What is the Subscapularis?
The subscapularis is a very important muscle located on the upper inside of the shoulder blade and is one of four muscles that make up the rotator cuff. It gets its name exactly from that location; sub meaning under, scapularis meaning the scapula, or what’s better known as the shoulder blade. The subscapularis is the largest and strongest of the four muscles making up the rotator cuff. It is triangular shaped and attaches to the upper arm bone (humerus) and to the shoulder blade (scapula).
Along with tendons, these muscles are what keep the shoulder joint in its socket. This major muscle is responsible for motion, strength, and stability of the shoulder and allows for a wide range of movement, such as raising and rotating the arm, and enable you to do many daily tasks that are often taken for granted. Each of the four rotator cuff muscles plays an important role in the function and mobility of the shoulder, and if they become injured or painful, small tasks like reaching for an item or brushing your hair can become troublesome.
The primary moving function of the subscapularis muscle is internal rotation of the arm at the shoulder; the action of turning the arm inward. The subscapularis also aids in adducting the humerus; the action of lifting the arm up and away. This large muscle also plays a role in centering and stabilizing the shoulder joint.
The other three muscles of the rotator cuff include the Supraspinatus which holds the humerus in place while keeping the upper arm stable. It also helps lift the arm. The Infraspinatus is the main muscle that rotates and extends the shoulder, while the Teres Minor is the smallest muscle of the group and has the job of external rotation; the action of turning the arm outward.
Neglecting to exercise the muscles making up the rotator cuff can lead to pain and poor performance. When these muscles are not functioning properly, or if too much pressure is put on them due to poor posture, small tears can form in the tendons. This can lead to severe pain, inflammation, and loss of mobility in the shoulder region. Fortunately, there is an easy exercise to strengthen and keep your shoulders moving properly to stay or become pain free.
Best Exercise for the Rotator Cuff Muscles
For rotator cuff or shoulder injuries and pain, it’s best to target ALL of the rotator cuff muscles. The subscapularis is frequently overlooked and may cause an injury to heal slower and increase the chance of re-injury.
The best exercise to target all the muscles of the rotator cuff, including the subscapularis is a variation of the conventional push up, called the push up plus. The push up plus starts out in the same position as a normal push up, however the action is not in the elbows and the arms remain straight. The action comes from dropping the chest between your arms, then retracting by pulling the chest back up and rounding through the upper-back. In these two motions the shoulder blades will slide inward and outward along the back of the ribcage.
There are Two Ways to do the Push Up Plus:
1 – Push Up Plus from Your Knees
This modified push up position, commonly known as the knee push up, is a bodyweight exercise that targets muscle groups throughout the upper body. The push up plus version specifically targets those muscles in the rotator cuff.
Start in a 4-point position with your hands below your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips. On an inhale, lower your chest between your shoulders, keeping your arms straight (position 1). On an exhale, move into position 2 by pulling your chest up and rounding through your upper back. Start with 1 set of 5 repetitions in each position, cycling between positions 1 and 2. Over time you may work up to 10 repetitions.
2 – Push Up Plus from Your Toes
Start in a 4-point position with your hands below your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips. Step back with both feet to move into a straight-arm plank position, maintaining good alignment in your head, shoulders, hips, and legs. Engage your core. On an inhale, lower your chest between your shoulders, keeping your arms straight (position 1). On an exhale, move into position 2 by pulling your chest up and rounding through your upper back. Start with 1 set of 5 repetitions in each position, cycling between positions 1 and 2. Over time you may work up to 10 repetitions.
We recommend starting from your knees until you are more comfortable with this exercise, then progress to your toes.
If you are currently injured or experiencing pain, it’s best to consult with your doctor prior to starting any new exercise routine. Listening to the body and starting off slow will give your muscles and nervous system time to adjust to a new routine. Remember, success can only happen when a routine stays consistent.
The best way to maintain good health is by setting aside time each day for eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep. It’s never too late or early for to take steps towards bettering your health.