Recently, I had an epiphany about my shoulders in handstand: my infraspinatus has been taking a vacation while I’m upside down! This blind spot and the lack of connection here has likely been hampering my ability to invert with confidence and stability for years! Of course, there are many factors involved in sticking a tight handstand, but it is vitally important that our shoulders are able to maintain proper alignment and provide stability while we’re balancing on our hands – or engaging in any weight bearing activity at the shoulders. And a key element to that is engaged, awakened external rotators, most notably (for me) the infraspinatus.

Shoulder stabilization requires strength and awareness in all rotator cuff muscles, including the infraspinatus.

The Infraspinatus is one of four rotator cuff muscles whose function contributes to stabilization for the humerus in the glenoid cavity. It is also responsible for laterally rotating and adducting the shoulder at the glenohumeral joint. The infraspinatus orginates at the infraspinous fossa of the scapula (the flat surface below the spine of the scapula). It inserts on the head of the humerus.

To locate and feel the contraction of your own infraspinatus, reach your left arm across the chest and rest your hand on your right shoulder. Palpate with your fingers to find the spine of the scapula (which will feel like a horizontal speed bump reaching its way out toward the shoulder). Place your fingertips just below this bony landmarks, adduct your right arm as it hangs down and spin (ie externally rotate) your humerus back. As you create this DOM, feel your infraspinatus contract beneath your fingertips.

Understanding that the infraspinatus is not the lone player involved in external rotation and stabilization of the shoulder, it’s important to acknowledge some of the neighboring muscles that take a role in that as well. teres minor, subscapularis and supraspinatus also help to stabilize while teres minor along with the posterior fibers of the deltoid contribute to lateral rotation of the humerus. In addition, the serratus anterior plays an important part in shoulder stabilization as well, but that’s another topic to explore on another day. Although some of these other muscles of external rotation and stabilization may offer a great deal of contraction due to their size, if Infraspinatus is taking a siesta, or is unable to pull its weight due to injury, scar tissue, adhesions, or under-use, the whole picture is unbalanced and the shoulder is at greater risk of injury, especially during weight bearing postures, such as handstands, chatturangas, downward dog, arm balances, etc. I like to think of it like a puzzle – all the pieces are needed in order to create the whole.

So here’s my ‘spin’ on infraspinatus anatomy: With the recent discovery of a missing piece of my handstand picture, my work now is to awaken and strengthen my infraspinatus muscles in order to integrate them with the whole. Try the following YTU poses to activate and connect with yours!

– Holy Cow at the Trough with a block between hands – upon release, contracting the Infraspinatus, Teres Minor and Posterior Deltoid to keep the hands apart.

– Purgatory Dog

– Pin the arms on the yogi

Read “Integrating the Infraspinatus.”

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Elissa Strutton

Elissa Dawn Strutton, E-RYT is a certified Yoga Tune Up ® instructor and is also a certified Forrest Yoga teacher. She delights in sharing the gifts of yoga with others and is committed to providing a space that facilitates healing, self-discovery and personal growth. Elissa’s classes are challenging, yet accessible as she supports students of all levels with skillful adjustments and posture modifications. She encourages her students to connect deeply with the breath while practicing with mindfulness, honesty and integrity.

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Karla Knight

Very informative on the infraspinatus and how important it is to wake it up. Happy handstand!


Thanks for the well articulated “walk” through the scapular stabilization muscles. And a solid argument for doing Holy Cow!

stephanie blazi

Great article on the infraspinatus. I really liked how you mapped out how to find it.

Jessie Dwiggins

Thanks Elissa for a handstand post! I’m also a Forrest Yoga teacher and have studied my handstand for years. Because the shoulders aren’t really meant to be weight bearing joints it takes a lot more muscle activation to stabilize in inverted postures. I’m absolutely bypassing the rotator cuff muscles and favoring larger players. Thanks for this reminder and YTU pose suggestions to reawaken the external rotator. I’ll get to work!

Jill Dunkley

I have been working on my handstand for a couple of years now. I read your article with interest after doing the amazing exercise with the “spri” band in the 1st day of level one training and feeling the powerful “awake” infraspinitis float my arms open effortlessly. I’d like to try the same exercise and then head up into shoulderstand and see what happens!


Learned that the infraspinatus is important in stabilizing the humorous in the shoulder joint which is important in hand balancing poses such as hand stand. Thanks!

Alison Pignolet

Nice overview of the infraspinatus and its cohorts. I like your instructions to help locate and feel the muscle working.

Melissa Harris

Just did Holy Cow at the Trough today and HOLY COW! Wow! Great pose to bring awareness the the external rotators. It was very surprising to drop the block and see just how hard it was to keep the hands apart. I will be doing this pose often.


The shoulder is a complex joint and I’ve had some issues with my right one for some time, I’ve been working on trying to rehab it by myself and I think my missing puzzle piece are the external rotators. Exploring these things are exciting yet frustrating when you are in pain. So I’m hoping this is a key part in healing.

Jimmee Greco

Thank you for the clear info about how to find this small but important muscle. I too am working on creating a more stable handstand and am looking forward to trying some of the poses you mention to help.


Elissa, I have been working on a handstand and this will be some good info to plug in. I have been playing around with my shoulder position to dial in a stable structure. Once inverted the shoulder joint takes the place of the hips and is key to positioning for the stability of the pose.



I have come to realize how important it is to roll muscles out and to do specific exercises to strengthen proprioception of the muscle to eliminate blind spots in the body. Killer combo.

Jared Cohen

I am currently finishing up my level 1 teacher training. Today we prepped eagle pose, and a whole
lot of infraspinatus talk was involved. I just did the body mapping sequence you coherently described while reading this and that was additionally helpful by reinforcing not only where the infraspinatus is, but where it is in the context of movement.

Ananda Tinio

Very informative post about the rotator cuff and infraspinatus. I had the stark realization today in purgatory dog at YTU training that because my shoulders protract excessively and prevent external rotation with straight arms, my downward facing dog should really be purgatory dog. Now that I know the action in my scapula and shoulders, I should not straighten my arms fully. A bit sobering after years of the former alignment, but there is hope.


This post has really opened my eyes how many muscle groups are involved in external rotation and how powerful of a motion it is. Yet it’s a really difficult thing to do for most people. I’m currently in my YTU course and there’s been so much emphasis on externally rotating the shoulders, and I will be thinking of the infraspinatus engaging now! Thanks for the insight!

Jason Campbell

Out of all the parts of the body, the shoulder muscles are the ones i struggle with remembering the most! This was such a great write up of the Infraspinatus, and definitely helpful on my journey to remembering all those shoulder muscles!

Emill Kim

The Infraspinatus is one of my “problem children.” What if our hands clap like a seal in holy cow? In other words, what if we have zero strength in holy cow. Can it still be considered a strengthener for external rotators? Curious.
I will try pin the arms on the yogi.

Jennifer Lovely

infraspinatus is a lovely little muscle who has been friend or maybe foe for quite some time. Strangely on my right side I can push so hard into it, I feel almost nothing, but my left side is a source of tenderness. I cannot fully stabilize in handstand at all because of the congestion through out my Trapezius/levator scapula, and supraspinatus/infra. Its like the 5/57/22/55 freeway for me. Too much going on and no one seems to know where the heck they are going except south!


This post was a great recap of the rotator cuff with a much needed emphasis on the infraspinatus. I think it is really helpful that you included Yoga Tune Up poses that will help strengthen the muscle as well. I will be getting down with holy cow at the trough, pin the arms on the yogi and purgatory dog. 🙂

Amanda Crutcher

makes sense as the shoulders are most stable when externally rotated. hand stand will be a fun pose to spine them out in. might be a nice adjustment for an upside down friend!

Caitlin Vestal

Thank you for pointing out the importance of the infraspinatus in relation to inversions! Handstand was a big challenge for me for a long, long time, and I was constantly getting instructions about core stability, which, of course, is important, but isn’t going to be enough without the work of the shoulders. More recently I’ve paid lots of attention to serratus in getting (and staying) upside down, but now I realize I’m ignoring a huge piece of the puzzle.

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John Greenhow

Thanks for a very thorough examination of the Infraspinatus. For me this muscle is locked-long, weak, and in need of some tough love.
In teacher training we have looked at Raise the Chalice, Pin the Arms and Dolphin Supinate – excellent illustrations to me that I have a big blind spot around my infraspinatus and serratus anterior. I can activate one or the other, but things fall apart when I call on both.


Pergatory dog sure earns its name, but if I’ve sinned with my shoulder moves, I guess I have to serve my time. Love holy cow and pin the arms, though. They have saved my from a lot of pain. Thanks for the lesson and suggestions.


Love the idea of trying handstand with a block to help locate this muscle. The action of adducting the shoulders also helps me find these muscles when figuring out handstand.


Your geography lesson is spot on! I really appreciate how to find and activate blogs. Most of us are aware but to teach our students is another thing all together. Thank you!!!

Lynda Jaworski

And meant to add for sure – “Roll Roll Roll it out” with your YTU Therapy Balls!

Lynda Jaworski

Yes! It takes a “village” (of muscles) to create strength and stability in the shoulder girdle. Thanks for a very concise explanation of the infraspinatus muscle, it’s location and action. It’s been my experience that this muscle tends to be overstretched and weak in a lot of us (myself included) due to chronic internal rotation of our shoulder heads as we hunch over our computers and steering wheels. The YTU poses you’ve suggested are all great. Two more dynamic poses that I love are “Matador Circles” for strengthening and the “Dancing With Myself Minivini” for a fabulous stretch. They have… Read more »


What an enlightening article! I’ve been struggling with a tight shoulder as a response to a pinched nerve in my shoulder for about a year, but I’ve been mostly focused on my teres minor, subscapularis, and traps. I hadn’t even thought much about there being a muscle superficial to the scapula! This locating of the infraspinatus will come in super handy during my training, as to hopefully not cause further stress on my spine in chatturanga and headstand! Thanks!

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Excellent article…followed your info and how to palpate and locate the infraspinatus and felt the contraction. Always nice when the light bulb comes on. Also, “pin the arms on the yogi” is one of my favorites since you can do it just about anywhere. Thank you!

Melinda Kausek

What a great example of being “a student of your body”! It’s humbling, but I love the moments when we are able to really feel where we need more support in a pose and can pinpoint the muscle that is holding us back. This is where we can make the necessary changes to move forward in our practice. Thanks for sharing!

Pat Donaher

I have never thought of infraspinatus and it’s relationship to handstand, or any of the inversions. I get stuck on serratus anterior. I will try to bring this into play!

Amy Deguio

Great information on how to first palpate and locate the infraspinatus, it’s function and how it fits within the stabilization of weight bearing arm poses (along with the other contributing muscles)…Also, I enjoyed the suggested 3 YTU poses that address the external rotators by challenging the position of the body in different planes! The YTU ball work for shoulders and rotators is a refreshing way to awaken those muscles!