Scapular Pull-Ups

How to do an Effective Scapular Pull-Up Workout and See Results

Are you yearning to strengthen your upper body and up your scapular pull-up game? Discover the best way to take your upper body from “meh” to “wow”.

Scapular pull-ups are no doubt the best exercise to incorporate into your strength training program. Especially, if you’re into rock climbing or are a full-time gymnast. Scapular pull-up acts as a preliminary approach before you kick into pull-up full gear.

Knowing how to properly engage your scapula (or shoulder blades) is key to maximizing your workouts and seeing results.

In this article, we’re going to take a deep dive into all you need to know about the scapular pull-up workout and how to avoid injuries.

Check out beginner tips for rock climbing here!

What Is A Scapular Pull-Up?

A scapular pull-up is an essential upper body workout performed in a particular range of motion where you activate your upper back and shoulder with subtle movements. You must master the scapular pull-up before advancing into pull-ups. Otherwise, you face the risk of incurring injuries.

The end goal, usually, is to strengthen the muscles at the back, core, shoulder, and arms. And, to elevate your body without the use of your arms. The 4 major muscles essentially activated during the scapular pull-up include(1):

  • Medial/lateral axis
  • The trapezius
  • Rhomboid major and,
  • Serratus anterior

Now, ideally, these are the muscles you want to be targeting when doing your scapular pull-ups.

According to research, the lower trap muscle is especially important in your pull strength. Since they are actively involved in the pull-up exercise when compared to the other pull-up variations. This, therefore, plays a huge role when it comes to performing this workout effectively.

Steps To Do A Scapular Pull-Up In Proper Form

  1. Grip a secure pull-up bar and go into a dead hang with your arms slightly wider than your shoulder width.
  2. At the bar, engage your core muscles while keeping your legs up above the ground.
  3. Relax your shoulder blade muscles and ensure your arms lie away from your ears. Imagine you’re doing a shrug.
  4. With a subtle motion of the scapula (or shoulder blades), clench your glutes, keep your hips tucked, and engage your core muscles to stop you from swinging to and fro.
  5. Take a deep breath. Ensure you concentrate the movements only at the shoulder blades while bringing them down towards your hip region.
  6. Squeeze hold for a second. Then, in slow motion, work your shoulder blades back up as high up as you can while rotating them away from your hip region. Ensure you maintain a straight arm. You should feel your muscles working at this point
  7. Repeat to the starting position.

Why Scapular Pull-Ups Are Important Before Pull-Ups

Your shoulders are relatively prone to injuries during this overhead activity (2).

People make the mistake of going straight into the pull-up workout without respect for the scapular motion. This, therefore, alters the position of the scapular and general movement thereby resulting in shoulder pain. (3)

It might seem like the scapular pull-up and the actual pull-up occur in one straight fluid motion. However, this insignificant, yet vital process is indeed in two phases. If not done before your pull-up, you won’t be able to strengthen your grip and properly engage your core and lower trap muscles to pull yourself up and down in a particular range of motion.

So to transition to a proper pull-up workout without incurring impingement injuries, ensure to start with the scapular pull-ups to train your posture and practice proper scapular retraction movement.

Variations Of The Scapular Pull-Up

Assisted Pull-Up Band

As a beginner, it can be difficult to pull your body up. To oppose this, use a banded pull-up as an alternative. In this case, have a band with resistance hang casually over the bar. Next, you place the band under your foot so it lies conveniently over your head and under your foot.

Not only would this boost your confidence in transitioning into proper pull-ups. But also you’d be able to maintain a proper form and practice proper scapular retraction while working out.

As you progress and start to do over 10reps at once, you can start to use a band with lighter resistance till you don’t need a band anymore.

Assisted Pull-Up Machine

This is also another alternative you can use as a beginner. Although, research has found that using the assisted Pull-Up machine doesn’t effectively enhance the muscles as much as the traditional pull-up does. Especially when the primary aim is to strengthen the muscles of the back, shoulder, arm, and core muscles. It mostly exerts its effect on the biceps.

Negative Pull-Up

This is another alternative for beginners where you try to jump so that your head goes over the bar. Or simply, use a step to get your head directly above the bar. And then, slowly lower your body to the ground in a somewhat controlled manner.

Weighted Scapular Pull-Up

As you progress, properly elevating your upper body starts to become a lot easier. In this case, incorporating extra weights for resistance – such as adding weight belts or dumbells into your workouts – will be a great option.

Weighted Scapular pull-ups, like any other load-bearing workout, encourage hypertrophy and therefore, an increase in gains.

Common Mistakes To Avoid

Speed Of Execution

Scapular pull-ups only work when you’re intentional with your movements. Too fast or too slow movements can put a lot of strain on your shoulders, thereby leading to fatigue, injury, or strain on the shoulder muscles. It’s recommended to focus more on quality over quantity reps for an overall effective workout.

Improper Scapular Positioning

Ensure to keep your shoulder blades always relaxed. Having your shoulder blades upwardly rotated and elevated between each rep is key. It will activate your lower trap muscles and lat to induce motion of your upper body. Bad posture steers awkward movements and eventually, shoulder pain.

Don’t Use Your Arms

Avoid relying on your arms to pull you. You end up flexing your elbows and defeating the whole aim of the exercise.

Not Having Rest Days

To avoid stressing out your upper muscles doing scapular pull-ups, try observing in-between breaks within your workouts to give space for your muscles to rest and recuperate.

Uncontrolled Descent

When executing scapular retraction, you most likely won’t be able to control your descents at the start. However, you must aim to do so. Otherwise, your workout efforts will be futile. Ideally, try working up to a 30seconds descent so you properly engage your upper back and improve your pull strength.

In case of injuries, avoid pull-ups until your muscle fibers heal up completely. In a severe case where your injury is beyond control, ensure to consult your doctor.

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