Exercises You Should Be Doing: Scapular Wall Slides

To kick off our new ‘Exercises You Should Be Doing’ series, I thought I would share an exercise we use quite liberally at First Guess Fitness in our clients’ programming.  That seemingly simple exercise that everyone loves to hate, then loves to love (sort of): wall slides!It’s no surprise that having a facility in the city, 99.9% of our clients spend most of their day behind a desk and come in with less than optimal posture and jacked-up shoulder mechanics.  The most common things we see are poor t-spine (thoracic spine = upper spine) mobility, stiff lats/pecs, protracted shoulders and poor movement quality which are all are recipe for disaster.

To counteract all that, wall slides are a great exercise to include in a good warm-up or as filler/rest between heavy strength exercises (e.g. between sets of deadlifts or squats as an active rest).  They are also a great option for a daily movement since you can crush them anywhere, anytime… at home, in the office, on the T, at 7-11.  Scapular wall slides err where!

What are they doing?

Besides improving scapular/shoulder mechanics, wall slides help strengthen lower/mid traps which tend to be fairly week in most of the population.  Improving these things will allow you to not only perform overhead lifts more efficiently but will help reduce shoulder injuries and anterior shoulder crankiness.

What should I feel?

If done properly, you should get a small stretch in your pecs and lats at the top of the movement.  You should also feel your traps (mid back/shoulder blades) working and fatiguing after the set.

Note: If you’re feeling it mostly in your upper traps (neck/top shoulder), try to shrug your shoulders down.  

Coaching Cues:

1. Start with your feet 3-6 inches away from the wall.  This will allow you to flatten your low back a little more to the wall by tucking your tail (posterior tilt).  If you can’t get your back completely flush with the wall, that’s okay.  Do your best.

For the forearm wall slide, stand with a staggered stance and your right foot forward.  Make sure to brace your abdominals and keep your ribacage down (eg. hold abs tight as if you were to get hit in the stomach at any time.)

2. Make a double chin.  Pull your chin into your neck and don’t let your head come forward off the wall.  If you’re a bit kyphotic in your upper spine (rounded forward) it’s okay to place an Airex Pad, half foam roller, or pillow behind your neck.

3. Allow your shoulder blades to move.  As you reach straight up you should feel your shoulder blades moving up and out with your arms (upward rotation) and back down and in when you return (downward rotation).

4. Don’t crank on your shoulders/scapula.  You want to promote smooth movement of your arms and shoulder blades and should be aiming for a gentle stretch.

5. Stop when your arms are straight up overhead.  If you can’t quite get your arms up in a straight line like you’re making an ‘I’, it’s okay to reach out like a ‘Y’.