How to Do Scapular Squeezes: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to do scapular squeezes to help with upper back and shoulder strength, plus modifications to make this exercise easier or harder.

Published Date: Aug 31, 2023
scapular squeeze

How to Do Scapular Squeezes: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to do scapular squeezes to help with upper back and shoulder strength, plus modifications to make this exercise easier or harder.

Published Date: Aug 31, 2023
scapular squeeze

How to Do Scapular Squeezes: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to do scapular squeezes to help with upper back and shoulder strength, plus modifications to make this exercise easier or harder.

Published Date: Aug 31, 2023
scapular squeeze

How to Do Scapular Squeezes: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to do scapular squeezes to help with upper back and shoulder strength, plus modifications to make this exercise easier or harder.

Published Date: Aug 31, 2023
scapular squeeze
Table of Contents

Ever feel sore and stiff after a long day of being in the same position? Upper back and neck or shoulder tension is something a lot of people struggle with, especially after a day of work and commuting. Thankfully, there are many ways to counteract this, including movement and targeted exercises. One such targeted exercise that can be particularly effective for sore or tight shoulders is the scapular squeeze. 

This exercise is often recommended for people who spend a lot of time at a desk or on a computer, as it helps to counteract the forward hunch and rounded shoulders that can develop from prolonged periods of sitting. (We’re looking at you, tech neck.) It's also beneficial for people involved in sports or activities that require strong and stable shoulders. 

Here, learn more about how scapular squeezes might benefit you and how you can incorporate them into your day — plus modifications to make scapular squeezes easier or more challenging.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Are Scapular Squeezes?

The scapular squeeze exercise, sometimes referred to as "shoulder blade squeezes," is primarily aimed at strengthening the muscles between the shoulder blades. It’s a simple yet effective exercise that can help with overall shoulder health and function, as well as help you maintain a comfortable posture. 

What Muscles Do Scapular Squeezes Work? 

Scapular squeezes primarily target the muscles responsible for pulling back the scapulae, or shoulder blades, including: 

  • Rhomboids, which are located between the spine and the inner border of the scapula. Their primary function is to retract the scapulae.

  • Trapezius, commonly known as the “traps.” This is a large muscle located in the upper back and neck region. The wider end that’s positioned at the top of the muscle combined with the narrower end at the bottom gives it its trapezoidal shape. There are three main parts of the trapezius muscle — the upper, middle, and lower trapezius. Scapular squeezes primarily target the middle and lower trapezius. 

In addition to the rhomboids and traps, scapular squeezes also engage some stabilizing muscles like the deeper muscles of the spine, as well as the muscles in the posterior deltoid (back of the shoulders).

Benefits of Scapular Squeezes 

Strengthening the muscles between the shoulder blades through exercises like scapular squeezes can make everyday activities easier and more comfortable, such as: 

  • Sitting up straight. It’s important to know that there’s no such thing as perfect posture. But developing strong muscles throughout your back can help ensure that you are able to find a comfortable position for you, whether you're sitting or standing. 

  • Lifting and carrying. Strong scapular muscles can assist in stabilizing your shoulders when lifting or carrying objects, reducing the risk of injury.

  • Pushing and pulling. Whether it's opening heavy doors or pushing a shopping cart, strong scapular muscles provide a stable base for these movements.

  • Doing overhead activities. Optimal shoulder strength makes tasks like reaching up to grab items from a high shelf or performing overhead work (like painting) much easier. 

  • Reducing pain and discomfort. Weak scapular stabilizers can contribute to neck, shoulder, and upper back pain. Strengthening these muscles can alleviate or prevent discomfort in these areas.

  • Breathing. Believe it or not, posture can affect respiratory function. Being in an upright, comfortable posture that works for you allows your lungs to expand more efficiently. This can also help with relaxation and pain relief. 

An added bonus: Scapular squeezes are a very quick and easy exercise you can perform anytime, anywhere, making it a great “movement snack” for your workday, especially if you work at a desk. 

Scapular Squeezes: Exercises and Modifications 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Scapular Squeezes

Scapular Squeezes

Scapular Squeezes

Scapular Squeezes

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To do scapular squeezes: 

  • Start with your elbows bent at 90 degrees and resting at your sides. 

  • Move your elbows and shoulders backward while squeezing your shoulder blades together. 

  • Relax your shoulders and return to your starting position. 

Everyone is different, which is why you may need to modify this exercise to meet your needs.

Scapular Squeezes Modifications

Scapular Squeezes Modifications

Scapular Squeezes Modifications

Scapular Squeezes Modifications

To make scapular squeezes easier:  

  • Limit how far you move your shoulders and elbows. 

To make scapular squeezes harder: 

  • Hold a resistance band between your hands. As you squeeze your shoulder blades together, stretch the band by moving your hands slightly apart. 

  • You can also hold weights, such as dumbbells, in your hands while doing this movement.  

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program. 

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.  

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. 

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

  1. Paine, R., & Voight, M. L. (2013). The role of the scapula. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 8(5), 617–629. 

  2. Lee, K.-S. (2020). Effect of a Five-week Scapular Correction Exercise in Patients with Chronic Mechanical Neck Pain. The Journal of Korean Physical Therapy, 32(2), 126–131. doi:10.18857/jkpt.2020.32.2.126

  3. Lowe, R., O'Reilly, N., Pavaskar, S., Jackson, K., Knott, C., &van Niekerk, W. Therapeutic Exercise for the Shoulder. Physiopedia. Retrieved from https://www.physio-pedia.com/Therapeutic_Exercise_for_the_Shoulder