Pilates Basic Principle - Scapular Area and Movement

Scapular Area and Movement

The scapulae (more commonly, the shoulder blades) are unique because of their attachment point… they don’t have one! The scapulae lie on the back and due to this lack of attachment have a great deal of mobility, making it more important than ever to use the muscles to stabilize the area.

When we get lazy, admit it… it happens to the best of us, and don’t stabilize the scapular area the upper trapezius and other surrounding muscles over work as a result.

Then, the next morning the first thing you do is curse your pilates instructor’s name because your shoulders and neck hurt! Didn’t your mother teach you that cursing isn’t nice, especially when it’s really your fault?

Six Scapular Movements

  • elevation (upward gliding)
  • depression (downward gliding)
  • retraction (inward movement towards the spine)
  • protraction (outward movement away from spine)
  • upward rotation
  • downward rotation

Connection of Scapulae in Pilates

Though the shoulder blades move with the arms, it is important to keep the shoulder blades slightly connected throughout movement to ensure safety from injury and control of movement. Connection of the scapulae refers to thinking of gently and slightly sliding the blades in towards the spine and slightly downward in a “V” position.

Maintaining width through the chest will also help maintain a neutral and connected scapular area. Ideally the shoulder blades will lie flat on the back without any of the edges of the scapula sticking out. (see photo below)

Like the other principles, scapular stabilization should be present in all exercises. Yes, even those exercises that seemingly don’t involve the arms or upper back. This is how pilates becomes a full body exercise method.

In the gym you work just arms or just legs. In pilates we might have an exercise where the mobility is primarily of the legs but all of the other principle areas of the body are engaged and working towards a neutral position to help facilitate optimum movement in the legs (or wherever the mobility might be.)

Scapular Placement in Pilates

Every single person has a different placement of their shoulder blades and this is where I see the most variation. It is important to work with your pilates instructor to find out where your natural resting position is. From that knowledge he/she can help you understand the action you will need to create a supportive and neutral scapular area.

Pilates Applied

You can see how this can quickly translate into other activities. The first analogy that pops into my head is running. When we run the mobility is in the legs. It is much easier to run with the head and torso aligned than it is to run with your back swaying behind your pelvis.

So… doing leg exercises in the gym is great for brute strength and a little toning but doing a pilates exercise that has mobility of the legs with neutral alignment of the other principle areas (like scapular area) will have many benefits that go far beyond focused strength and toning alone.

Shoulder Stabilizers

There are 4 (muscular) scapular stabilizers. Often your pilates instructor will refer to them as “scapular stabilizers” instead of naming them all.

  • serratus anterior
  • middle trapezius
  • lower trapezius
  • rhomboids
  • the latissimus dorsi helps out



These pictures depict the flat, or not so flat, scapula along the back.

The top photo shows the scapula that is not muscularly connected. Instead of lying flat on the back you can see that the inside edges (nearest to the spine) are released off of the back.

What we are aiming for is the scapula in the bottom photo. These scapulae are muscularly connected and you can see that it fits right onto the back of the rib cage with no edges popping up.

You Just Learned Scapular Stabilization and Placement for Pilates

  • Why scapula stabilization is important
  • How to create connected/neutral scapula
  • Muscles used to create scapula stabilization
  • Want to learn more pilates principles? Check out this overview of the pilates basic principles.
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