The Shoulder-Elbow Connection (rotations part 2)

In part 1 of this shoulder series, we looked at glenohumeral rotation in the horizontal plane (think shoulders back, chest forward).  This post aims to look at its influence in the sagittal and frontal planes, as well as the adaptations that come into play when that pesky elbow gets involved.

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The elbow bends and the hands are rotated to the wall with “no-moneys”.  Seems simple enough, but when you focus on the retracting the shoulders back first and THEN rotate the hands the result is improved control and less torso and pelvic cheating.  Since “apathetic no-moneys” probably won’t catch on, I think I’ll deem these “no-moneys plus”:

 Keep low back flush against the wall.  Posterior pelvic tilt.


This same tactic can be very useful in correcting shoulder position in horizontal rows.  Attempt to rip the V-bar apart to start and during the row to get a much different muscular recruitment than traditional means.  In this video I contrast the two.  The first is a ‘regular’ seated row, the second it a rip apart row:


 The external rotation of the shoulder socket throughout the movement creates a higher stabilizing demand by the scapula.
A whole body version can be derived using a TRX:

TRX Rip-Apart Row





External rotation in the sagittal plane has your wrists pivoting outside of your elbow (think reverse arm wrestle).  The torque from the wrist separation comes from the rotator cuff behind the shoulder.


Two progressions shown below are the windshield wiper and the chop wall walks:


 In the first, be sure to lift the hands slightly off the wall before separating.  Keep stiff wrists.  We’re not looking for your fingers to drive the movement.  Remember, the goal is to master inside-out motor control.  The second adds a bit of a stabilization factor; one arm holds steady while the other remains externally rotated while it’s lifted up or down.
When the upper arm is shifted (aBducted) out to the side in the frontal plane, and the elbow is flexed, external rotation brings the wrist back (think think throwing motion).  Press INTO the surface first to get the supports of internal rotation, and then attempt to pull back with those same helpers.


The second exercise in this next video, hand banded elbow swings ( :08 sec mark) continues this concept, but has the hand resist pressure while the elbow moves.  It has the opposite drivers as the “elbow stays, hand moves'” lift-offs above.  Securing the hand REALLY lets the user get a sense of rear-shoulder driven rotation.  As the elbow drives forward, the shoulder socket rotates back.  This is the symbiosis we want to get to — the elbow and shoulder working together to create movement.


The entry exercise in the video above is band extended (arm back) rotations in the sagittal plane.  Great for those with tight pecs, especially when hand is held high.

Finally, for those of you who are hypermobile in the elbow and can’t seem to get those guys to point in the right direction (they should be pointing to the side when doing push ups), learn to control those suckers with the external rotators.  Start off on all fours to get some weight to assist in the effort, then try it up against the wall.  Arch hands and try to initiate this movement with the muscles to the outside and back of the armpit and/or the outside ridge and heel of hand.

  • The shoulder can move in multiple planes of motion, as can external rotation
  • Many people are stuck in internal rotation, so the fix is practicing external rotation
  • Shoulders should lead the elbows in movement
  • External rotation attempts to get force/pressure off the crowded, overused front of the shoulder
  • Slight joint tweaks can mean the difference between painful movement and non-painful movement

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