Pull ups, muscle ups, and toes to bar are common challenging exercises that are performed in many workouts They are especially common for those that participate in crossfit workouts. While there are a lot of moving parts in each of these exercises, having good scapular strength and stability is important for improving performance and decreasing the likelihood of injury. Learning the correct technique is important, but if you do these exercises or want to do these exercises you will want to improve scapular strength and control.
When performing the exercises such as pull ups, muscle ups, and toes to bar there are a couple of ways that the scapular positioning can cause potential for injury and decrease performance. If the scapular movement pattern demonstrates more of an anterior tipping or elevation positioning during the arm motion, then this can place the shoulder in a position that may lead to impingement. This occurs when the upper arm and the acromion of the shoulder blade or the shoulder socket pinch the tissue or other structures during shoulder motion. Another problem that can present when there is poor scapular strength and stability is the stress placed on the tissues in the shoulder such as the rotator cuff. The muscles of the rotator cuff attach to the shoulder blade so when the shoulder blade does not appropriately support the shoulder motion, then the increase in stress gets placed on other muscles and tissues in the shoulder.
The nice thing about these potential problems in the shoulder, is that they can all be remedied by improving scapular and shoulder strength and control. The scap pull up is an exercise that can be added into any program and will help you learn how to engage the scapula as an early part of a coordinated motion for the pull up, muscle up, toes to bar, or other hanging overhead lift.
The shoulder blade has 23 muscles that come into contact with it. While some may do more than others, this means that there has to be a high level of coordination for all those to work together. On top of the coordination of the muscles of the shoulder blade, there also has to be coordination of the muscles in the trunk and arms (the kinetic chain) to perform the complete and efficient pull up, muscle up, or toes to bar. Making sure to improve the scapular strength and control will help keep one link of the kinetic chain stable.
To perform the exercise, hang from a bar with the shoulders relaxed. Pull the shoulder blades slightly back and down as far as possible. Pause for a second and then relax the shoulders back to the starting position. Make sure to lower yourself down in a controlled motion so that there is not a quick change in stress in the tissues of the shoulder. Repeat. To add it to the exercise such as the pull up, start the pull up with a scap pull up followed by the full pull up.
Improve scapular strength and control improve those overhead hanging activities.