External Cable Rotation


External Cable Rotation

The muscles of the rotator cuff are vital in stabilizing shoulder movement, especially in sports that involve throwings. External cable rotation works your rotator cuff and helps prevent injury. This move is a must-do as a warm-up before any shoulder workout to help prevent injuries.

You cannot perform this exercise with a dumbbell while standing upright, because gravity does not provide resistance for the rotator cuff.

You don’t need to use a lot of weight to perform the external shoulder rotation exercise with the cable machine because the rotator cuffs cannot handle and control as much force as the bigger muscle groups, such as your chest and back.

External Cable Rotation Exercise Guide

STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Stand sideways alongside a cable pulley adjusted to waist height, and grasp the handle with your outside hand (thumb pointing up), with that forearm across your body and the elbow in tight to your sides. Your elbow should be flexed to 90 degrees with your hand reaching across the front of your torso. Stand away from the point of origin of the cable until you feel tension in your outside hand. Position your upper arm so that it’s next to your side and perpendicular to the floor.

External Cable Rotation

External Cable Rotation

EXERCISE EXECUTION (ACTION): While keeping your arm bent and your elbow held firmly against your waist, slowly move the handle  in an outward arc away from the body (out and back; as if it were a gate swinging open, with your upper arm acting as a hinge) until your forearm is roughly perpendicular to your abdomen. Slowly return the handle to the start position in front of your navel. Complete all reps with that arm, then switch arms, facing the opposite direction.


  • Seated Cable External Rotation – sit next to a low pulley sideways (with legs stretched in front of you or crossed)

External Cable Rotation Replacement Exercise

  • Dumbbell external rotation

Exercise Tips & Key Points

  • Face so the cable tower is at your side (90 degrees away from the front of your torso). When you hold onto the handle of the cable, the cable itself will run in front of your torso.
  • Keep the resistance extremely light.
  • Your hand moves in a horizontal arc with the forearm parallel to the floor. Keep your elbow in place. Pull the cable handle away from your body as far as you can without moving your elbow.
  • The upper arm is always vertical, and your elbow is tight against your sides. If you find that you are shifting your elbow or upper body, lower the weight used.
  • If you have shoulder problems or former injury, practice extreme caution with this exercise or avoid it entirely.

Muscles Engaged in External Cable Rotation

Main muscles: infraspinatus, teres minor
Secondary muscles: deltoid (rear)
Antagonists: subscapularis, latissimus dorsi, pectoralis major

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