We could all benefit from stronger, healthier shoulders. Typically a guy will try to make his shoulders stronger with overhead press variations, side raises, and the like. While those exercises certainly have their place in any strength program, they often provide little stimulation to the external rotators.
So a guy will train hard and neglect the external rotation movement. Then one day he tears his rotator cuff or experiences a shoulder injury. One of the reasons this can happen is because there was a significant strength imbalance between the internal and external rotators. Few guys need more internal rotation work because they’re already getting so much of it from a plethora of horizontal pressing exercises.
One thing a guy can do to make his shoulders stronger and healthier is train his external rotators. When you think of training the external rotation movement you probably have visions of isolated exercises with red rubber tubing or 5-pound dumbbells.
However, one exercise that has always been part of my athlete’s strength programs is the upright row with external rotation. The benefit of this movement for power athletes is that it also engages the posterior chain since it starts from a high hang position that engages the hips. Plus, it’s about as explosive as an external rotation exercise can be. Those two factors allow you to train with heavier weights: something every power athlete loves.
I’m not a fan of most upright row variations anymore, thanks in large part to the writings of shoulder experts like Eric Cressey. Nevertheless, in terms of shoulder health I like this exercise for two reasons.
First, the movement consists of only a partial upright row so that reduces the risk of impingement. Pulling any higher can place undue stress on the shoulder joint, even if they’re healthy. Second, the exercise smoothly transitions into external rotation and most of us need more strength in those muscles to balance out the shoulder joint.
Also, the upright row with external rotation is an excellent intermediate step before merging into more complex Olympic lift variations such as the hang snatch. And it’s also a great stand-alone muscle builder.
Before we get to the video, I must clarify which type of athletes should perform the upright row with external rotation because it’s not for everyone. Even though it’s great for strengthening the external rotators, it’s not for someone who recently injured his shoulder or had shoulder surgery. In the early stages of physical therapy slower, lighter exercises should be emphasized.
But if you’re a guy who wants to build some muscle and balance out your internal/external rotation strength while engaging the posterior chain, give this exercise a try. Start with 4-5 sets of 6-8 reps twice per week.