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What Is the Difference Between Internal Rotation Exercise & External Rotation Exercise?

author image Denise Stern
Denise Stern is an experienced freelance writer and editor. She has written professionally for more than seven years. Stern regularly provides content for health-related and elder-care websites and has an associate and specialized business degree in health information management and technology.
What Is the Difference Between Internal Rotation Exercise & External Rotation Exercise?
Man sitting on a workout bench holding dumbbells Photo Credit: Ibrakovic/iStock/Getty Images

Internal and external rotation of the joints applies to your ability to move certain joints in your body a certain way. One type of rotation also allows you to flex the joint inward, while the other type allows you to extend the joint away from the midline of the body. Engaging in exercises that allow you to internally and externally rotate your joints, helps preserve range of motion, strength and flexibility.

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Internal Rotation

Internal rotation exercises such as the dumbbell internal shoulder rotation on a bench is a good example of the motion required to pull the arm and shoulder inward toward the center of your body. Lying on your right side on a bench, hold a weight in your right hand, elbow bent and hand level with the bench. The arm is now extended away from the center of your body. Lift the hand holding the dumbbell toward your body to contract the muscles in the shoulder joint to engage inward rotation toward the center of your body.

External Rotation

External rotation or lateral rotation is a movement of an arm or leg away from the midline of your body. Turnout in ballet dancers is an example of external hip rotation. Improve external hip rotation by lying on an exercise bench on your side with top leg extended to help with balance and lower leg, knee bent, foot just below the bench. Rotate your hip to raise your foot. lift your foot to a slow count of five -- as high as you can. Then lower the foot to the same, slow count. Repeat three to five times and changes sides.

Rotation Joints

Multiple joints in your body, including the ankle, hips, wrists and shoulders allow you to rotate your joints in a clockwise or counterclockwise motion, as well as to flex or extend your joints. The rotator cuff in your shoulder permits both internal and external rotation of the shoulder. The ankle joint allows you to circle your foot outward in external rotation, or inward for internal rotation.


A variety of internal rotation exercises also work large and small muscles in the chest, including the teres major muscle, which connects the bottom of your shoulder blade to your upper arm, as well as your anterior deltoid muscles from the bottom of your collarbone to the upper part of your arm. Work these muscles by grasping an exercise band in one hand while seated or standing. Pull the band across the front of your body to your opposite arm to engage an internal rotation of these muscles.

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