The Shoulders Simplified

I posted this series on my Instagram recently, and I also did a Hips Simplified not too long ago. I’m glad you’re here to learn more about the shoulders! Words you won’t see me use here include protraction, acromion, or glenoid fossa. This is Shoulders Simplified! Now, let’s get started!

From the Front

Where is what?

Take a look at the colored dots on the images.
Red: Collar bone.
Yellow: Shoulder blade.
Blue: Arm bone.
Take time to feel for these in your own body. Everyone is built a little bit differently!

What’s good to know?

The collar bone (red) is really the only place the shoulder actually attaches to the rest of the body, onto the breastbone in the middle of your chest. The shoulder blades (yellow) float on the back of the ribs.

The shoulder blades are not limited to just the back of the body. As you can see in the skeleton image, a portion comes underneath the collar bone to help support the arm bone (blue) attachment. What this means is that when the arms move, the shoulder blades should be allowed to move too. You’ll see that in action when we get to the movement section.

Due to the limited attachments, the shoulders can move in a variety of different ways from different spots. But generally speaking, when you move your shoulders, the big movers are either your shoulder blades, your arm bones, or a combination of the two.

When looking for a neutral shoulder position, think about not using your muscles to turn the arm bone in or out, as well as not using your muscles to pinch the shoulder blades together or to lift or lower the collar bones. The collar bones, when resting, almost look like a slight smile. 🙂

From the Back

Where is what?

Take a look at the colored dots on the images.
Yellow: Shoulder blade.
Blue: Arm bone.
Take time to feel for these in your own body. Everyone is built a little bit differently!

What’s good to know?

The shoulder blade (yellow) is not one flat, triangular piece of bone. It has ridges and contours, and as we saw before, it even extents to the front part of the body. Also as I mentioned previously, the shoulder blades are not actually attached to the ribs here. So they can glide around, and we’ll look more into their movements next!

From this view, you can really see how the arm bone (blue) rests on the shoulder blade. When you reach your arms overhead, that shoulder blade needs to move so that bony part on top doesn’t cause any problems. So common yoga instructions to draw the shoulder blades down the back while reaching the arms overhead isn’t really good for this joint!

The shoulder blade and arm bone relationship also plays a part in a source of repetitive stress injuries in yoga. The chaturanga creates a restriction of the shoulder blades’ movement. With arms wider like a pushup stance, the bigger muscles that are meant to do this heavy lifting can take over, which helps relieve the other smaller muscles that have to take over the work when the shoulder blades can’t move.

Skeleton images courtesy of Francesca Cervero’s Mentor Sessions podcast episode number 58: All About the Shoulders with Diana Zotos of Threes Physiyoga Method.


Arm Movement

The first part of this video features the arm movements (think blue dots above). Because of the way the arm bone rests on the shoulder blade, it has opportunity to move many different ways! Rotate In & Out, Down & Up, and Forward & Back or some combination of these.

What’s good to know?

The rotation In & Out affects where the elbows and palms face. While there is a bit of rotation in the elbow so the palms can turn more, the eyes of the elbows (or as I like to call them: elbow pits! 🤪) are the best indicator of rotation in the shoulder joint.

As you can see, especially with the Down & Up and Forward & Back movements of the arm, the shoulder blades move with the arm bone. It’s totally ok to restrict that movement sometimes (like in chaturangas), but in the long run, it’s best to train shoulder strength in which the shoulder blades are allowed to move with the arm bones (think push ups). Also when reaching the arms overhead, there’s no need to draw the shoulder blades down the back, as is a common cue in yoga.

Shoulder Blade Movement

The second half of the above video shows the shoulder blades’ movements. I think the shoulder blades are super cool to watch as they move! Here, we’re looking at the shoulder blades’ primary movements: Out & In and Up & Down. Since they are not attached to the back, they also move a number of other ways, but for now we’re just looking at these 4 as the other movements are more associated with the Arm Movements which we already discussed.

What’s good to know?

When moving the shoulder blades, especially with the Out & In movements, the spine really wants to get involved. As a self awareness practice, try doing these movements without letting the spine move. It can be harder than you think, especially if you never move in this way! Think about pulling or pushing the shoulders while reaching the top of your head toward the ceiling.

Up & Down moves are just shrugging the shoulders up and down. Here, I have a tendency to move my neck. So just like with the Out & In, think about lifting the top of the head toward the ceiling to isolate the movement.

Trying each of these movements before a yoga movement practice or workout can really bring some new attention and awareness to your shoulders as you move. Try it out!

Any questions or feedback? I’d love to hear from you! Stay tuned for my next Simplified series! I might just go to an internal body part next!

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