Cable Exercises for External Rotators

Cable Exercises for External Rotators

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You can find multi-purpose cable machines in most gyms.

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It is uncommon to find a machine in the gym specifically designed to work the shoulder rotators. This is because the shoulder rotators are component movers in many upper extremity activities and also stabilize the entire shoulder. There are shoulder internal (arm rolling in) and shoulder external (arm rolling out) rotators. These muscles are almost primarily worked using multi-purpose cable machines. Available in most gyms, these adjustable machines (when used properly) can provide an effective workout for the external rotators of the shoulder.

Neutral Positioning

For beginners, this exercise is done with the arm in neutral positioning. First, move the cable height up to about the height of your elbow. Once this is done, get in front of the machine. Turn your entire body to the right (the machine should now be on your left). Your right arm should be at (and contacting) your side. Bend your elbow to 90 degrees with your palm facing the machine. This is start position. Take the cable, get into position and slowly pull the cable outwards, keeping the bend at 90 degrees with your forearm against your body. Slowly return to starting position. Begin with two sets of 10.

Mid-Range Positioning

An intermediate exercise, this challenges the stability of the shoulder. To start, move the cable about half of the height that it was at before (about half the height from the floor to your elbow). Get in the same position as the last exercise, but now you'll want to take your upper arm off of your side slightly, making a 45-degree angle of the shoulder. This will be start position. Once in position with the cable in hand, rotate the forearm outwards, being sure to again keep the elbow at 90 degrees (do not straighten the elbow). Return slowly back to start position. The exercise will look like an "up-and-out" motion. Again, try starting with two sets of 10.

90/90 Positioning

A very challenging exercise for the external rotators is rotation with the shoulder at 90 degrees. Keep the cable positioned as it was in the last exercise. For this exercise, you'll face the machine. Raise your right arm to 90 degrees (shoulder height), and bend your elbow to 90 degrees as well. Keep the palm facing down. This will be start position. Once you are in position with the cable, rotate your forearm up to vertical, keeping everything else stable. (The forearm is the only part of the body that should be moving during this and the previous two exercises.) Slowly return back to start position. Begin with just one set of 10.

Diagonal Pulls

An advanced exercise, the diagonal pulls work muscles from the wrist up to the upper back. With the cable still at half-elbow height, stand with the machine to your left. Your right arm should cross your body so your hand is close to your left hip. Your arm should also be turned in (imagine a pirate reaching to pull out a sword). Cable in hand, pull your entire arm up and out at a diagonal until your arm is out in the shape of half of a "Y". (You can imagine the pirate now holding his sword up.) Unlike the others, the elbow can move freely in this exercise. Slowly return back to start position, and try one set of ten at first.

Tips and Warnings

As always, consult an athletic trainer or physical therapist before beginning a new exercise program. Always stop an exercise if you feel pain or discomfort. Be sure to perform all exercises slowly and with good control unless directed otherwise. Use proper breathing techniques, and avoid holding your breath during any exercise.