Written by Coach JT Kotowski
In the last edition of our Arm Care series, I mentioned how certain muscle groups that help accelerate/decelerate the arm during throws – and how imperative they are for keeping the arm and shoulder healthy.
One group of muscles – the rotator cuff – is very significant in these throwing motions.
What so important about the rotator cuff (vs. the other muscles involved in throwing) is that they are relatively tiny muscles that endure a beating, and very few exercises actually strengthen them.
That’s where external rotations come in.
Why Do External Rotations?
For as long as strength and conditioning for throwers has been around, the prevailing thought has been that pushing a thrower’s arm into extreme ranges of motion increases throwing power..
In reality, decent throwers already have the ability to get their shoulders into extreme ranges of motion (think: pros can wind their arms back more than the average person … a necessary adaptation to throwing). Pushing them further will only irritate the structures of the shoulder. SLAP tears, biceps tears, rotator cuff tears, etc. come about from combining these extreme ranges of motion with repetitive use. We should only utilize a range-of-motion necessary for good throwing, and nothing more.
That said, this “cocked back” position not only requires crazy shoulder flexibility, but flexibility in the upper back and the ability to move the shoulder blades properly too. Improving upper back flexibility and the ability to move the shoulder blades allows a thrower to take a load off the shoulder joint and rotator cuff.
Either way, throwing is tough on the rotator cuff – even when a thrower has amazing upper back flexibility and shoulder blade movement.
By ensuring the rotator cuff is strong (using external rotations), a thrower will know his or her shoulder can handle the super tough demands that throwing places on it.
How to Perform External Rotations.
- Stand tall with your head, upper back, and butt glued to a wall.
- Raise your elbow to shoulder height with a 90-degree-bend in your arm.
- Turn your body about 45 degrees to the throwing shoulder side while keeping your shoulder against the wall. (Think: your arm will get closer to your chest.)
- Now, rotate your forearm and hand up towards the wall (as if you’re arm is a door knob that can turn), pause at the top for two seconds, the lower back down until the arm is parallel to the ground.
- Repeat this movement at least ten times, and repeat for a number of sets.
- If holding a weight, GO LIGHT. These are tiny muscles and they don’t need much to get stronger.
For a better visualization of how this exercise is performed, watch the video below! (Courtesy of famous baseball strength-&-conditioning coach, Eric Cressey.)
What to Avoid While Doing External Rotations
Do not let that shoulder come off the wall! As you externally rotate your arm, keep your body glued to the wall so you don’t cheat and create “false range of motion”. Along the same lines, make sure you keep your core tight and don’t let your ribs rise.
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