External Vs. Internal Rotation/Upward Push Vs. Upward Pull

Today’s post is another gem from Zach Greenwald of Strength Ratio. In case you haven’t figured out by now, the shoulders are pretty important to training. If you want to be successful you have to have solid shoulders. Today Zach talks to you about balancing the shoulder complex out with a few movements and gives you ranges to shoot for when performing these movements.

In my opinion, the standard for the pull-up should be one where the chest touches the bar, always. When your arms go over your head, there are muscles that shorten to rotate your scapula upwards. When one group of muscles shortens, another group lengthens. This is referred to as an agonist vs antagonist relationship. Common muscle groups affiliated with this relationship are quads, biceps and triceps, etc. Therefore as your arms go over your head, there are also muscles that must lengthen to allow the upward rotation of the scapula.

This relationship switches at the top of the Supinated Chest to Bar, where the downward rotators of the scapula fully shorten, and the upward rotators fully lengthen. This ROM standard also demands extension of the thoracic spine, whereas chin ups allow for the rounding/kyphotic posture that many of us display as people privileged enough to spend excessive time in a seated posture. Most who have the strength in elbow flexion to do a chin up still lack the strength of full downward rotation and extension. Supinated Chest to Bar Pull ups should be equal to Dips in reps/weight and both should be ~65% of the Back Squat. Wide Grip Pronated Pull ups are ~5% less capacity than Supinated. Importantly, if you cannot yet do BW Pull ups or dips, use a Gravitron machine where you can use measurable assistance. Bands are not measurable!

C2B Pull Ups should be balanced with Dips to promote shoulder health. The Pull Up is a “downward pull”, the Dip is a “downward push”. This post will discuss the balance between the “upward pull” and “upward push”. 

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that act to stabilize the shoulder as well as rotate the shoulder inwards and outwards. One of the muscles on the inside of the shoulder blade rotates the humerus (the upper arm bone) inwards when it shortens, and two of the other muscles on the back side of the shoulder blade rotate the humerus outward when they shorten.

Imbalance between these rotational pulls can lead to irritability and injury. There are Dumbbell/ banded internal and external rotation exercises popularly prescribed to help this issue.

Though these exercises might at first elicit a stress response, and be able to help symptomatic individuals better able to accomplish ADL’s (activities for daily living) they will not, in my opinion, help individuals whose long term goals are to have more active life pursuits such as say kayaking, swimming, or snatching. Furthermore, there are no measurements for how good someone should be in those exercises relative to other strengths. So, if someone tells you that you are missing internal or external rotation, what are you going to do with that information? Balance between a BTN (Behind The Neck) Press and Narrow Grip High Pull in reps and weight, as well as a 1-arm DB Press and 1-arm DB High Pull, bests demonstrate harmony between these muscle groups. The BTN press is equivalent to the external rotation piece, and the NG High Pull is equivalent to the internal rotation piece. In my opinion, these exercises are much more functional (meaning we do them more in real life) and they are also measurable: both should be ~45% of the Back Squat.

For more information or to inquire with Zach specifically about exercises and programs that are right for you. Make sure to contact him through the link above or on Facebook.


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