Exercise of the Week: External Rotation on Knee

External Rotation on Knee

In today’s edition of “Exercise of the Week,” we’re going to cover a simple, yet effective, rotator cuff exercise.

The external rotation on knee not only helps develop strength in the shoulder external rotators, but can also help you discern the difference between actual shoulder rotation and scapular motion.

Finally, training in the scapular plane just feels good to many who have a previous history of shoulder issues.

To begin, here’s the exercise:

Some key points with regards to execution:

  • Use a slow, controlled tempo throughout.  It doesn’t always have to be as slow as the video, but this isn’t an exercise where you want to use a lot of momentum and stretch-shortening reflex.
  • Many will have a tendency to substitue scapular anterior tilt for shoulder internal rotation.  To counteract this, place your non-working hand on your shoulder/scapula.  When you are lowering the weight, make sure you’re only moving from your shoulder – not your shoulder blade! Your off-hand can help cue you until you become more aware.
  • I typically use higher reps for these – the lowest I’ll go is generally sets of 8, but most of the time I’m working in the 8-15 rep range.  Try using a 2-0-2 or 3-0-3 tempo to begin.

Once you’ve mastered the isolative stuff, feel free to progress to higher level (and more integrated) exercises such as PNF patterns and more “reflexive”  ‘cuff work.

You’ve got to start somewhere, though, and this is a great exercise to develop some basic strength, stability and body awareness around the shoulder.  Enjoy!

Stay strong



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  1. I appreciate the information Mike. I was turned onto your site by my buddy Dutch Lowy, and have slowly been making my way through your archives. Great information.
    I especially like the reminder to not let guys substitute scapular anterior tilt for shoulder internal rotation.
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but this basically just looks like they roll their shoulder forward hard instead of internally rotating at the shoulder? I probably work with 15 guys who have this probably right now.

  2. Hi, Mike.
    What's your general take on the potential utility (or lack thereof) of the Shoulder Horn device to hold the humerii up in abduction to allow for more focus during cable, tubing, or dumbbell external rotations.
    Given the option to use this or have to dynamically support the arms and maintain scapular stability throughout, would using the shoulder horn actually end up being less productive? It certainly allows for more targeted focus on the external rotators, but it also would seem to remove the potential added benefits of scapular stability and endurance in those scapular stabilizers from performing unsupported 90/90 position external rotations without the shoulder horn.
    Just curious if using the device is worthwhile (versus either supported external rotations as in this post or completely unsupported versions as mentioned above), since it already happens to be available to me at my gym.
    On a related note, when performing external rotation movements from the abducted position (humerus), is it a good idea to allow the arm to rotate as far into internal rotation as it will comfortably go (without compensating by anteriorly tilting the scapulae, of course) as opposed to stopping when the forearm is parallel to the floor? Or would this be potentially deleterious or just not very useful?

  3. Hi Mike,
    Is it ok to train the rotators to muscular failure?
    I always hear "never never train the rotators to failure" , but Imean if I never do cheat-reps, what should go wrong?
    thanks in adance 🙂

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