by Lesley Powell

 Freeing the shoulder Pilates Pro-An article about the shoulder by Lesley Powell

Upper and downward rotation of the scapula can be a confusing anatomical term.
The term is about the placement of shoulder blade on the ribs in movement. Upper rotation is the healthy movement of the scapula following the lift of the arm in the front sagittal plane. The tip of the scapula will follow the direction of the hand moving up in space. The inferior border of the scapula (the lower tip of the shoulder blade) moves forward to the armpits and then up around to the front ribs. Downward rotation of the shoulder blade follows the movement of the arm sagittal back in extension of the shoulder. The superior border of the scapula moves up over the shoulder when the arm extends backwards.

To start

  1. Lie prone with a foam roll or a prop (bolster, blocks, books, etc.) under your thighbones.
  2. Your weight is on your forearms parallel with the humerus bone right under your shoulder socket. If you have a tendency to use your Lats too much, place the elbow slightly in front of your shoulders.


The movement

  1. Allow the shoulder blades to come together. You will feel slumped. Keep your head in line with your spine. Remember this is about the scapula moving not the spine.
  2. Press down on the forearms. Feel how the lateral border of each scapula revolves around the armpit towards your front ribs. The tip of your scapula moves towards your elbow. Observe how the clavicle is rolling over your shoulder. The length between your armpit and hips remain the same.
  3. Repeat three more sets


  1. Were you able to maintain your spine in neutral as your scapulae gliding together and apart? Did the clavicle remain wide the entire time? Were the ribs under the clavicle and the armpit remain the same distance apart?

Level II Scapula – full extension of the arm

The movement

    1. With weight on your parallel forearms, Allow the shoulder blades to come together maintaining a good head-tail connection
    2. Press the forearms into the floor. Feel the tips of each of your shoulder blades reach to your elbows. The space between your scapulas is wide with your spine in neutral.


    1. Lift your elbows off the floor while maintaining the stability of the scapula on the ribs. Keep the reaching of the connection of the tips of the shoulder blades to the elbow. You want to feel a line of reach from the tip of your scapula to your elbow to the hand. This is the hand scapula relationship.


  1. (Optional – if you were able to maintain the upper rotation of the scapula with straightening your arms, try this) Lift of your right hand off the floor by reaching the tip of the scapula more in upper rotation. Both shoulder blades should remain wide on the back ribs.
  2. Place your right hand back to the floor. Maintain the shoulder blades adhering gently around the ribs.
  3. Repeat to the other side.

As you improved the scapular connection, did you feel how it changed the length of your ribs? How did your ribs changed when you fully extended the elbow?