The mobile nature of the shoulders leaves them vulnerable to influence. The way we consistently hold them is the way they’ll stay. Slouched postures slumped over desks or protecting their personal interest in cell phones and video game controllers adapt into excessive internal rotation. The new home base becomes rolled forward. A shift back to center begins with practicing rolling back, or external rotation. The glenohumeral joint needs to be able to find neutrality in order to function in its intended range of motion.
The shoulder is most exposed with hands overhead, so if we look at external rotation here, any points of weakness between the hands through the pelvis will reveal themselves. While the easiest postural position to start from is lying on your back , most of our movement happens when we’re upright. Getting hands overhead when we’re sitting or standing is a fight against gravity. Hangs, alternatively, use gravity to our advantage. Hangs allow us to use the weight of our body to pull us into a vertically aligned position. The often foreign act of dangling helps understand where ‘stacked’ is, centering the ball in its socket.
A natural hanging grip is a pronated grip, palms forward. There is very little rotation involved in keeping yourself parallel to the bar when hanging or brachiating this way:
Scapular control and strength are paramount.
A supinated grip (knuckles forward), however, demands quite a bit of external rotation to hold the position, let alone support the loaded pull of your bodyweight. When you stop torquing through the bar, you will naturally rotate back internally to a pronated grip:
The body prefers palms forward hanging. Regardless of grip, it will spin you into that pronated position. It takes work through the lat and external rotators to return you back to supination.
When you have both strength and adequate external rotation, you can do neat stuff like this:
To build strength, you can use supported versions of single or double arm hangs. Starting in whatever grip you prefer, lighten the load by varying how much weight you put into your feet. Once confident with grip, begin building in rotational patterns:
First movement is a knee pivot only, a visual contrast to the whole body-shoulder rotation that follows.
Another option is to simply practice more supinated hanging from multiple positions:
A rotational emphasis will first assess whether or not you can get overhead with palms behind you. We return to lying down, hands connected to a stick (of negligible weight) in supinated position, and attempt to get to the ground above your head:
If you have trouble keeping your elbows straight, flexing further to straighten (:13 mark) might help. We travel into the dysfunction to determine how to get out of it. The third phase of the video (:22 mark) uses elbow flexion and bar closeness to ‘make room’ for the shoulders to glide overhead.
The closed-chain bicep curl (hands connected to a bar) initiates external rotation. When load or weight is added, this comes into play even more:
The struggle to complete a more difficult task forces the body to find a means of efficiency. The help that external rotation affords is ‘remembered’ and utilized.
Finally, note that supinated grips are partial to a wider hand placement than pronated grips. The discrepancy is obvious when observed from an aerial angle:
The ground is being used here to get maximal external rotation, and I am attempting to keep it as I raise my hands overhead. This concept is repeated using internal rotation. The ability to get open chain rotation signifies that the body can find this movement independent of supplemental assistance — a valued feature in the worlds of both performance and pain management.
- The catalyst for change in one extreme is found in practicing the opposite.
- Overhead external rotation highlights areas of compromise throughout the trunk and arms
- Vertical load aids in vertical alignment
- Gravity works with the body to find joint centration when hanging
- Pronated grips have little rotational element
- It takes rotational work to keep a supinated hang
- Overhead, closed-chain presses initiate external rotation
- Open-chained external rotation can be used as a checkpoint of control
- Rotation is a key component to joint health