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

In a recent post I discussed the significance of the Chest to Bar vs. the Chin Up, and how 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.

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