Pilates series 4# on shoulder stability

Shoulder stability is vital for an efficient rowing stroke. Wendy Davies explains more



The shoulder joint is a shallow ball and socket joint with a wide range of movement and relies on the surrounding muscles for stability. In rowing, the ability to stabilise the shoulders and ribcage in the correct position is just as important as having a strong core. Not only does it help prevent injury, but being in control of the muscles at the back of the shoulder and being able to activate them quickly at the catch and finish helps you achieve a more efficient stroke.

Wendy Davies

Wendy Davies has over 20 years working with rowers and elite sportspeople, including at five Olympic Games, three Commonwealth Games and many training camps and World Championships.

What can go wrong?

A common mistake is to hold the shoulders too high. In sweep rowing, if the outside arm and shoulder are raised, this may pinch the tendons at the front of the shoulder. And sculling with both shoulders too high can lead to neck and upper shoulder problems.


Raising the shoulders works the upper trapezius too hard and causes the lower trapezius and the serratus anterior muscles (muscles on the sides of the chest below the pectorals) to become inactive. If this becomes habitual, these muscles are lengthened and weakened so can’t carry out their shoulder stabilising role.

If the shoulder blades (scapulae) ‘wing’ out, rather than resting flat on the back, this also leaves the shoulder joint in a potentially vulnerable position. The whole rhythm of the upper body is affected and this can result in rib as well as shoulder injuries.

Shoulder stability should be something that you work into your everyday life

Why do the exercise below?

You need to correct any muscle imbalance to achieve an ideal shoulder position and the most efficient stroke. As an added bonus, activating these muscles will improve your posture in everyday activities, such as driving or working at a computer.

Shoulder exercise

A graphic explaining how to do a shoulder exercise. To engage the lower trapezius and serratus anterior muscles, stand with a neutral spine, widen the collar bones and by imagining you have a couple of weights in the hands, simultaneously glide the shoulder blades down towards the feet. Do not squeeze them together tightly or lean your upper body backwards. Ask someone to observe you or use a mirror to check the technique. Alternatively, lie on your front with your spine in neutral. Place your arms by your sides with palms facing in and hover the arms off the floor. Reach your fingertips towards the feet, while simultaneously sliding your shoulder blades towards the feet. As with other Pilates exercises, this should be carried out with 30-40% of maximum effort. Overworking the muscles won’t achieve the ideal neutral position. Less is more.

Take it further

Once you have mastered the exercise, transfer it to your training:

  • Try sliding your shoulder blades down while warming up on the ergo.
  • Pause and activate these shoulder stability muscles before lifting weights in the gym.
  • Also practise this stabilisation when fatigued at the end of a training session.
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