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Strength Exercise of the Week: Prone External Rotation

Posted Jan 04 2012 7:33am

The prone external rotation is a strength exercise for the posterior rotator cuff that we’ve added to our strength and conditioning programs over the past few months with good success.  And, while the primary goal is to increase shoulder stability via improved rotator cuff function, the truth is that this drill also served as a motor control exercise to reeducate folks on what should be moving and when.

We use this drill a lot with guys who are in a dramatic anterior pelvic tilt, and start everything with the “gluteus tight, core braced” cues.  Effectively, this means that you force the athlete to actually externally rotate the shoulder instead of simply arching through the lower back to get to the desired “finish” point.  You’ll be amazed to see how many athletes have significantly less “observable external rotation” when they are locked into neutral spine.

You also want to cue the athlete to keep the scapula (shoulder blade) on the rib cage, but he/she doesn’t need to be aggressively pulled into scapular retraction in order to get there.

Once the scapula is set, I tell athletes to think about getting the ball to rotate in the socket without allowing the head of the humerus to slide down toward the table.  This is a very important cue, as many athletes will allow excessive anterior migration of the humeral head during external rotation exercises; we want them to learn to keep the ball centered in the socket.  If an athlete is really struggling with this, we may place a rolled up towel or half-roller underneath the anterior shoulder as feedback on where things should be.

Very rarely will we load this up, and in the rare instances we do, it wouldn’t be for more than 2.5 -5 pounds.  The shoulder is a joint with a broad range of movements that mandate a lot of dynamic stability, so we want to make sure things are working perfectly.

I’ll generally include this movement in the warm-ups for sets of eight reps – or we may use it as a filler on a lower-body day between sets of more compound strength exercises.  It can also serve as a great follow-up to shoulder mobility drill geared toward improving external rotation , as this is an avenue through which you can add stability to the range-of-motion you’re creating.

Give it a shot in your strength and conditioning programs and then let me know how it goes in the comments section below!

For more exercises along these lines, I’d encourage you to check out our Optimal Shoulder Performance DVD set .

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