Subscapularis muscle activity during selected rehabilitation exercises

Am J Sports Med. Jan-Feb 2003;31(1):126-34. doi: 10.1177/03635465030310010601.


Background: The upper and lower portions of the subscapularis muscle are independently innervated and activated.

Hypothesis: Upper and lower portions of the subscapularis muscle demonstrate different activation levels and require different exercises for rehabilitation.

Study design: Controlled laboratory study.

Methods: Fifteen healthy subjects performed seven shoulder-strengthening exercises. Electromyographic data were collected from the latissimus dorsi, teres major, pectoralis major, infraspinatus, supraspinatus, and upper and lower subscapularis muscles.

Results: Upper subscapularis muscle activity was greater than lower subscapularis muscle activity for all exercises except for internal rotation with 0 degrees of humeral abduction. The push-up plus and diagonal exercises consistently stressed the upper and lower subscapularis muscles to the greatest extent.

Conclusions: Humeral abduction was found to have a strong influence on the selective activation of the upper versus the lower subscapularis muscle and thus supported the design of different exercise continuums. In addition, the push-up plus and diagonal exercises were found to be superior to traditional internal rotation exercises for activating both functional portions of the subscapularis muscle.

Clinical relevance: Our results showing that the upper and lower portions of the subscapularis muscle are functionally independent may affect training or rehabilitation protocols for the rotator cuff muscles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Electromyography
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology
  • Rotation
  • Rotator Cuff / physiology*
  • Shoulder Joint / physiology*