Home Baseball Content High Performance Training without the Equipment: Installment 2

High Performance Training without the Equipment: Installment 2

Written on January 4, 2011 at 11:03 am, by Eric Cressey

It goes without saying that some of the absolute posterior rotator cuff exercises are cable external rotation variations.

Unfortunately – as you may have inferred from the title of this post – not everyone has access to a cable column or functional trainer where exercises like this can be performed.  To that end, I thought I’d devote today’s post to a few exercises one can substitute to get a very similar training effect without cable access.

Option 1: Elbow-Supported DB External Rotation

This movement parallels that of the cable option, but all you need is a dumbbell and something to prop your upper arm.  The only downside is that the resistance just isn’t as “continuous” throughout the range of motion – but it’s still a good option.

Options 2 and 3: Horizontal Abduction Variations

While the recruitment patterns aren’t going to be exactly the same, it’s safe to say that you’re getting almost all the same benefits when you do horizontal abduction work as with true external rotation work (and likely a bit extra scapular stabilization benefits).  Two variations I like:

Prone Horizontal Abduction off Table

Side-Lying Horizontal Abduction (I like to load this one up more eccentrically and focus on really controlling the load on the way down)

Option 4: Side-Lying External Rotations – arm abducted 30 degrees

This movement might not be the most “specific” of all rotator cuff exercises because of the position in which it occurs, but it does give you the best posterior cuff EMG of just about any drill.  We use it a ton, especially in those who may have pain with positions requiring more shoulder elevation.

These drills are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the modifications you can use – and, indeed, what should comprise a comprehensive shoulder health program.  However, they should be enough to help you work around the lack of a cable in your resistance training arsenal.

For more information, check out our Optimal Shoulder Performance DVD set.

Related Posts

High Performance Training without the Equipment: Installment 1
Clearing up the Rotator Cuff Controversy

14 Responses to “High Performance Training without the Equipment: Installment 2”

  1. Rick Kaselj Says:

    Thank EC.

    I like the Side-Lying Horizontal Abduction.

    I will use that one.

    Rick Kaselj of http://ExercisesForInjuries.com


  2. Michelle Says:

    I like side plank rows but can’t program it with large groups. Just programmed side plank with horizontal abduction…..thoughts? Have to emphasize “big chest” but seems to work.

    What are your thoughts on 90/90 using your bent knee as support?


  3. Eric Cressey Says:

    I love the side plank with horizontal abduction; very good stuff!

    Not as big a fan of the 90/90 on the bent knee. I feel like people slip into scapular anterior tilt too much.

  4. Nancy from Cincinnati Says:

    Hello Eric, I teach group fitness classes so I am always looking for effective exercise variations that require minimal equipment. Another option for performing external rotation at 90 degrees without a cable machine is to use resistance tubing. Step on one end of the tubing to provide an appropriate amount of resistance (being very careful to keep your wrist straight and elbow at 90 degrees and elevated to shoulder height) and then perform the exercise just like with the cable machine. I just did this in my classes this week. Very effective!

  5. Simco Says:

    Side-Lying External Rotations = “sleepers” at the PT clinic I was last at.
    Very popular.

  6. Dale Giessman Says:

    I like to have my patients move there shoulder toward external rotation by having the thumb move that direction to maximize the affect. I know this is mostly rotation at the radial-ulnar joint but tends to have a little extra affect on the infraspinatus and teres minor

  7. Marie Ande Says:

    I like the S-L horizontal Abd., too. It looks like it could get very sloppy, though, especially in a group setting. Any ques you recommend? Thanks.

  8. Tom Doud Says:


    I thought these exercises looked silly before I started Show and Go but found them amazing. Can you comment on on hand stand pushups? Pros/cons/concerns?

  9. Eric Cressey Says:

    Tom – good exercise option as a progression for those who have the athleticism and want to get some closed-chain stability for overhead pressing before testing the open-chain version out.

  10. hooch turner Says:

    What about the argument that we shouldn’t be training these stabilisers with movements, but rather, we should perform movements that allow them to stabilise reflexively? I know you’ve kind of addressed this in another post, and use perturbation exercises. So is it that a combination of both methods works best? You are dealing with lots of very valuable shoulders, so I’m not second guessing you

  11. Jeff Johnson Says:

    We do exercises 1,3 & 5 three times a week. In the Cable External Rotation at 90 Degrees video, we use a thera-band instead of a machine. I like how this client was not perpendicular “to the wall” as I believe this is a more accurate position for a pitcher. We are very careful not to let the scap “wing” or protrude out during this exercise. If a partner is available, the partner will apply a little pressure at the elbow forcing the person to press down a little “firming things up” and the partner will use the other hand to make sure the scap is not moving as stated previously. I love how in your video, the elbow stays at 90 degrees and nothing else seems to move. I’ll be showing off this video as a reinforcement to what has already been taught.

    In the Prone Horizontal Abduction off Table exercise, we will set the scap prior to moving the weight up by pinching the shoulder blades. I think this helps insure scapular stability.

    In the Side Lying External Rotation exercise, we press hard against the towel when performing.

    Great article – just modifications we do since we don’t have access to expensive machines.

  12. Georg P Says:

    I have had multiple dislocations and a surgical repair from a SLAP lesion. My shoulder mobility is normal to myself and impingement is minimum in most plans of motion. The only problem I have is performing any of the prone lying weighted exercises. It not very painful but an extreme feeling of discomfort or lack of stability is present in the concentric part of the lift especially prone lying horizontal ABduction. I was wondering if you have suggestions in progression? basically anything. thanks

  13. Eric Cressey Says:

    Georg – I would re-evaluate your scapular positioning on those exercises. My hunch is that you are trying to force humeral movement on a scapula that isn’t positioned correctly. My guess would be that a simple repositioning would fix things up. You may also just need to limit ROM (don’t go so far up at the top).

  14. Conor Says:

    Great post! I’ve recently added more rotator cuff exercises to my own training, as well as my clients, and it makes a huge difference in posture and overall upper body mobility and strength.

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