Why Do External Rotation Exercises?

You guys are always asking why I include external rotation exercises in your workouts. This is good for two reasons: 1) You're expressing genuine interest regarding the benefits of such exercises and 2) You're not blindly following me because I could just be full of shit. While there's nothing particularly sexy about external rotation exercises, they're woefully neglected in most fitness programs - CrossFit, especially.

For upper body movement primarily involving the shoulders, we essentially only move in two manners: Pushing & Pulling.

This is a pretty quick and dirty list as there are others involved as well. Nevertheless, the movements we typically perform - as far as the shoulders and upper body go - are generally in the form of a push or a pull. Rarely, if ever, does a workout involve any external rotation. This is fine at first, but it can lead to problems. Unfortunately, the term "structural balance" is lost on most CrossFit trainers, mainly because it doesn't involve the words intensity, elite, or WOD (in case you haven't heard, many people are using "wod" as a verb now). The problem is that with all of this constant high-rep, sometimes-heavy pushing and pulling, we run the risk of developing imbalances in the muscles of our rotator cuff. This can lead to a variety of issues - most notably, weakness in the shoulders, poor posture, and worst of all, increased risk of injury.

For a much more in-depth look at these muscles and why to train them, read Cressey's classic article, Cracking The Rotator Cuff Conundrum.

If you're too lazy to read the article, he basically states that rotator cuff training can help improve the following things:

1) Strength: We ALWAYS want this.
2) Safety: The only thing more important than strength.
3) Size: Not exactly the goal of everyone here, but a nice benefit regardless.
4) Posture: Belive it or not, sitting hunched at a desk all day is NOT improving your fitness.
5) Confidence: This is more mental than anything, but knowing that your shoulder stabilizers are strong and developed can mean a lot when going for a 1RM bench press, shoulder press, or clean & jerk.

Charles Poliquin, another world-renowned trainer, is a huge proponent of structural balance, especially in regards to the external rotators. In this article, he discusses several areas of imbalance that afflict most people. He also provides anecdotal evidence of how balancing out certain athletes' shoulders helped improve their strength.

Again, there's nothing really glamorous about doing external rotation work - let's face it, it's an isolation movement done with extremely light weights - but for the benefit of your shoulders and your overall performance, they are certainly in your best interest.

1 comment:

  1. I think that db external rotations are always sexy. Who wouldn't want a piece of that?