Scapular Pull-ups

The scapular pull-up is a training essential in the Hörst gym! Keeping your shoulders healthy and developing proper movement patterns in pulling motions demands the ability to forcefully depress, rotate, and retract the scapula. Regular use of this isolation exercise will develop better kinesthetic awareness of your scapula position and enable you to climb harder and longer with good form, despite growing fatigue. Furthermore, being able to quickly and forcibly engage the lower trapezius and latissimus muscles will empower you to keep your scapula in proper position when campus training and lunging.

  1. Begin in a normal pull-up position with a palms-away grip and hands shoulder-width apart.
  2. From a full hang, with just slightly shrugged shoulders, you want to draw the scapula down and together, thus raising your body slightly but without bending your arms and pulling as in a regular pull-up. The best learning cues are: Try to “bend the bar” and think about doing a reverse shrug (i.e. shoulders drawn downward). Do this, and you’ll feel your head shift backward and your chest raise upward, as your scapular pinch together.
  3. Hold the top position for one second, then return to the starting position. The range of motion is only a few inches to a foot or two (when you get really strong!).
  4. Do six to twelve reps, keeping nearly straight arms and tight spinal erectors and glutes throughout. At first you may find this to be a difficult exercise (a sign that you’ve found a critical weakness to correct!), but resist the urge to overdo it.
  5. Add a second set to your workout only after you’ve master the exercise.

1. Begin from an ordinary pull-up start position. 2. Maintaining nearly straight arms, depress and downwardly rotator your scapula by pressing down on the bar—think about trying bend the bar (supinating your forearms) and press your chest out.

Training Tip: Strong climbers will do this exercise with full body weight, but I suggest learning with less resistance by keeping your feet on the floor and flexing your knees enough to hang with straight arms from a pull-up bar. Advanced climbers can increase difficulty by making the scaption more powerful, thus raising your body higher and higher (large range of motion as shown in the photos above) without bending your arms. Do not add weight for this exercise.