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Scalenes – the red-headed stepchild muscle group


Scalenes – the red-headed stepchild muscle group

Every now and then I figure out something so useful I’m like
“Oh man! This is awesome! I need to share this with the world!”
This is one of those times.
You’re welcome.

The scalenes are probably the most unappreciated muscle group in the entire body.
Even more so than other important-but-oft-overlooked hunks of meat
like the piriformis, supraspinatus, and serratus anterior.
I think the main reason for this left-out status is the simple fact that most people
can’t even see their scalenes, so I’m here to help.

Where are they?!

They go from your cervical spine down to your top two ribs.
You have three of them – anterior, middle, and posterior – inserting progressively further away from the spine.
They’re each about the size of your index finger.

To locate them:
Touch the side of your neck.
Now poke inward toward the spine.
Move your finger around until you find something that feels like a bundle of steel cables.
Found ’em!

Why should I care?!

Your scalenes serve a few key functions:

  • accessory breathing muscles – help with forced inhalation
  • neck stabilization & lateral flexion
  • rib cage stabilization during shoulder movements

But more importantly, your scalenes are located directly next to a whole mess of nerves
that supply the shoulders, upper back, and arms.
When the scalenes get stiff and shortened, they impinge those nerves leading to
pain and weakness through those areas.

Any kind of pressing movement becomes painful at the bottom of the range of motion.
The rotator cuff aches for no apparent reason, and smashing those muscles brings little relief.
Rapid breathing becomes difficult and labored, and it feels like you can’t fill your lungs up all the way.

Strength work is impaired; conditioning work is impeded; training just feels less fun.
All the joy in the world evaporates and you’re left feeling dead inside.
(Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration…but only a bit.)

How do I fix them?!

First, we’ll try stretching them out.

Remember where the muscles attach – your cervical spine, and the top two ribs.
Take those two points and move them as far apart as possible.
Start by dropping your shoulder as low as you can.
Next, take the angle of your jaw on that side and move it up and away from that shoulder.

Now, pay close attention to whatever may be preventing the stretch.
Put your finger on it (literally).
Now poke and squeeze that spot and everything around it until you feel the muscle twitch and relax.
Your neck might even crack afterward.
Don’t be alarmed – the scalenes and other deep neck muscles can pull your vertebrae out of alignment.

You are now a pro at stretching and de-trigger-point-ifying your scalenes.

Now go forth and lift all the things.

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