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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Importance of External Rotation

By: Joel Luedke

You've probably been told more times than you care to remember to "not slouch", "stand up straight", "hold your head up".   If we work into the fitness world it may go more towards "look up" and "keep your core tight."  All of these are important and have good intentions but are we missing something that might make these easier or make a much greater difference?

Welcome to external rotation.  There are lots of important areas surrounding this 'motion' and often time we hear about it when it comes to the shoulder.  Often time restriction in this motion can lead to both short and long term injury in overhead athletes.  We also hear about it in the hips and the lack of it when someone is 'knocked kneed' and their knees cave in.  Here we talk about how important the somewhat subtle motion can be in both pain relief and in performance.

The Shoulders
Pain Relief:
Rounded shoulder posture is so common today I think we often just accept it as a standard posture.  It leads to all kinds of problems with your shoulders by becoming short and tight in the anterior musculature (pec minor/major, lats) and long, weak and tight in the posterior musculature (traps, rhomboids, rotator cuff).  A simple fix to help start the process of correcting all this is by focusing on

putting your shoulders into external rotation.  Doing so will help reset where the humerus (upper arm bone) sits in the shoulder joint (glenoid fossa). and get the musculature at lengths that or closer to optimal.


The best way I have found to do this (from Kelly Starrett) is think about turning your shoulders out and then place your hands together at the base of your sternum and hold them there.  When you do this you aren't able to easily fall back into a rounded shoulder posture.  Try it when you're standing and you can find ways to make sure your hands aren't awkward when you rest them on your sternum.

Performance:
Pavel Tsatsouline is a phenomenal strength and conditioning coach and is one of the forefathers on kettlebell use.  He has great cues to help increase strength in the middle of a set if you're struggling.  We will use bench press in this example and his cue is to try and 'bend the bar'.  What this cue is creating is external rotation in your shoulders which is putting them into the most stable position possible and allowing for more torque generation through the shoulder.  This can be applied to doing push ups and the process of 'screwing your hands into the floor.'  Doing this by trying to rotate the base of your palm inwards to create that tension in your shoulder.  If you're struggling with your press  or having shoulder pain with it, try narrowing your grip and 'bending the bar' or 'screwing in' and work back to your normal weight (the technique takes a little bit to get used to).

The Hips
Pain Relief:
We referenced above how your knees caving in can be due to a lack of external rotation in the hips.  The reason why is that your knee has to follow the direction of either your foot or your hips and we can influence this greatly (unless a pathologic and traumatic prevents it).  Your knee can track inward (valgus) if your femur is internally rotated and from there that change in posture continues down the kinetic chain and can lead to your arch collapsing and causing more problems.  

If you try just standing in your normal posture and just squeeze your glutes (causing external rotation) you should be able to feel everything rotate through your leg from top to bottom and if you have an arch that is somewhat flat you can start to recreate it.  Now, it's very hard to keep a full contraction all day but it doesn't take that much, as little as 20% tension when you are standing up can help maintain that posture.  Another benefit to this is that engaging your glutes can help restore a posterior tilt to your pelvis and bring it to a neutral position and possibly eliminate back pain as well.

Performance:
When we talk about performance in this section I'm mainly focusing on lower body pressing (i.e.
squat and deadlift).  We often see when people squat or deadlift that the first joint to 'break' is the knees to start the facilitation of the movement.  This robs you of force and torque production out of your hips.  Your glutes are some of the strongest muscles in your body and should be utilized, especially in this big mass movements.  

Simple cues such as 'screwing your heels into the ground' can be hugely beneficial just like in doing presses or push ups for the upper body.  Doing so and then 'breaking' at the hips by pushing them backward at the start of the movement engages the glutes and allows for much great strength and torque production by utilizing this substantial muscle group.


The same goes for jumping and landing.  If we don't focus on getting our hips into a stable position it allows for excess knee motion that could be catastrophic.  The classic mechanism for ACL tears is a valgus (inward) force on the knee and internal rotation.  We can control all of that by focusing on our external rotation of the hips both in take off and landing.



These seem like simple things but we tend to forget them and just think we have the exercise down and that we don't need to continually practice or refine our technique.  So many things can be helped both in pain relief and prevention to performance by simple things that then allow you to move on to other parts of the picture.  Make sure you continue to externally rotate and use it in your performance and daily lives.

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