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External Shoulder Rotation Exercises

author image Tim Petrie
Tim Petrie is a Physical Therapist and an Orthopedic Certified Specialist working in Milwaukee, Wisc. When he isn't working, he loves distance running, Packers football, and traveling with his wife and his energetic three year old daughter.
External Shoulder Rotation Exercises
The external rotation muscles help you wind your arm up to throw a ball. Photo Credit: matthewennisphotography/iStock/Getty Images

The external rotation muscles make activities like washing your hair and throwing a ball possible. Train them through their full and versatile range of motion also allows them to provide stability to the shoulder joint and help your posture by retracting, or opening up, the shoulders. A variety of exercises strengthen these important muscles.

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Flashers use a band to challenge the external rotation muscles.
Flashers use a band to challenge the external rotation muscles. Photo Credit: Ljupco/iStock/Getty Images


Flashers use a resistance band to challenge the external rotation muscles in both arms simultaneously.

Step 1:

Stand with one end of a resistance band in each hand and your elbows bent at a 90 degree angle.

Step 2:

Keeping your elbows against your side, pull your hands away from each other as though you were opening up a coat. As you do this, squeeze your shoulder blades together.

Step 3:

Hold the tension for 1 to 2 seconds and then slowly return to the starting position as you release your shoulder blades. Repeat for 10 repetitions.

Side-Lying Dumbbell Rotation

This exercise uses a weight and the force of gravity to strengthen the lateral rotation muscles.

Step 1:

Lie on your side with your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle and your hand resting on your belly. In your hand, hold a 1- to 2-pound dumbbell. Alternatively, use a can of soup.

Step 2:

Keeping your elbow firmly against your side, rotate your forearm away from your body until your palm faces straight ahead. As you do this, squeeze your shoulder blade down and back.

Step 3:

After holding this position for 1 to 2 seconds, slowly lower the weight back down to your abdomen. Complete this exercise 10 times before switching arms. As it becomes easier, the weight can be increased in 1 pound increments.

Exercise bands or hand weights can be used to activate the external rotation muscles during several different exercises.
Exercise bands or hand weights can be used to activate the external rotation muscles during several different exercises. Photo Credit: herreid/iStock/Getty Images

External Rotation Step Outs

Step outs help improve shoulder stability by challenging the external rotator muscles to maintain a steady position against resistance.

Step 1:

Secure one end of a resistance band in a door and hold onto the other end with your right hand. Raise the right arm out to the side so that your right shoulder and elbow make 90-degree angles.

Step 2:

Maintaining this position, take 1 to 2 steps backwards until the band is pulled tighter. Hold this shoulder position without allowing your back to arch or your forearm to rotate forward towards the door.

Step 3:

After a 5 to 10 second hold, step back in and relax. Repeat this 10 times before switching to the left shoulder.

90-90 Rotation

By moving your shoulder into an end-range position, this exercise gives your external rotators a great workout.

Step 1:

Sit in a chair with your elbow and forearm resting at your side on a shoulder-level surface. Place a rolled towel under your elbow if the surface is too low.

Step 2:

Hold a resistance band in your hand and secure the other end under your foot. Keeping your elbow on the surface, slowly rotate your forearm back until it is vertical. End this exercise in a position at which your shoulder and elbow are bent at 90-degree angles.

Step 3:

Maintain this hold for 1 to 2 seconds and then relax as you return to your initial position. After you do 10 repetitions, repeat on the opposite shoulder.

Prone Tosses

Prone tosses challenge the lateral rotator muscles to provide stability by incorporating a moving weight.

Step 1:

Lie on your stomach with your upper arm half way off the edge of a bed. Place 1 to 2 towels under your shoulder to keep it in line with your body. Hold onto a bean bag or squishy ball.

Step 2:

Toss the bean bag up as you rotate your forearm and wrist backwards. Attempt to catch your toss at the top of the motion as your forearm is parallel with the floor.

Step 3:

Quickly return to the starting position and repeat as many of these tosses as you can complete in 30 seconds before switching to the other shoulder. Make sure not to lift your shoulder off of the towel while performing.

Parameters and Precautions

For a well-rounded, external rotator strengthening workout, perform two to three sets of each exercise two to three times weekly. Avoid shrugging the shoulders while completing these exercises as this can lead to pain or injury.

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