So, why is this external rotation so important for CrossFit? The short answer is safety, stability, and last, but certainly not least, efficiency. Focusing on externally rotating the shoulder and hip joints will greatly improve your training. The stability created in your shoulders will keep your back safe. The muscles that pull your scapula back toward your spine lock your thoracic spine (upper back) in a safe neutral position. The way the muscles of our glutes overlap actually makes us stronger when we externally rotate (drive our knees out) and help us keep our neutral lumbar curve as we descend into a full squat. Your shoulders, hips, arms, and legs gain stability and range of motion along with the ability to lift more weight. Yup, more weight!
Although these particular movement cues may feel a bit awkward the first few times, they are more efficient and your body IS stronger this way. The added efficiency not only means more weight when you’re going for your 5, 3, or 1rm but it also means the difference between 11 unbroken reps in the WOD and 20….let that sink in for a moment.
EXTERNAL ROTATION OF THE SHOULDER IN CROSSFIT
To externally rotate one’s shoulders one, must squeeze one’s scapula (shoulder blade) back. Let’s say, for example, you’re doing push-ups…your hands should be directly under your shoulders with your fingers pointed forward or slightly out and you should actively screw your hands into the ground as you press the ground away. Your right arm should rotate clockwise while your left arm should rotate counter clockwise. The same is true for any pressing or swinging movement with a bar, dumbbell, or kettlebell. This external rotation will help keep your elbows in tight and scapula pinched together.
EXTERNAL ROTATION OF THE HIPS IN CROSSFIT
Every time you squat you should be driving through your heels and actively pulling your knees out and trying to screw your feet into the ground (right leg – clockwise, left leg – counter clockwise). This will help keep your shins vertical – helping to transfer more of your driving force through your heels and enabling you to use the big movers – the posterior chain. The stability comes from the particular way in which the tendons of your knee and hip overlap. Pictured below is a right knee as if it belongs to someone facing you. As you descend into a squat with proper form your ACL and PCL will support each other similar to the way a wrapper on a piece of hard candy tightens.
To improve these movement patterns it is imperative that an athlete listen to their coach. Make a sincere effort to complete the list of exercises in the warm-up along with any additional mobility drills the coach has in their back pocket before the WOD. They are designed to help athletes move better and be more efficiently. Then, in the heat of the WOD, you can put the movement patterns into practice with full range of motion and external rotation. You might just surprise yourself with how much stronger and more stable you feel.
Training a full range of motion during EVERY push-up, squat, and every other CrossFit exercise will help get you into the groove of this movement pattern and, with a little hard work, you may regain the range of motion you had back when you were a toddler. Even better, this will help keep your back stable and safe through all your hard work. These are, after all, safe functional movements that translate directly to real life situations like picking up your groceries or loading a car for vacation.