When we parted last time out we were stuck with a programme the fuelled the internal rotators at the expense of the external rotators. The second part of this double header will look to explain why this becomes problematic and, of course, how to go about solving it.
Why Is IR/ER Imbalance A Problem?
Imbalances are never a good thing, but what’s so bad about this little couplet in particular?
- Loss of joint centration – the external rotators can’t match the pull of their adversaries and the head of the humerus is wrenched out of its normal resting position.
- Shoulder impingement – excessive internal rotation of the humerus narrows the subacromial space and is a common source of shoulder pain.
- Impaired proprioception – as demonstrated by Machner et al (2003), impingement and lack of centration reduces the kinaesthetic awareness and the ability to stabilise the shoulder.
- Increased injury risk – unsurprisingly, weak external rotators, a loss of centration and impaired proprioception is a great combination if you’re looking to injure yourself.
- Impaired strength and power – if your body thinks that a particular component is weak then it will effectively cut off the power supply and limit muscle activation as a protective mechanism.
Guidelines For Balance
Before you start any journey it’s a good to where you want to get to. No specific references for these, I’ve compiled them from a few different sources and come to some sort of consensus with them.
- Strength Balance – concentric strength of the external rotators should be at least 80% of the internal rotators
- Training Load – a training volume of between 1:1 and 1:2, dependent on the level of imbalance, in favour of the external rotators
Shoot for these goals and your shoulders will thank you in the long run.
Modifying Pressing Exercises
As they are often the bane of the problem, we’ll start by addressing the compound movements. Pressing will never be fantastic for external rotation, but let’s look at some substitutions and alterations we can employ to make them little more shoulder-friendly.
- Swap barbells for dumbbells or kettlebells – barbells keep you locked in a pronated position so, as pronation feeds internal rotation, the potential for supination that is offered by DB’s and KB’s makes them a better choice.
- Supinate as you press – just as pronation feeds internal rotation, supination feeds external rotation.
- Abduct the shoulder as you press – I wouldn’t advise supinating and adduction together, however, abducting the shoulder creates an external rotation moment on the humerus and increases activation of the external rotators (Southgate et al, 2009).
Here are a few specific exercise substitutions:
- Bench Press – Neutral DB Press
- Bench Press – Supinating DB Press
- Overhead Press – Arnold-Style Press
Modifying Pulling Exercises
Last time out we identified that pulling exercises were a problem predominately because of the emphasis the place on the lats (due to their insertion on the humerus the lats are internal rotators of the shoulder). Here’s how we will adapt the pulling exercise to help meet our goals.
- Use rings or suspension trainers instead of straight bars – same rationale as for using DB/KB’s, these will both let the shoulders rotate as you pull.
- Supinate as you pull – same as with pressing, supination feeds an external rotation moment as you pull.
- Chose pulling exercises that take the emphasis off the lats – the rhomboids and traps attach on the scapula, and therefore don’t pull on the humerus, whilst the posterior deltoid is an important external rotator.
Here are a few specific examples:
- Pulldowns – Cross Over Pulldowns
- Chin Ups & Pull Ups – Pull Ups on Rings
- Inverted Row (barbell) – TRX Inverted Row
- Seated Row – Face Pull
Makes subtle changes to the compound exercises is all very well, but if there is a substantial deficit in external rotation strength then compound exercises won’t be enough to cut the mustard (Giannakopoulos et al, 2004). Going through a comprehensive summary of external rotation training goes far beyond this article but here’s a selection of good exercise choices to get you started.
Isolated exercises should be performed at the start of the session, prior to compound exercises (Malliou et al, 2004).
Dynamic Stability (Proprioception)
In the majority of athletic circumstances shoulder stability is our number one concern. Strengthening in the conventional sense is of course important, but we need to get everything working in synergy too. For stability we must centrate the head of the humerus within the glenoid fossa – this is known as ‘packing’ the shoulder – and be able to maintain this position in the presence of perturbation. Here are some examples:
Whilst this double header has highlighted importance of balancing your internal and external rotation in your upper body training, it’s not the only factor. The scapular is complicated beast with a whole host of different articulations; all of these motions need to balanced too if we are get on top of things at the shoulder. That, however, is a topic for another day!
Stay strong, stay healthy!