Push Up

Mastering Scapular Control And Proper Abdominal Recruitment
Brian Devlin

How often have you heard people complain of back pain when they are doing sit-ups?

Why does this happen?

Let’s start by first understanding the role of scapular control and how that effects core strength which in turn achieves lower abdominal strenth and a flat stomach.

The scapulas move in basically four directions.

These four movements affect how our spine and abs will be recruited during movement.

Scapular protraction moves the shoulder blades forward on the rib cage and shoulder girdle in a forward direction. The muscles working in this scapular exercise are the pectoralis minor and the serratus anterior.

Scapular Protraction1

Scapular retraction moves the shoulder girdle and blades together toward the vertebral column. The muscles working in this scapular exercise are the rhomboids and middle trapezius.

Scapular Retraction2

Scapular depression moves the shoulder girdle and blades down the back and involves the pectoralis minor and lower trapezius.

Scapular elevation moves the shoulder girdle and blades up the back toward the ear, like a shoulder shrug. Muscles working in scaular elevation exercises are the upper traps and levator scapula.

Here is a secret that most people don’t know…

If one can not forcefully protract the scapula, one cannot effectively engage the pelvic tilt muscles responsible for flattening out the lower stomach.

It is this pelvic tilt response that allows us to flatten the lumbar curve during a sit-up.

If your client can not effectively engage their protractors and use proper latissimus tension, they will forever have low back pain upon attempting a sit-up.

Watch the video below for some clips from Spider Training that may help you see the light during your next personal training session.

Scapular Control

Spider Training 1 Mastering Scapular Control


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13 Responses to “Mastering Scapular Control And Proper Abdominal Recruitment”

  1. Brian Devlin says:

    Feel free to ask any questions on this post. I will try to answer ALL.


  2. Sarah Rippel says:


    Hola! Maybe you can help me think a situation through. I’ve brought it up over at Super-Trainer and also on JP forums, and no one had any insight. I do overthink things, lol. Anyhow, I have been working with a particular client for 4 years now. She is kyphotic, and although I am always working to help alleviate this, it’s genetic. Her mother is the same way. It’s frustrating b/c I know what to do with her, but I realize I can’t do it all for her. What I began to put together is the link between the scaps and hips. More specifically, her left shoulder has issues and so does her right hip. What connects it? Obviously, the core, and go figure…she cannot brace her abs to save her life. It’s almost like the longer we train, the less progress I feel she’s making. Also, she’s prone to grumbling about almost every exercise and tends to “zone out” during workouts, so I have to re-explain stuff. Anyhow…yadda yadda yadda…where I stand these days is i’m very hesitant to put her in a pushup position. I do a lot of band work with her (pulls, lo to hi diagonals, etc) and am really trying to find ways to force her to brace her abs. I figured out that doing dead bugs with a stability ball (push palms and knees against the ball, which causes reflexive bracing) is something she likes, feels, and doesn’t complain about. So, since she’s in the protracted position already, it’s obviously affecting the position of her hips and shutting down her core. She has a chin up bar and i’m really thinking getting some of the ab wings wouldn’t be a bad idea.

    Yeah, I guess I was just kinda talking myself through this and not raising a specific question, but perhaps you have some insight? :)

    Thanks, B, I really appreciate your blog and am wanting to order the Spider Training DVDs with this client in mind!

  3. Stephanie says:

    Hey Sarah, This is from Brian:

    The problem with turning on and continuously activating the lower abs, or should I say pelvic tilt muscles, lies in your client’s ability to produce protraction and lat tension simultaneously. This blog post should brush on this topic. But if you really want to go deeper, spider training 1 will definitely not disappoint you in your search for answers. Congrats on being Georgettes forum monitor btw.



  4. John Lodrago says:

    Love the scapula pull ups, been doing them for years now with clients who cant curl hips up for low ab knee raises. Your explanation on the subject was brilliant.Although I have used this pull up method mostly for curling the knees to the chest,It gave me so many new Ideas for making other exercises easy,already know the clients I’m going to torch er with this One.

  5. Sarah Rippel says:

    Thanks, Brian!!!!!! I’m gonna order! And I hope to help Georgette get things rockin’ on the forum!!!!!!!

  6. Kaiser says:

    Thanks for the drills, Brian – Excellent video content as usual -

  7. Brian Devlin says:

    Hey Kaiser,
    Whats up bro?
    Give me a shout some time..

  8. Sorry I didn’t post sooner…great stuff..really!!

  9. Francesco Mcgraff says:

    I just came across your site. I am hooked!

  10. Milton Lanzer says:

    I absolutely love pull ups all of the time. Pull ups is definitely one of my most fun exercises and all serious about fitness should try them as much as possible. These are interesting tips, I thank you lots.

  11. Hi Brian:

    Scapular control and specific training has been my personal focus on my own body’s functional training this year as it was discovered by another trainer how functionally weak my scapular stabilizers were. Being a bodybuilder, I always assumed that I had strong shoulders and back but my posture was a dead giveaway to the trainer who noted it in my training and physique. I now make many mini-corrections in my day to depress my scapula and retract them to continually improve my posture. Next time I step on the competitive stage at 55 in one and a half years, I want my posture improvements to show in my bodybuilding posing.

    As always, Brian you do a great job explaining your exercises.

    Michelle Gaulin
    Muscled in Midlife (age 53)
    Pro Natural Bodybuilder
    Personal Trainer & Sports Nutrition Coach
    Ageless Fitness & Health

  12. Malcolm Schroth says:

    Your blogpost is amazing, its probably something to do with my computer but for some reason i can’t access your blog on google chrome, this is why i had to use a different browser.