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Written by Rebecca Stokes Are You Correctly Engaging for Pole? One of the hottest topics in pole and aerial arts is proper form and engagement, especially in the upper body. Aware instructors cue upper body activation with reminders such as, “Shoulders away from the ears,” “Squeeze the shoulder blades together,” but how many of us, in truth, understand what upper body engagement actually entails? Let’s take a look at the muscles operated in upper body activation for pole and aerial to create first-class form. The primary movement patterns in pole and aerial arts involve inverting, controlled pull-ups and utilizing certain muscle groups heavily to lift and hold the body in gymnastic positions. The muscles of the upper back must be employed correctly to improve strength and prevent injury. The first thing to know is that the latissimus dorsi and the pectorals are the main show in any pull-up movement. Because the pull-up is a gymnastic move it requires many muscles working together as synergists including the teres major and minor, infraspinatus, posterior deltoids, levator scapulae, brachialis, brachioradialis, biceps, rhomboids and middle and lower trapezius. However, if strong, one may be able to do a lift only using these muscle groups; not using all the muscles of the upper back may lead to chronic pain and injury. The smaller back muscles, including the rhomboids, trapezius (particularly the middle and lower) and smaller shoulder girdle muscles need to fire for complete upper back engagement. totallystokedfitnessmusclechartback Scapular Retraction and Shoulder Depression  The two major upper body components for any pole lift are scapular retraction and shoulder depression. To create scapular retraction, one must pull the shoulder blades inward, like holding an orange between the blades. This retraction should trigger the rhomboids, middle and lower traps and some of the smaller shoulder girdle muscles. The lower traps tend to be the trickier muscle group to initiate as the muscles are located in the middle back, below the shoulder blades. The other important step in scapular retraction is to depress the shoulders back and down as the shoulder blades squeeze together in shoulder depression. This depression engages the upper back and dismisses the upper traps. When the upper traps overwork and lift, this is called shoulder elevation, the opposite of shoulder depression. If there are tight upper traps or a tight neck after pole or aerial, this can mean that shoulder depression is not happening correctly and can indicate that the upper traps are over firing. Check out the Totally Stoked Fitness blog on Common Upper Back Imbalances in Pole and Aerial Arts. totallystokedfitnessscapularretraction1 Injury Prevention  Scapular Retraction and Shoulder Depression are crucial for preventing injury in the upper back. The big muscles, the latissimus dorsi and pectorals are easy to fire and tend to take over. Using this combination of engagement (scapular retraction and shoulder depression) can teach the body to turn on the trapezius, rhomboids and smaller muscles of the upper back. The mind and body need to be trained to fire the smaller muscles to help create muscular balance. The body is a connected system and if one muscle group becomes over or under developed the system moves out of balance. It’s common for the overdeveloped muscles in pole (lats and pecs) to get tight, strained and even start pulling on weaker muscles, causing imbalances like a knot between the scapula and the spine, a tight neck and shoulder pain. Underdeveloped muscles (rhomboids and lower traps) may stop firing or force another muscle to undertake the work. If the body is left unbalanced, injuries can occur such as muscle strain, tears and problems in to the connective tissues of the joints. What does Scapular Retraction Feel Like? The Serratus Push-Up totallystokedfitnesssacpularretraction2 If one has never felt scapular retraction or shoulder depression this movement may feel foreign. The serratus push-up, often used in pilates, is a fantastic way to feel scapular retraction. Begin in a kneeling plank or full plank with the wrists stacked under the shoulders. Keep the core in and up to create a flat body position. Roll the shoulders away from the ears and down the back in shoulder depression. Pull the shoulder blades toward the spine, engaging the rhomboids, middle traps and shoulder girdle muscles. Make sure to pull inward not just the rhomboids and middle traps (dead center between the shoulder blades) but the lower traps (under the shoulder blades, wrapping from the spine outward). Let the chest drop toward the floor a few inches and then lift the chest back up. This is a small movement when done correctly, not a full push-up.   Rebecca is the author of and co-founder of Atmosphere Fitness, an instructor training company for aerial arts and pole. Rebecca is a personal trainer, aerialist and poler of 8 years and studio owner. She specializes in training tips, injury prevention and tutorials for pole and aerial arts.She will be launching a series of e-books offering workouts, corrective exercise and training plans for pole and aerial arts. Blog Website

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