Why you could need more internal shoulder rotation, the benefits of skin the cat/back lever work where the hands are supinated & how to progress a skill you’ve only just unlocked………
I’ve seen you recently show your shoulder internal rotation where you were touching the floor in the classic sleeper stretch. I just tried it and got to 80/90% of where you did but it felt GROSS. But I was wondering, what are the benefits of improving this range and how did you do it?
When I first ever saw this stretch I couldn’t even internally rotate much more than 5-10 degrees without pain. It was at Emmet Louis’ Seminar and I was in the midst of a shoulder impingement. Obviously with a shoulder impingement, all internal rotation will cause pain (especially loaded) and this stretch certainly caused me issues! I’d only need to stretch for 30 seconds then I’d stand up and it would bring on the pain again.
And it wasn’t the stretch that was bad it was my shoulder. Needless to say I got over the impingement gradually but still had zero internal shoulder rotation. It’s one of those ranges that seems to get bastardized with the rise of the ’40 face pulls for every set of chest work you do’ school of thought. But nevertheless, you need internal shoulder rotation; there’s an amount needed in a healthy shoulder joint and I didn’t even get near the minimums after a warm up and pre-stretch.
Internal rotation is needed for proficiency in moves such as the muscle up (particularly the transition), overhead press, handstand work and pretty much all movements involving loading the shoulder(s). When the joint is more balanced you’re now no longer fighting against gravity and your own structural limitations. Therefore you’re stronger almost by default and efficiency within the muscles around the joint improves ten fold.
I used a contract-relax protocol every 5th day. I did 3 sets where I’d passively stretch in the sleeper stretch for 60 secs to clear out tension, then I’d do sets of contractions for 5 seconds (push against my arm as if trying to externally rotate the arm but not let it move, obviously), then relax for 5 seconds and repeat 2 more times. I followed this up with an active (no other arm assist) hold for 10 seconds and then some weighted (2.5 kg) reps going full through internal & external rotation (5 reps).
As time passed I found I got the hand flat easier and easier. Until recently it only took me 2 sets to get flat. So from here on out I will only do 2 sets now and eventually one and probably none with the exception of the odd bit of maintenance every now and then.
I see you’re an advocate of turning the palms back/externally rotating/supinating the hands when you do skin the cat on rings or even back lever work. I see some people keeping the hands pronated/overhand/internally rotated. What’s the difference between the two and why are you such a proponent of the supinated version?
Firstly, skin the cat can be either a mobility exercise or a strength exercise. It can even be both. But if we look at it from a mobilisation perspective, when you move round to the back lever/German hang part of the move, you’re going into shoulder extension, which is coupled with external rotation. You need the hands supinated to get into the externally rotated position. And conversely, for full flexion you’d have the hands internally rotated (eagle rings hang).
In terms of strength development and transfer-ability down the line, again, the supinated back lever is the only choice. When rings gymnasts use back lever in their routines they use it to push to other positions (like planche, maltese or iron cross). You can’t push with the palm up (pronated) which is why you’ll never see a rings gymnast doing a pronated back lever for as long as the sun rises each morning.
You’ll also find those who are solid with the hands back will find the overhand version a doddle but not the other way round! I’ve seen plenty of people with ‘full back levers’ that had to rebuild it from scratch with the hands back because they finally realised they should have done it that way from the start.
Lastly, from an aesthetic and muscle development standpoint as well, the supinated version is the easy winner. The chest and biceps have to work mighty hard in a very stretched position. Lengthening muscles under tension is great for growth/hypertrophy. To this day, some of my best pec and bicep gains came from the period of time I worked on dynamic back lever for a couple of months!
I’ve recently unlocked a new move (L-Sit to shoulder stand) WHOOP! But I want to be able to do it for reps – at the moment I can only do one but would love to be able to string two or three together across sets! How do I get there?
Nice work! A new move is always so exhilarating and you never really forget the first time you did something.
Going from singles to doubles and more is a game of single accumulation in my experience. Depending on how hard the single rep is at the moment, you can start with 5 sets of 1 with as much rest as you need, then increase it gradually to where you’re doing 10 sets of 1. From there, start tracking the rest periods and aiming to trim them down over time. Once they get short enough and the form is consistent enough across the 10 sets, there’s no way you won’t be able to do more than 1 rep in a set while fresh.
Then you can go to anywhere from 3-5 x 2 and so on – even as high as 10 x 2 eventually. By this point you’ll probably have a set of 3-5 under your belt when totally fresh!
Really there’s no reason you can’t apply this to almost any calisthenics move.
Thanks for reading and if you have any questions you’d like featured, message me on Instagram (@straight_talking_fitness) or leave a comment down below. I’d be happy to give my take on any queries you have.
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