Try to hold your arms out to the sides for 5 minutes. Just try it. Ok, for time’s sake try 1 minute. It’s hard, right? Now try it in Warrior 2. Woah! It takes a lot of work!
So much is happening in Warrior 2 that your arms/shoulders can become neglected. How many times have you been in a yoga class and the instructor lifts your drooping back arm in Warrior 2? Not only is every muscle in your legs and torso either stretching, lengthening, or building muscle, but your arms are abducted as your shoulders hold up the weight of your arms. If you’re having a tough time keeping the full expression of Warrior 2, it could ultimately be weakness in your supraspinatus muscle.
Building strength in your arms and rotator cuff muscles will assist in providing enough strength to abduct your shoulders for a longer period of time. The most important of these for abduction of the shoulders is the supraspinatus. The supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subcapularis, and teres minor are the 4 muscles of the rotator cuff. These rotator cuff muscles surround the humeral head to stabilize the shoulder joint. The supraspinatus originates at the scapula and inserts on the greater tuberosity of the humerus in front of the infraspinatus. It helps to abduct the upper arm bone away from the body and move it overhead (a la Sun Salutations.) It is the only rotator cuff muscle not involved in shoulder rotation but it assists in many everyday activities and yoga poses.
Strengthening rotator cuff muscles is crucial in preventing common shoulder injuries and helps open up the chest. In a world where millions of people internally rotate and hunch over, the supraspinatus weakens causing a rounding in the shoulders. Yoga Tune Up® poses like Pranic Bath, Propeller Arms and Stand Up Bodysurfing will awaken and/or strengthen the supraspinatus for a much more open chest and stronger Warrior 2 pose.
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Pose at once so simple and so complex thanks for my shoulders
I love the suggested YTU poses at the end of this post. Many thanks for those!
Great article sharing the importance of the supraspinatus. Struggling with propeller arms – my brain is fighting my body and it’s really tough to embody the movement.
Its really good to read that now as i’m building a class to aim towards warrior 2 as a final pose, and i’m focusing so much on the legs preparation, but the holding arm part is actually the part that some people are having hard time with because they get tire easy.
Rolling on the supraspinatus is key to help me get through my day to day life. This post is a good reminder to not only massage the muscle but the importance of strengthening the muscle.
I love massaging this muscle with YTU therapy ball. I always feel I’m opening up my chest more and tension of shoulder decrease.
Supraspinatus is the superior of the 4 muscles of the rotator cuff: including infraspinatus, subcapularis, and teres minor.
Just today I targeted my supraspinatus with my YTU balls and was in heaven with relief. As my curiosity about this rotator cuff muscle peaked, I was so happy to come across your blog post. It helped me to understand that strengthening this muscle is vitally important for daily activities as well as for all those yogis out there who want to maintain a safe, lifelong practice. Such a cool observation to point out that droopy arms in Warrior 2 can signify weakness in the supraspinatus. I’ll keep an eye out for this when I teach, noting that it might be wise to encourage these students to modify chatturanga dandasana by lowering the knees as their rotator cuff may not be strong enough to perform it with stability.
I really enjoy body surfing and propeller arms. Perhaps it is because I severely injured both shoulders many years ago playing contact sports and was never interested in having them operated on. I have used yoga postures, body strength and animal exercises for many years to help strengthen and align the damaged muscles in my shoulders. I plan on using these two poses in my regular daily warm for my ring exercises.
Great description on the importance/role of the supraspinatus. As well as how to strengthen this vital muscle.
Great article! I like how you talked about the importance of the supraspinatus while holding the arms up in Vira 2.
Hi Lauren, Great article! In my practice I often see those with rounded shoulders from hours spent at the computer with the ever common complaints of chronic neck pain and tension headaches. Although I am able to manually target much of the muscle tension in the clinic, patients often return in a few weeks with the same complaint. Excited to introduce the YTU balls and teach them to locate muscles like the supraspinatus in hopes that they will be able to take control of their own health.
Even as a teacher, I somethings don’t cue the arms as much as the legs but it is hard to hold them up for a long time! Yoga Tune Up has given me insight to go back to basic… a “simple” pose like warrior 2 can be worked in so much depth when you have the knowledge! Thanks for this article!
Attempting Bodysurfing was a revelation of how weak my shoulders are (and I can do chaturanga, no problem huh?). I guess I have been invoking the help of other muscles during plank and chaturanga as I could barely slide just using the isolated shoulder strength. Oh my! How wrong have I been!
My supraspinatus takes a beating from corporate life and being on the computer too much. Thank you for this reminder to add some of the dynamic yoga tune up poses to my ball therapy work to get these muscles back in shape.
This was insightful! Thank you for highlighting the importance and purpose of the Supraspinatus, and the types of poses that can help to activate and strengthen this muscle. Very helpful information!
This piece of information is insightful! Now every time I do Warrior II, I’m going to try to bring a little more awareness to my upper body and supraspinatus. Plus, do more propeller arms and body surfing dynamic movements.
Thanks for sharing this information about caring for the shoulder girdle. You are right! I am often thinking more about my legs than about my arms in warrior II. Interesting that the supraspinatus is the only muscle in the shoulder girdle that doesn’t assist in shoulder rotation.
Just another great reason to bodysurf!)
Thanks for highlighting one of the warriors of Warrior 2. Yes – super common for me to need the back arm adjusted. Thank you for educating about abduction of the arms and using Supraspinatus, as well as giving specific YTU poses to work on.
Thank you. This was very helpful in understanding which muscles are actually included in the rotator cuff. There is a spot on my shoulder that is frequently sore when my massage therapist touches it. I call it my magic button. As a motivational speaker, I use my arms a lot when I speak. As a result I get a lot of flexion of my shoulders and abduction of the arms and don’t get enough extension of the shoulders. I think if I took little Yoga Tune Up exercise breaks I’d be in less pain after a few days of teaching.
I love how you and Yoga Tune Up have now given me clearer undersatnding of which muscles are firing to help create movement in my body . Supraspinatus is one of my new warriors , thank you !
We did bodysurfing on Day 1 of Level 1 YTU training and it shed light on how much I retract me shoulders, rely on spinal extension, and the front of my collarbones as a means to an end. The assistant teacher kept asking me to think of moving forward as opposed to up which then drew my awareness to the weakness of my back body. It’s so much harder than it looks and I had a breakthrough here.
Great post – talking about not only what this muscle does but also how to properly strengthen it is essential. Deltoid weakness can also often be overlooked when someone has a weak rotator cuff so making sure that both areas are paid attention to is essential.
Thank you for your vivid description of the rotator cuff. As I read, I immediately started to plan adding strengthening the supraspinatus in all of my classes. I’m especially excited to save all of my students from the chronic rc issues that I see in my seniors classes and help the seniors while I’m at it.
I love that when I start to read a blog I’ve aleady smiled. Your information was excellent. What sparked my interest was the mention of Warrior 2 and the ability to hold the arms away from the body for long periods of time. Here I was thinking trapezious. I will now incorporate propeller arms, stand up body surfing, pranic breath to strengthen my supraspinatus.
Thank you Lauren for your insights. Rubbing out the supraspinatus is always a pleasure and I love the idea of standup body surfing.
I always feel a major burn in my supraspinatus while abducting my shoulders in warrior II. Since I started practicing Yoga Tune Up, I’ve found the therapy balls to be most beneficial in relieving these rotator cuff muscles. It’s made a big difference, for me, to knead out the fascia buried between those muscle fibers. It has eased lots of tension on my shoulders as I practice poses that require great amounts of upper body strentgh and stability.
Great article. I’m in YTU training and we just did class on the rotator cuff muscles, opening pec minor and subclavius working towards proper shoulder alignment for down dog. This was one of the most challenging classes for me. Today I feel sore as though I had a deep tissue massage. Amazing!
That is the muscle at the top of my shoulders that I grab and rub when I put my arms down after a long hold in abduction.
I had my third day of training yesterday and the pose was down dog. Feel so in tuned with my shoulder girdle today.
We tend to take our supraspinatus for granted … This small muscle takes a large load over a day …. Every time we lift our arm laterly, our supraspinatus has to work….. Then load it with groceries or children and that leaver has to work harder.
Thankfully we have Yoga Tune up balls to help sooth our tired overused muscles.
Lauren your test and post will help educate people on where to locate and strengthen their supraspinatus muscle, and how important it is for us in everyday activities to maintain this strength in our rotator cuff for overall shoulder health.
I was so excited after reading this blog that I decided to put it to the test while teaching a yoga class and have the students transition into Warrior II, but extend there front knee (so there legs look as if they are in Trikonasana) and abduct there shoulders to focus solely on holding and feeling their arms. I learnt a couple things: 1) That I wish I had remembered to teach the students Pranic Bath or Propeller Arms in between the twos sides as a test/retest. 2) I need to discover how to explain the Supraspinatus better for students because pointing to the area on your own body isn’t very effective. 3) Even though I forgot to teach an exercise like Pranic Bath to strengthen and get into the Supraspinatus, I could still see the difference in the students arms when I did put them into Warrior II with both legs and arms; the arms appeared to be held better and stronger without the the back arm drooping down as much. Next time I will remember Pranic Bath!
Supraspinatus tenses up while you shrug the shoulders, and we do that when we are under stress. Other times supraspinatus feels responsible for other movement and trys very hard to help. For instance, I found myself contract my supraspinatus when doing sit up, reading small prints on a menu, driving…etc. It is helpful for me to become conscious of my habitual misuse of this muscle to relieve it with extra burden.
I just did a mini pre/post test and Lauren you are so right!! I did Warrior II, then Pranic Bath and Propeller Arms and saw a huge change and feeling in my warrior II! Supraspinatus really is super 🙂
This post gave me an ah-ha moment. I often have a hard time keeping my arms extended in warrior II. I’ve gone over in my head why this is, and always settled on muscle weakness….but it’s not…
I’m going to give my Supraspinatus some extra attention and see if it helps my future shoulder abductions.
Helpful comment from Christie Baumgartner about the relative weakness of supraspinatus and the backbend poses of cobra and upward facing dog. I had never thought of it that way, this will change my approach with the countless students I see with shoulders up near their ears.
This is a great post for helping understand the role of each of the rotator cuff muscles. These guys to a lot for their size and are used all the time in power yoga classes. YTU therapy ball work is an excellent addition to help knead out the overworked tissue.
One of the best way to strengthen the shoulder (especially coming out from an injury) is to do static weight bearing. Focus on alignment that stabilize the shoulder blade. Holding the arms up like in Virabhadrasana II is a good way (shoulder is holding up the weight of the arms!) but must be done with great alignments (i.e. shoulder blades securely on the back, rib stacks right on top of pelvis, sternum lifted, etc). One can also hold a light weight like a small water bottle. Other techniques such as holding plank pose may be more helpful in strengthening and stabilizing than movements like push up or Chaturanga.
Just like Vivian said at the start of the comments so many people think that they need to “pump iron” to have healthy and strong muslces, but these rotator cuff muscles are so small and so intertwined with our scapular and shoulder that it doesn’t take a lot to work them, and often lifting weights makes us rely on the bigger bulkier muscles and ends up damaging the smaller ones in the long run. I love body surfing b/c its such a great ‘wake up’ to how many muscles there are that move our upper extremities and best part- no weights or gym involved.!
Wonderful post! I’ve always had shoulder problems from years of sports and now years of yoga. We just did body surfing today in our level 1 YTU training and I can already feel how sore i’m going to be tomorrow. I had no idea how weak this muscle was. Glad I now know how to work it and integrate it into my daily work.
great post, maybe the supraspinatus should be the warrior of the scapula. incredible, so lean and small but so profound and integral to the rotator cuff. bring on warrior 2!
I agree – it’s hard to hold my arms out to the side these days in ballet 2nd, most do it with upper trap and levator scap… and it shows how little I’ve been doing it since my years when I danced back in my 20’s. Ouch was it that long ago? (yup) … it’s easy to forget and get caught up in life and this blog reminds me I need to get back to basics. Thanks Lauren!
Thank you for a great article. The supraspinatus may be small, but it is mighty! Unfortunately, it is often neglected when one suspects a shoulder injury. There is a tendency to look at the larger muscles of the rotator cuff, but in order to fully recover, I believe that the balance must be achieved between all the forces that pull the rotator cuff together. Nothing becomes quite as humbling as Downward facing Dog or Chatarunga with a shoulder injury.
Thanks for the great article! It was just what I was looking for 🙂 As a swimmer, I have been working my rotator muscles for most of my life, however, I still have a “droopy” back arm in warrior 2! This is probably the reason.
I am wondering if you could make the connection between the Propeller arms and the Supraspinatus for me? Since the supraspinatus is not involved in shoulder rotation, what about the propeller arms strengthens it? Is it solely the abduction of the shoulder as you lift during the propellor arms? Or is there something else I might be missing? Thanks so much!
Very informative piece on the supraspinatus, I often get tired holding warrior 2, always wondering why the arms could often get fatigued when I don’t think they should be!. I have noticed it’s more difficult after a day working at the computer….it’s comforting to know it’s just not me. I did the body surfing in today’s level 1 certification and definitely noticed the weakness but this pose will definitely help build this area up! Great post.
Yay Supraspinatus….It’s the first time I learn about this muscle and I’m excited to know what it actually means. I started dancing Mexican folk dance at a very young age and holding up those heavy dresses really strengthened my supraspinatus. It’s great to know how to reinforce this muscle and keep it healthy.
This is a very informative and helpful piece on the modest looking supraspinatus that plays such a HUGE role in our practice and in maintaining shoulder health. Like so many yogis, I have experienced a lot of stress in the rotator cuff over the years–and injury from practicing chataranga. The YTU ball have been an incredible help in working out tension. And blogs like yours help bring much-needed awareness of muscle function. Thanks and I look forward to reading more from you in the future.
I have been one of those students in a long warrior 2 hold that the teacher reminds me to lift my arms without entirely overworking my upper traps, so I can understand the importance of developing the correct muscles to perform the action with less stress on the joints. Your description of how the supraspinatus (in conjunction with the other muscles that make up the rotator cuff) makes perfect sense – even without the diagram.
Probably one of the more underutilized parts of the upper body. We rely more on the arms or upper back to do things our supraspinatus should be doing. If you try putting your arms in flexion, it’s smoother and more stable using the supraspinatus.
I discovered new territory during day 2 of YTU, shoulders. Like many of us, i learned my weak/overused areas in my rotator cuffs, and i have to say that i think my supraspinatus muscles are strong but tight and riddled with knots. The ball rolling here was intense sweetness and i know i have a lot of work yet to be done.
Learning to locate these 4 main shoulder muscles today at the Level 1 training and doing the massage on the yoga tune up balls was a pretty mind-blowing experience for me,,. I have felt chronic tension and pain in my neck for years and being able to isolate the supraspinatus muscle with the tune-up balls relieved that pain by about 70%! I think that knowing how much of my pain seems to come from that muscle and putting the wrong kind of strain on it will be huge in helping me to manage that condition as I strengthen this muscle. So helpful to know the function and power of this muscle!
Lauren – Thanks for the great article. I think so much focus is given to lengthening, loosening, stretching that it is easy to forget how important it is to create strength which is different that tight or over worked. This is a wonderful awareness of the shoulder in general but especially the importance of the supraspinatus.
Great post! Also making me more aware of weakness and overdoing in other areas. It will begin a new journey!
It took me a while to realize and then admit that I actually have weak shoulders. I started to noticed that my shoulders would fatigue much more quickly than most peoples in warrior 2. One day I went kayaking and that’s when I finally acknowledged it because my shoulders were on fire in no time. It took me a while to take it seriously because I always assumed I had strong shoulders because of the way they look being broad and well toned. So they have the appearance of being strong and muscular which is deceiving. After reading this article it is likely from years of habitually rounding my shoulders forward. So I likely have a weak supraspinatus.
I have done the pranic bath before from Jill’s Shoulder video and it is a great way to build strength in the shoulders and warm up at the beginning of a yoga class, and body surfing is also a great way to strengthen the shoulders and upper back.
This weakness in shoulders pops up often in elevated shoulders in cobra and upward dog. I also thought that stand up Body surfing today in Level 1 Yoga Tune Up training wpuld be a great tool to help others understand how the muscles in their back are supporting these poses.
I find I am super weak in my shoulders and upper body! Today at the Yoga Tune Up Level 1 we performed both Stand Up Body Surfing and Body Surfing laying prone with the body on a blanket. I sure woke up the muscles of by shoulders and upper back. Indeed a stronger supraspinatus helps not only with Warrior poses but also with every day posture such as standing or sitting! So happy to have learned Body Surfing!
Great post Lauren,
Before Yoga Tune Up ® I always thought you needed to use weights to build strength, I would pump and curl with my 5 pound weights until I felt like my arms were going to fall off. Now I know better and my shoulders are much happier with pranic bath and propeller arms.