Here is a good example of an important exercise for those intent upon building strong – or big – muscles. Lifestyle brings us forwards and rounded, making the muscles of the back long and weak. In order to strengthen all the upper body muscles, the better the shoulders sit, the more flexible the upper back and the better balanced the muscles are, the better the results. It is pointless working on the body beautiful if the end result is looking like a complete oik.
A few weeks ago, I published a blog on working the external rotator cuff whilst lying on the side. This is a very good start position, especially if the shoulder has been injured. The seated variation above is slightly more advanced and particularly works the biggest external rotator cuff muscle, the infraspinatus. Below is a video showing the anatomy of the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder. Pointers for this exercise.
- Sit on a bench and put one foot up on it. The other foot goes flat on the floor, ideally out to the side. If working the left arm, put the left foot up on the bench.
- Sit up very straight and put the right hand on the bench behind you. Turn your body towards your left knee.
- Put your left elbow on your left knee. Ideally it sits on the inside of the VMO – the inner knee muscle. There should be a little groove for the elbow to sit in. If there isn’t, better do some VMO work!
- Start with a light dumbbell – it is only a little muscle and in almost everybody, it’s weak.
- Relax your shoulder and lower the dumbbell straight down as far as possible – it should be very close to your left calf at the lowest point. If it isn’t, then get help to get more mobility in your shoulders.
- As you lower the dumbbell, make sure the movement is coming from your upper arm bone. There will be a tendency to roll the whole shoulder forwards. The shoulder blade needs to remain flat on the back.
- Lift the dumbbell up – perhaps a little slower than on the video. Take a whole second to lift. Think about turning the bicep up from floor to ceiling.
- Then lower the dumbbell down for about 4 seconds, so a good tempo for this exercise is 4-0-1-0.1 Actually the best training tempo is 4 -1-1-0 – putting a small pause just before raising the dumbbell for 1 second. This helps us really get in touch with the muscle.
- Trust me, this muscle can be felt. You will be getting a burning across the back of the shoulder blade. If you feel it anywhere else, for example in the bicep, then the action needs refining.
The reason for lowering the weight more slowly than lifting it: in fast pushing or punching actions, the infraspinatus has an important braking action on the arm, what is called the eccentric part of the load put on the muscle. Concentric is when a muscle is contracting, as in curling a dumbbell upwards in the dumbbell curl; eccentric is when the dumbbell goes back down. Therefore the infraspinatus needs to be very strong in its eccentric action. In fact, most injuries happen when a muscle is working eccentrically – another prime example is a hamstring tear. So working on the external rotator cuff helps prevent injury, and, because the muscles are better balance, will help you push heavier.
- The tempo. 4-0-1-0 is a Charles Poliquin way of writing down the speed an exercise is done in. Trainers do vary how they write down tempo. The Poliquin method, the first number always refers to the lowering part of the movement. The second number is how long you wait at or very near the bottom point, the 3rd, the lifting part and the fourth number the time between the top of the movement and beginning the descent again. Do remember that with a lat pull down, for example, the lowering part is when the arms go UP – look at the weight stack and you’ll see the weights are going down. Each number is 1 second. [↩]