulder Anatomy

It’s a relatively little known rotator cuff muscle responsible for aiding internal rotation of the arm, and stabilizing the shoulder. It lies between the back ribs and the shoulder blade.

The shoulder blade is properly known as the scapula, so you can see the name tells you where it is. Sub (beneath) scapularis (shoulder blade), in short, it’s the muscle under the shoulder blade.

The major problem of the subscapularis is lack of use. Let’s look at the two uses mentioned above:

  • First, internal rotation. We tend to sit at a desk, in front of a computer all day. In doing so, we tend to hunch over, and this naturally rotates our shoulders in putting the subscapularis in its active position without actually doing any work. This causes it to shorten up and get tight.
  • Second, shoulder stabilization. In that desk bound position, our shoulders are relaxed so the subscapularis gets basically no work throughout the entire day.

Now, in both cases, I’ve referred to deskwork, because work is the largest component of time in our days (except, maybe, sleep). But what of the other time blocks?

  • Driving? Same posture.
  • Eating? Same posture.
  • Reading, Texting, Watching TV? Same posture.

For all intents and purposes, we’ve given up on the poor little fellow and taken away his job. Now he’s permanently shortened, so instead of rotating our shoulders inward when we need it to, the subscapularis is constantly pulling our shoulders inward, giving us “gorilla arms.”

If we want to create and maintain proper posture, we’re going to have to give subscap his job back, but before we can do that, he needs to be stretched out.

Doorway Stretch for the Subscapularis

Stand in a doorway

  • Place your elbow against the door jam
  • Place your palm flat to the wall
  • Straighten your arm
  • Raise your arm to 45°
  • Push your chest forward until you feel the stretch in your subscap
    • Go to discomfort, not to pain
  • Hold 5 to 10 seconds and release
  • Repeat 2 to 4 times
  • If you can do so, without pain, push the palm of your hand into the wall to active the muscle
    • This will activate the muscle itself and deepen the stretch

Now, I know this is supposed to be yoga for posture, but the basic level stretch for subscapularis doesn’t lend itself to yoga. If you remember scorpion twist for pectoralis minor, it may seem very similar. Well, it is very similar, but similar does not mean the same. Scorpion twist rotates the shoulder and moves into the peck minor. We’re trying to stretch a different muscle.

Still want a yoga pose for subscapularis? Once you have done the doorway stretch a few times to begin the loosening process, and to acclimate subscap to stretching, you can do a modified Downward Dog.

Down dog is done with the arms straight forward from the shoulders (different stretch, different muscles), but if you’ve trained some flexibility into your subscaps, and got good strength for the rest of Down Dog, you can do it with your arms out to 45° and push your chest down to stretch subscap.