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Real Activation: Modifying a Classic Movement

Written on May 6, 2009 at 8:18 am, by Eric Cressey

Today, we’ve got a great guest blog post from Jim Smith.  Jim is the author of Combat Core, a resource about which I’ve raved on numerous occasions.  This guest blog is yet another example of how innovative Jim is.

I utilize scapular wall slides (SWS) with my athletes because the conventional movement has a lot of benefits.  The movement should be done not only by forcibly pulling the elbows downward, but by actively forcing the elbows and back of the hands back into the wall.



1. activation of lower traps, rhomboids, infraspinatus and teres minor

2. dynamic stretch of the pectorals

3. great warm-up for upper back

4. improved posture

5. improved shoulder health

But let’s be honest, it is definitely a remedial movement.  Once it has been mastered and repeated with proficiency we must progress.  Of course we can progress to prone “Y” on the floor or on an incline bench with dumbbells, but I believe we have the opportunity to improve the benefits of the SWS.

In a previous article I discussed the fact that activation is the summation of muscle contraction and neurological excitement.  To truly activate a muscle group there has to be a powerful contraction or increase the rate and frequency of motor unit recruitment.  Now with conventional SWS, the movement is slow and the activation is primarily isometric in nature.

We must implement agitation to the system to truly activate the muscle.  I liken this to vibrational training, albeit at much lower frequency.

Here is the modification:

Have the athlete perform the SWS while holding elastic bands.  The coach will hold the band and step backward creating tension on the movement according to the athlete’s current strength levels.  The coach then, as the athlete performs the movement, imparts agitation to the movement by vibrating the band in a wave pattern.

The muscular activation will be exponential to the conventional movement, thereby improving and magnifying the benefits.


Jim Smith, CSCS

Jim Smith, CSCS is a highly sought after lecturer, author, consultant and renowned strength coach. Jim is an expert for Men’s Fitness and a member of the Elite Fitness Q/A staff. Jim’s new product on how to build muscle, lose fat – all with only three short workouts a week will be out soon.  Grab their RSS feed.  Check it out!

4 Responses to “Real Activation: Modifying a Classic Movement”

  1. Jack Says:

    On the surface, the sounds extremely innovative and effective, but it got me wondering…..I thought the purpose of low(er) level activation work was merely to get the muscle firing and then to integrate it in other training (rows, pull-ups, etc) to derive further benefits in MU recruitment, strength, and so on.

    For example, “classic” scapular wall slides followed by a chin or pull-up with full scapular retraction and depression, possibly even with iso holds i the top position.

    I am genuinely curious and do not mean this post in an offensive way.

  2. Kyle Says:

    I had a past shoulder surgery and lack the range of motion still to get my hand all the way back against the wall in that arm. Do the muscles still activate as well?

  3. Smitty Says:

    Jack, you’re exactly right in your progression model. The intent of the exercise is to transition from low threshold motor unit (LTMU) recruitment to a higher threshold motor unit (HTMU) improving intramuscular coordination prior to integration (intermuscular coordination).

  4. Pol58 Says:

    One small quibble: is the side dented in or is that an illusion? ,

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