Last week I posted an overview of shoulder engagement and why it’s so important to our longevity as pole dancers. This week and next (and maybe the one after that …. there is SO MUCH MATERIAL), we’ll dive into a little anatomy lesson. It’s hard to be aware of what you’re engaging if …. well, if you are’t aware of what you’re engaging! So here we go: We’ll start with skeletal structure. After all, your muscles are connected to bones, and it all works together! Scapular awareness (scapulae = both shoulder blades) is vital when it comes to muscle engagement, because without the ability to maintain scapular stability your whole shoulder girdle loses its foundation. First up, your shoulder joint (AKA the glenohumeral joint). This is the place where your upper arm bone (humerus) meets your left or right scapula. Elsewhere, each scapula bone connects to the outer end your clavicle at the acromioclavicular joint as shown in the illustration here: The scapula itself is a triangular, flat bone to which more than a dozen muscles are connected. And those muscles do a lot of contracting and lengthening when we pole, taking the scapulae along. There are several main actions associated with your scapulae, as seen here: As you might guess, each of these actions has a particular job when it comes to moving your body. The idea is to create awareness by doing certain exercises, so you can gain some awareness of how to control the movements of your scapulae and thus create shoulder stability. If you can learn to activate and engage the muscles that control the scapulae, you can use those muscles to contract and lengthen on demand. Pretty nifty stuff! Here’s an excerpt from an article in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy “It is important that the clinician have a thorough understanding of the muscles that control the scapula and normal scapular mechanics. Only through an understanding of normal biomechanics can the pathomechanics of injury or dysfunction be understood. The scapulothoracic articulation is one of the least congruent joints in the body. No actual bony articulation exists between the scapula and thorax, which allows tremendous mobility in many directions including protraction, retraction, elevation, depression, anterior/posterior tilt, and internal/external and upward/downward rotation. When describing scapular positions, the point of reference is the glenoid. The lack of an actual bony articulation in the scapulothoracic region predisposes it to pathologic movement, rendering the glenohumeral joint highly dependent on its for stability and normal motion. The scapula is only attached to the thorax by ligamentous attachments at the acromioclavicular joint and through a suction mechanism provided by the muscular attachments of the serratus anterior and subscapualaris. This suction mechanism holds the scapula in close proximity to the thorax and allows it to glide during movements of the joint.” Um, yeah. What that means is that because your scapulae aren’t connected to your chest by bones, they have to rely on the surrounding muscles to keep them stable and strong. And in turn your shoulder joint relies on scapular stability to keep it strong and mobile. So if your scapulae aren’t under control, neither are your shoulders, and you’re just asking for an injury. Next week, we’ll get to the muscles, and how they fit into all of this.