You might be trying to improve shoulder external rotation because you’ve been feeling restricted through your upper back. By doing exercises that focus on the external rotators your shoulder will start to see positive improvements.
External rotation exercises target the muscles of the rotator cuff, including the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis, which are essential for external rotation. Strengthening these muscles can improve the capacity of your rotator cuff muscles and help to decrease excessive inflammation that may be delaying recovery.
The other good thing about being able to improve shoulder external rotation is the effect it will have on your stability and balance. External rotation helps to better engage your shoulder muscles, specifically the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles.
This is Part 4 in our series on Shoulder Mobility but you might find it helpful to check out the previous articles to get a thorough overview on how you can help your shoulder. Here is the link to Part 1, ‘How can you increase shoulder range of motion?‘
Why Improve Shoulder External Rotation?
Strengthening these muscles can improve the load tolerance of your rotator cuff muscles and decrease excessive inflammation that may be delaying recovery.
You might also need to improve your posture. Some people have experienced labrum injuries because of postural issues and need to build up a strong upper back.
Depending on your individual needs, you may benefit from advanced external rotation exercises to prepare your shoulder for more challenging activities.
But be smart about the health of your shoulder. Always get professional advice if you are experiencing pain or discomfort, and at the very least, get guidance on how to do the exercises correctly. There should not be any pain or pinching.
5 Ways to Improve Shoulder External Rotation Mobility
- Sidelying External Rotation: Lay on your side, support your head with your hand, slightly bend your hips and knees, grab the dumbbell in your hand, and rotate your arm up and down.
- Foam Rolling: Roll out your spine on a foam roller while having your arms above your head to help loosen up and relieve tension. Additionally, exercises like the downward dog where you are on all fours forming an inverted V with your arms overhead, shoulder retracted, and legs extended also help improve your shoulder motion.
- Wall Slides: Once you gain more shoulder external rotation range of motion, you can try wall slides. Start standing, then progress to sitting on a chair, and eventually to the floor with knees bent toward your chest. Your goal is to keep your low back, elbows, and wrists in contact with the wall as you slide up as high as tolerated. Move slowly and remember to breathe during the movement. Aim for 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions as you work through this progression.
- Active Supine Internal Rotation: Lie on your back and actively rotate your arm toward your stomach keeping your elbow bent to 90°. As your motion improves, move your arm further away from your body, working up to about 90°.
- Weighted Supine Internal Rotation: Hold a weight in your hand as you rotate in and out of internal rotation.
5 Great Exercises to Improve Shoulder External Rotation
Shoulder external rotation mobility exercises offer several benefits, including improved shoulder functionality, enhanced athletic performance, reduced risk of injuries, and increased range of motion. Here are some ideas for you to try:
1. External Rotation with Resistance Band
Benefits: Strengthens the rotator cuff muscles, improves shoulder stability, and enhances throwing and overhead movements.
Exercise: Attach a resistance band to a fixed point at waist height. Stand sideways with the band across your body and hold it with the hand of your affected shoulder. Keep your elbow bent at 90 degrees and rotate your arm outward, away from your body, against the resistance of the band. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions on each side.
2. Reverse Fly
Benefits: Targets the posterior deltoid and upper back muscles, improves shoulder blade stability, and enhances posture and shoulder alignment.
Exercise: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Bend forward at the hips while keeping your back straight. With a slight bend in your elbows, raise your arms out to the sides, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Lower the weights back down and repeat for 10-15 repetitions.
3. Prone External Rotation
Benefits: Activates the posterior shoulder muscles, improves scapular stabilization, and enhances shoulder function during pulling movements.
Exercise: Lie face down on a bench or stability ball, holding a light dumbbell in one hand. Let your arm hang off the bench or ball with your elbow bent at 90 degrees. Keeping your upper arm against your side, rotate your forearm outward, lifting the dumbbell as high as comfortable. Slowly lower it back down and repeat for 10-15 repetitions on each side.
4. Standing External Rotation
Benefits: Targets the rotator cuff muscles, and improves shoulder stability and external rotation range of motion.
Exercise: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a light dumbbell in one hand. Keep your elbow bent at 90 degrees and your upper arm against your side. Rotate your forearm outward, away from your body, while maintaining control. Return to the starting position and repeat for 10-15 repetitions on each side.
5. Y-T-W Exercise
Benefits: Activates the muscles of the upper back, scapular stabilizers, and rotator cuff, and improves posture and shoulder alignment.
Exercise: Lie face down on an incline bench or the floor with your forehead resting against the ground. Start with your arms hanging straight down, palms facing each other. Raise your arms in a Y shape, then lower them and raise them out to the sides in a T shape, and finally, bend your elbows to form a W shape. Repeat the sequence for 10-15 repetitions.
Common Mistakes to Avoid when doing Shoulder Rotation Exercises
When trying to improve external shoulder rotation mobility you want to avoid the following six things:
- Poor Alignment: Poor alignment to start the exercise can lead to incorrect form and ineffective exercise. Ensure that your shoulder blade and arm are in the correct position to start the exercise.
- Over-rotation: Over-rotation can cause injury and lead to decreased mobility. Avoid rotating your arm too far beyond your range of motion.
- Neglecting Internal Rotation: Many people focus on external rotation and neglect internal rotation, which can lead to muscle imbalances and decreased mobility. It’s important to work on both internal and external rotation for optimal shoulder health.
- Using Too Much Weight: Using too much weight can lead to poor form and injury. Start with a light weight and gradually increase the weight as you gain strength and improve your form.
- Not Breathing: Holding your breath during the exercise can lead to increased tension and decreased mobility. Remember to breathe during the movement.
- Neglecting Other Shoulder Muscles: Rotational exercises focus on the rotator cuff, but you must also work on other shoulder muscles for optimal shoulder health. Strengthening your upper back can help improve posture and limit internal rotation of the shoulder, which can lead to labrum injuries.
Mindset Tips To Help You Succeed
Improving shoulder mobility can be a challenging process that requires patience and dedication. Here are some mindset tips to keep in mind when working to improve your shoulder mobility:
- Embrace the Process: Improving shoulder mobility is a process that takes time and effort. Do not get discouraged if you don’t see immediate results. Consistency is the key, and progress will come with time and effort. You may even like to think about working with a personal trainer.
- Focus on the Benefits: Improving shoulder mobility has many benefits, including improved range of motion, decreased joint pain, and injury prevention. Keep these benefits in mind as you work to improve your shoulder mobility.
- Listen to Your Body: It’s critical to listen to your body and not push yourself too hard. If an exercise is causing pain or discomfort, stop and consult with a physical therapist. It’s better to take things slow and avoid injury than to push yourself too hard and make things worse.
- Celebrate Small Wins: Celebrate small wins along the way, such as increased range of motion or decreased pain. These small wins can help keep you motivated and on track.
- Be Consistent: Consistency is the key to improving shoulder mobility. Make mobility exercises a regular part of your routine, and stick with them even when it’s challenging.
- Seek Professional Help: If you’re struggling to improve your shoulder mobility, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. A physical therapist can assess your shoulder and provide personalized exercises and guidance to help you improve your mobility.
Remember, with time and effort, you can improve your shoulder mobility and enjoy the many benefits that come with it.
This is Part 4 in the ‘Shoulder Mobility‘ series.