Home Blog Strength Exercise of the Week: Prone External Rotation

Strength Exercise of the Week: Prone External Rotation

Written on January 4, 2012 at 6:33 am, by Eric Cressey

The prone external rotation is a strength exercise for the posterior rotator cuff that we’ve added to our strength and conditioning programs over the past few months with good success.  And, while the primary goal is to increase shoulder stability via improved rotator cuff function, the truth is that this drill also served as a motor control exercise to reeducate folks on what should be moving and when.

We use this drill a lot with guys who are in a dramatic anterior pelvic tilt, and start everything with the “gluteus tight, core braced” cues.  Effectively, this means that you force the athlete to actually externally rotate the shoulder instead of simply arching through the lower back to get to the desired “finish” point.  You’ll be amazed to see how many athletes have significantly less “observable external rotation” when they are locked into neutral spine.

You also want to cue the athlete to keep the scapula (shoulder blade) on the rib cage, but he/she doesn’t need to be aggressively pulled into scapular retraction in order to get there.

Once the scapula is set, I tell athletes to think about getting the ball to rotate in the socket without allowing the head of the humerus to slide down toward the table.  This is a very important cue, as many athletes will allow excessive anterior migration of the humeral head during external rotation exercises; we want them to learn to keep the ball centered in the socket.  If an athlete is really struggling with this, we may place a rolled up towel or half-roller underneath the anterior shoulder as feedback on where things should be.

Very rarely will we load this up, and in the rare instances we do, it wouldn’t be for more than 2.5 -5 pounds.  The shoulder is a joint with a broad range of movements that mandate a lot of dynamic stability, so we want to make sure things are working perfectly.

I’ll generally include this movement in the warm-ups for sets of eight reps – or we may use it as a filler on a lower-body day between sets of more compound strength exercises.  It can also serve as a great follow-up to shoulder mobility drill geared toward improving external rotation, as this is an avenue through which you can add stability to the range-of-motion you’re creating.

Give it a shot in your strength and conditioning programs and then let me know how it goes in the comments section below!

For more exercises along these lines, I’d encourage you to check out our Optimal Shoulder Performance DVD set.

Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!


7 Responses to “Strength Exercise of the Week: Prone External Rotation”

  1. Eric Gold Says:

    I help coach a youth travel baseball team, ages 11-12, and have encouraged them to take 4 months off from throwing. We will start up again next month indoors, and this month I have them starting very basic strengthening exercises, most of which I have seen on your site. I love your ultimate off-season publication. At what age do you think it is important for baseball players to begin shoulder-specific exercises such as this one, and internal and external rotation exercises either eccentric or with bands?

  2. Doug Says:

    Another great post.

    Just wanted to let you know – as part of my New Year’s Resolution. I changed gyms and started – SHOW & GO’s 4 day a week workout program. I already did the 3-day a week program – but slacked off the first time I tried to go through the 4-day a week program. I am blogging about my experiences in the new gym and with the program.

    Still working on the content – trying to make it more interesting. I am hoping the blog will help hold me accountable for working out. Thought you guys might enjoy – my perspective as a 46 year old, pudgy, grumpy, cubicle dweller trying to stay motivated to workout, while juggling – career & family & other things that seem to always get in the way of getting to the gym.

  3. Conor Says:

    Just read a Robertson post on the 90-90 split squat and he mentioned the core and glute cues as well. So important to remember in a number of cases, which at times don’t even seem like they relate. Thanks for the great information. I become more knowledgable each time I read your posts.

  4. Tim Peirce Says:

    Good stuff, as usual Eric, Thanks. I’ve been using that exercise for some time now with great success. I used it out of my own intuitive way of training so I really appreciate that you do the real work of the technical details. You’re the man.

  5. John Costello Says:

    I really appreciate your continued emphasis on good shoulder and rotator health and mobility. I am 64 and an addicted lifter and health nut. I am modifying from a strength development orientation to one of a broader metabolic-power orientation. I am constantly adapting to being an older guy in the gym as my warranty wore out when I turned 60 so I need to modify or eliminate certain lifts. I became a bit concerned that my shoulder was popping with what felt like spontaneous movement of the humerus in the joint. I went to the doc and he said the cartilage was gone. I could keep lifting or I could do a shoulder replacement. I am still lifting. I am really using show and go as well as other procucts you have published looking for adatations to stabilize the shoulder and rotator muscles. I do a lot of cruising through your baseball content as well. Any further directions or insights would be great as you think about articles on shoulder health and working with impairments.
    Thanks for all that you do,

  6. Ben Barnes Says:

    Really appreciate all the work you put into this Eric. As a physical therapist I get a lot of useful information from your blog. I hadn’t thought about initiating the core with this exercise. You also want to avoid over dominance of the rhomboids. What is also valuable to add is performing internal rotation in the same position, with even further emphasis on avoiding anterior humeral glide. It is a great motor control exercise to control the humeral head by initiating the subscapularis. Shirley Sahrmann does a great job of describing the anterior glide medial rotation dysfunction of the humerus, which is an incredibly common dysfunction in my rehab setting


  7. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thanks, Ben. We actually do quite a bit of prone internal rotation work with our baseball guys, too. Great follow-up to breathing, t-spine mobility, and then gentle posterior shoulder mobility work (when indicated). Awesome for creating stability within the new range-of-motion – and making it “stick.” Thanks for your contribution and kind words!

  • Avoid the most common deadlifting mistakes
  • 9 - minute instructional video
  • 3 part follow up series