In my previous post, FOUR MUSCLES YOU NEED GIVE MORE ATTENTION TO AVOID SHOULDER PAIN & LIFT MORE WEIGHT, I talk about the critical role the rotator cuff muscles play in stabilising the shoulder joint and ensuring it’s proper function. The internal rotators (Subscapularis) of the shoulder receive a lot of work from the high volume of chest, over-head pressing and anterior (frontal) shoulder movements that are included in most training programmes. A lot of the time for many individuals, more benefit would actually come from releasing the internal rotators through foam rolling and massage, rather than activating them further. As such, direct / isolated subscapularis work usually isn’t necessary unless a specific injury is sustained or a significant strength imbalance is present. I am therefore, going to recommend to you 5 very effective exercises that you can use to activate and strengthen your external rotator muscles (Infraspinatus and Ters Minor).
FIRST, A FEW THINGS TO CONSIDER
– These exercises will be very humbling. DO NOT need, nor will you be able to handle a lot of weight. Initially, body weight, a light band and then just 1 to 4 kilos will usually suffice.
– The external rotators are relatively small muscles and require strength endurance as opposed to maximal strength. I would recommend a rep range of 10-15, performing 2-3 sets on these exercises. A nice addition I like to use is to pay attention to tempo, working with a 3 or 4 second eccentric and a 2 second hold at the top.
– Excessively fatiguing or going to failure with any of these exercises is not necessary and potentially dangerous. The more tired you get, the more your movement patterns begin to alter and compensatory patterns emerge. This can result in more damage than good, causing shoulder impingement to occur. Always perform these exercises with at least 1 to 2 repetitions in reserve.
– When integrating these exercises into your program it is wise to include them at the end of your session, or at least after any main/heavy pressing exercises. If the muscles of the rotator cuff are pre-fatigued they cannot properly fulfil their stabilising role and we risk injury. Likewise, do not perform these exercises the day before any heavy pressing is to be done. I would probably also suggest steering clear of doing them the day before heavy squats and deadlifts.
– The exercises below, are great for isolating the external rotators and are definitely very effective strengthening exercises. However, it is important to remember that their true function is to work together to stabilise the joint. So, as well as strengthening the external rotators independently, brining things all together with rhythmic/dynamic stabilisation and flexibility work is also important.
Now, with taking these into account, lets get on with it!
MY TOP 5 EXTERNAL ROTATOR EXERCISES…
- SIDE LYING DB EXTERNAL ROTATION
- Lie on the floor on your side. With a dumbbell in the hand of the side you are not lying on, rest your elbow on your side or on top of a small towel or block at a 90-degree angle, parallel to the floor.
- Keep your elbow fixed and externally rotate at the shoulder to raise the dumbbell up towards the ceiling as high as you can, without lifting your elbow away from your body.
- Lower the weight back to the start position, repeat for reps and then switch sides.
- There is less chance of impingement in this position and should be the exercise you start with if you are a beginner or coming back from a recent injury.
- STANDING CABLE EXTERNAL ROTATION AT NEUTRAL
- Stand side on next to the cable machine. Bend your elbow to 90-degrees to form and ‘L’ shape, then set the cable height in-line with, or slightly below the height of your forearm.
- Grab the cable with your outside hand, pull it across your body and re-assume the 90-degree elbow position, maintaining a neutral spine, tight core and shoulders set back.
- Keeping the elbow and upper arm tucked in as close to the body as possible (there may be a little movement), externally rotate at the shoulder to rotate the forearm across the body.
- Slowly reverse the movement, repeat for reps and then switch sides.
- SEATED DB EXTERNAL ROTATION FROM KNEE
- Take a seat on a bench or a box and raise one foot to rest flat with the knee in a flexed position.
- Rest the elbow on top of the knee at a 90-degree angle so the fist points toward the ceiling.
- With your elbow fixed to your knee, rotate at the shoulder 90-degrees until the forearm is parallel to the ground. (Do not let the forearm go any lower than this position)
- Externally rotate at the shoulder to raise the forearm back up the start position (perpendicular to the ceiling), repeat for reps and then switch sides.
- KNEELING SINGLE ARM CABLE EXTERNAL ROTATION
- Take a knee in front of the cable machine. Grab the cable from the bottom and raise your arm to position it parallel to the floor, with your elbow bent 90-degrees.
- With your elbow fixed, rotate the shoulder 90-degrees upwards to pull the cable until your forearm is perpendicular to the floor, fist pointing to the ceiling.
- Slowly lower the cable back to the start position, repeat for reps and then switch sides.
- PRONE LYING SHOULDER COMBO
- Lie face down on a high bench, with the arms hanging down perpendicular to the floor.
- Retract the shoulder blades and whilst keeping the elbows perpendicular to the floor, row the arms up until humerus (the upper arm) is parallel to the floor (a position in which a ‘T’ shape is formed and the elbows and upper arms are in-line with the top of the back.
- Ensuring to maintain the tightness in the upper back and across the shoulders, externally rotate at the shoulders to rotate the lower arm up90-degrees, radius and ulna (lower arm) parallel to the floor.
- Finally, press your arms out over head until they are locked out.
- Slowly perform the exact reverse to get back to the start position, repeat for reps and then switch sides.
- This combination of movements is one of my favourites. As well as working the external rotators it is great for strengthening the rear delts and upper back (lower traps and thoracic extensors) to improve posture.
- A very challenging exercise, hence being the last on the list, and I probably wouldn’t use it until you have cracked each of the other 4 exercises.