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Simple solution to Strengthen Shoulder External Rotators: Improve Your Form

In part one of this post, I described some ways to use the Yoga Tune Up Ⓡ Therapy Balls on part of the shoulder joint . In part two, I will describe a movement sequence that is easily accessible and can be carried out as part of any movement practice.

Injuries tend to happen at the end range of motion of a joint. This would suggest that it is important to build strength at these points through mindful and considered movement. Turn off the autopilot and regain control of the ship! The following Yoga Tune Up® poses focus on building functional strength and, though focusing on one body area, are actually whole body movements. All are performed standing be aware of your posture. Take time to observe your standing posture and your breath before you begin. Place a yoga block between the upper thighs to activate the adductors. Ensure that you pelvis is neutral as is your head. Watch out for head forward position.

1. Matador circles – this dynamic pose is excellent for building strength in the infraspinatus, teres minor, supraspinatus, and deltoids (medial mainly but also the posterior). Use a belt if beginning, and graduate to a blanket or a yoga mat. Shoulder blades are depressed in this one and work to ensure that the trapezius and levator scapulae do not take over the show. The body will want to revert to routine and allow these dominant muscles intervene and bypass the rotator cuff group.

2. Pin the Arms on the Yogi – Maintaining tadasana and keeping the rest of the body still, work on external rotation of the arms against the sides of the body. Do not retract the shoulder blades. This pose, as well as building strength in the external rotators also decouples external rotation from scapular retraction. This is important (a) from a body awareness perspective and (b) as it is a common cue in yoga classes to “open the chest” and “take your shoulders away from your ears,” which results in scapular retraction and external rotation becoming a mashup move.

3. Floating Angel Arms – this one is such a crowd pleaser! Use a strap or a blanket and with palms facing forward, adduct, externally rotate and extend the shoulders whilst maintaining tadasana, neutral pelvis and the natural curvature of the spine. Hold this PNF and thought-provoking movement for at least 60 seconds. Notice the effects of your efforts by feeling the strength work on the posterior shoulder and in contrast, the lightness with which your arms defy gravity temporarily! This is a great pose for enhancing grip strength and focuses on pulling. There are very few poses in yoga where pulling is required unlike in other movement systems. The predominance of pushing movements (think chaturungas, downward facing dog, arm balances) tips the balance over. It is important to incorporate more pulling movement into our lives and Floating Angel Arms is a good way to start.

Try out this sequence and remodel the tissues of your external rotators of the upper body. Challenge the tissues so they have the opportunity to respond and become stronger.

Liked this article? Read Yogi Simon Says: “Touch Your Supraspinatus!”

About This Author

Miriam has been teaching Hatha yoga since 2009 having completed her teacher training with the Yoga Therapy and Training Centre (Y.T.C.C.) in Cork, Ireland. Miriam initially came to yoga for injury prevention reasons, but soon discovered the numerous other aspects of yoga practice. Since then, she has explored many types and systems of yoga. She first came upon Yoga Tune Up ™ in 2014 and has not looked back since. She completed the Level 1 Yoga Tune Up ™ teacher training in May 2015 and finds herself learning more all the time.

Simple solution to Strengthen Shoulder External Rotators: Improve Your Form

  1. Nina Watson says:

    Thank you, this has been a very helpful post since I have injured my shoulder, also at the end range of movement.
    I have started with a belt in Metador circles, and will then work towards using a blanket.

  2. Dear Miriam, thank you for sharing this poses with us. Maby you can describe the Matador circles in a little more detail? I will try this poses with my clients 🙂 Have a greate time. Tatjana

  3. Kat says:

    I love all of these moves but especially the floating angel arms. The sensation of having weightless arms is so cool! Thank for the info!

  4. melissa jones says:

    We practiced this sequence in the level 1 training the other day and at first I could not tell where it was going using props that I use daily in a very different way. These poses took effect immediately and brought about a whole different level of awareness that I have never experienced! I love the way jill thinks outside the box and is so creative and playful. This made going in to the my ever so tight shoulders a million times less traumatizing for me in that I could be playful, inspired, connected and have fun making ROM more available for me.

  5. Joann Burnham says:

    Yes! So important to think of these as whole body movements. Thank You for pointing that out. Strengthening and opening the shoulders is so important. Even better if we can get the whole body involved.

  6. Erin Kintzing says:

    These three moves are so effective and helpful in identifying shoulder blind spots! I love that you noted that we are whole body movements and that it is extremely essential to take note of your posture in this pose– that is so important because it is so easy to compensate by overextending the ribcage, which loses the integrity of the pose and the core!

  7. Bob says:

    Just walked my wife through the floating angel arms. She has a shoulder injury that needs to be strengthened. This exercise is going to become part of her daily routine thank you so much.

  8. Laura says:

    This sequence felt amazing, Miriam. And I love your mention of the importance of pulling actions and the lack of pulling poses in classical yoga.

  9. Ian Armstrong says:

    I have to say “pin the tail on the yogi” is one of my new favorite exercises in building shoulder awareness and gaining stability in the shoulder. The ability to differentiate between external rotation of the humerus and retraction of the shoulder blade is paramount for correcting gleno-humeral rhythm. Thank you for such a great article!

  10. Ian Armstrong says:

    I have to say, “pin the tail on th yogi” is one of my new favorite poses and I cant wait to pass it along to patients! The ability differentiate between external rotation of the humerus and retraction of the shoulder blade is so beautiful demonstrated with this one, and paramount for stability and gleno-humeral rhythm. So many need this!

  11. Pascale hazledine says:

    I so agree that we spend most of our time in yoga class on pushing, pin the arms on the yogi is accessible to anyone ,even my 84y year old gorgeous mom .i will teach this to her.we also did it in the level one certification and it felt great.

  12. Jayme says:

    Learned these moves recently in YTU Certification training. I LOVE the Angel Arms & will be using ‘Pin the Arms on the Yogi’ as a re-patterning tool to cue external rotation of the shoulder without the scapular retraction.

  13. Alex Salomons says:

    I think these poses are great for shoulder strengthening and getting shoulder to sit in the glenoid cavity a little better. For me this has been an issue. Strengthening the rotator cuff group is such an incredibly important part of keeping full mobility and stability. Pin the arms on the yogi is a great one too but I believe that it is not necessary to be able to bring the hands all the way in as if you have any built musculature in the lats it will not be possible.

  14. Norah says:

    This is a great way to explore your own body, I would recommend doing this in a mirror or in front of a friend to be able to see how your shoulders may behave differently.

  15. I recommend “Matador Circles” to all my friends who climb since rotator cuff injuries are very common in climbers

  16. John Cianca says:

    I tried the “Matador Circles” and noticed a big difference between my right and left sides. The traps on my right side want to take over and elevate my scapula. I think this a great way to strengthen my shoulder rotators in a safe way.

  17. Mike D says:

    I just recently completed a Yoga Tune Up workshop for my yoga teacher training and we learned this matador circles with the blanket by pulling the arms apart while gripping the blanket and rotating the shoulders in a circle parallel to the ground. It was a new and helpful exercise to strengthen the shoulders.

    I see the importance to building up the shoulder strength since it is all muscle and I agree with the assessment that injury happens at the end of rotation. My right shoulder has a slight click, and with consultant with from an ERYT and a RN, we think shoulder flosses pulled my bicep in the shoulder without proper stretching.

  18. Tiffanie says:

    Do you have any video examples of these moves. I really need help with my shoulders.

  19. Bree says:

    I love the matador circles-been teaching them every day to various groups this week. Indeed a crowd pleaser! Thanks so much for sharing!

  20. Roseanna says:

    Hi. Really enjoying these pointer, thank you. I dont suppose you could describe matador circles in greater detail, or point me to a quick video?
    Thank you.

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