Getting Girls To Train – 6

Egad! Internal Rotation!

It’s pretty common to see girls internally rotate on the press and bench press (guys do this too, and I say this because I’m ALL about equal opportunity and shit…) regardless if they are new to lifting or are experienced (I’m irritated I even have to clarify this). It could be due to a lack of a proper motor pathway, the coach’s fault for not addressing it, or a lack of musculature, specifically in the triceps. In any case this issue should be addressed soon. Some resources to elaborate on this topic include a video on internal rotation and improving the push-up and an article on how the internal rotators contribute to the bench press.

There are two ways to address this internal rotation problem: cuing it properly while doing the exercises and develop the musculature over time so that it can be done correctly. If we are going to cue the lifts, we have to assume that proper mechanics and set up exist; the most important is a correct grip where the forearms are vertical at the bottom ROM of the lift (start of press, bottom of bench).

It’s been my experience that girls are fully aware of the location of their breasts even when not knowing what their body is doing during lifting. A simple “elbows to boobs” cue can help align their elbows and subsequently humerus (upper arm bone) into a properly externally rotated position. This cue works the best, but “elbows to ribs” could also be used — perhaps for the less endowed girls (I kid; they still know where their boobs are, they are just harder to find). Muscular guys can sometimes use “triceps to lats” for the same effect. If the concept has been taught and fully understood, “elbows in” could be used and is particularly helpful if the lifter is internally rotating in the middle of the lift (flaring the elbows on the way up).

If the lifter internally rotates in the middle of the lift, then they are either not performing the cue properly (in which case good coaching needs to occur) or they are using too much weight to do it properly. It’s likely that properly external rotated positions will not allow the same weights to be pressed because the lifter has adapted to the wrong way. If you’re lifting by yourself and know that you are internally rotating (either by feeling it or from video), then drop the weight and do it correctly over time. It’s not like you are trying to impress anyone since you’re forever alone anyway.

Bench Press
Internally rotating on the bench press is more notable since the elbows can flare to perpendicular relative to the torso. There are many ways to correct this, including aiming for a 45 degree angle with the elbows, “elbows to ribs”, “elbows to lats”, “spread the bar apart”, or “elbows in”. The primary issue with improving internal rotation in either lift is that it has to occur consistently over time so that the structures develop in a way that executes the new externally rotated position properly.

Developing the Structures
Most guys, especially those that have been lifting for at least a year, can make the adjustment and improve their positioning by cuing it correctly, lowering the weight, and doing it consistently. Someone in this scenario may need to improve the frequency or volume of that lift in their program to garner enough reps to make a muscular change. Girls, on the other hand, will benefit from ancillary exercises. I’ve used the seated assisted dip machine to help develop the triceps of a girl to augment proper press and bench positioning. These work really well because during a dip the elbows (are supposed to) stay close to the ribs and develop the middle of the triceps — the part that primarily helps the press and bench. I’ve also put an emphasis on exercises like pull-ups, chin-ups, barbell rows, and dumbbell rows to develop the upper back to help positioning and to strengthen the area around the shoulder girdle. Keep in mind that isolation exercises will hardly be relevant for developing musculature to augment the primary lifts and instead you should use compound exercises (i.e. dips instead of triceps extensions).

Start paying attention to your internal rotation whether you’re a dude or a chick. If you’re doing it wrong, try out one of these cues and focus on it for a few weeks. It may require a reduction in weight, but it will pay dividends for your strength, joint health, and musculature in the long run.

26 thoughts on “Getting Girls To Train – 6

  1. How does press grip width relate to this? In SS Rip recommends a narrower grip than bench, so that’s what I use–my hands are just outside of my shoulders–so the initial drive is directly up and my arms are more or less completely vertical at the top of the movement. However I was recently reading that this may depend on an individuals arm proportions. That is people with narrow shoulders, short upper arms and long forearms are going to have a tough time locking out the weight at the top because the forearms are going to be pointing in as the bar clears the head, resulting in some leverage loss. So could adequate external rotation make up for this issue? I’ve had some trouble advancing my OHP and I’m wondering if this could be part of the issue. (Bench press is 250 for sets but OHP is only 145 for sets). I’m not sure if I’m one of these poor people, maybe I just need to lift more to improve my strength on the OHP, but I’d be interested in your thoughts on how grip width ties into this and how to determine my ideal grip width.

    Oh, and since today’s post was very PC, and it’s women’s Monday, here is my favorite link of the day. I sent it to my sister and she confirmed that this is an 100% accurate representation of our household growing up, naturally.

    If the forearms are vertical at the start of the press, then there won’t be any issues regardless of weird body dimensions because it accounts for that. It is not a requirement for the bar to rest on the chest, clavicles, or deltoids at the beginning of the press; long fore arms would not make this possible with vertical fore arms and proper wrist position.

    The way that Rip teaches it in SS is correct and mechanically efficient and won’t have issues at the top.


  2. I already avoid internal rotation when benching etc. but I’m fn’ confused by the anatomical arguments.

    Specifically (from your previous post on this subject)

    “During the ascent, the lats are stretched a bit when the movement is reversed — this shows that they aren’t contracting during the ascent to “help the bar up”. However, since the shoulder maintains external rotation, the lats maintain a steady stretch, or constant tension, throughout the descent and ascent. When the lat maintains it’s tension it reinforces the shoulder and makes it incredibly more stable. Tension and stability equals more force application in the bench. Voila.”

    Do you mean that externally rotating *as the bar descends* causes a degree of stretch in the lats which offsets the shortening which would otherwise occur as the shoulders extend? Thus maintaining constant tension.

    That would make sense but it’s pretty complicated…

    The main reason for avoiding internal rotation has to be to distribute the load more evenly, right? (as you have also pointed out)

    I’m just repeating what’s in that post, but when the bar lowers during the bench, the shoulders are externally rotated. The action of external rotation stretches the internal rotators. By staying tight and tense in the shoulder girdle, tension occurs on the lats in this example. This tension (AKA isometric muscle action) helps stabilize the joint.

    Yes, avoiding IR in the shoulders during the bench (and press) distributes the load evenly, safely, and efficiently for better musculature involvement and development.


  3. Thanks!

    That all being said, there are plenty of people who don’t do any of this properly after reading SS. If you have a vid of you pressing, I’ll take a look at it.

    We both probably agree you need strength/muscularity in the upper body. Benching and pressing every week would help (if you aren’t already).


  4. Had to look up external and internal rotation in Anatomy Without a Scalpel to figure out what you were talking about.

    Can you clarify for me whether this is a correct way to visualize external rotation?

    Arm held out in front at shoulder level, fully extended, palm facing up. Flex the bicep as though doing a curl. Rotate the palm 180 degrees – boom, externally rotated pressing position?

  5. How about a “How to get your man to train” article. Seriously.

    You just want an article showing pics of my biceps?

    LOL…I wasn’t asking for porn. Really, I don’t think your biceps will convince him.

    It’s a serious question and one fitting for female Mondays or WTF-ever Mondays are around here: How can I get my man to weight train (especially when he’s not a fat ass and weighs about 130lbs)? I can’t imagine saying something along the lines of: “I like feeling muscles on guys and it turns me on. I have noticed that you lack such muscles and said muscles would greatly improve my experiences in our sex life. Now, go pick up those weights over there.” That stuff tends to hurt feelings, much in the same way that suggesting a female SO has a cottage cheese ass/gut/thighs. it can also backfire by further deteriorating one’s sex life due to feelings of resentment.

    Any other woman around here finding herself in the same predicament? This shit seriously sucks.

    This is weird, because you have to tip toe around his self-esteem like a stereotypical female. I’ve known guys to make physical changes to please their girlfriend. My guess would be to hint at it in conversation and perform inception. You have to either place or develop the idea that he would like to be more muscular or strong (even if it’s only a little). To me, it was natural at a young age to want to be muscular and strong. I would have to assume it’s in him some where. As far as how you bring it up in conversation…I don’t know, I’ll have to think about it. But showing him this website may produce scoffing because it’s so ardently opposite of what he is right now.

    I can say that if he does express interest, then this site is designed to help people with whatever their goals are. I’ll even extend a hand to help you in your specific situation.


  6. @sumognat

    I am in a similar situation. My BF doesn’t train. He’s a normal weight, and has a pretty typical computer-geek body with low muscle mass. What do I do about it? Nothing! I lift. He likes the changes to my body and appreciates the hard work I do and even lets me natter on about how much I lifted that day and high fives me. But he isn’t into it. Yet. Or maybe ever. It’s his choice. I’m ok with it.

    You can’t make anyone do anything until they’re ready to do it on their own. Be a good (and quiet) example and live with whatever happens. Or dump his ass and go out with BrentKim. He has muscles.

    I agree with this, both the “he has to want it himself” mentality and the dumping thereof if it doesn’t change.


  7. @SaraT

    Thanks for sharing your experience. My SO has the same body-type as your man and only a couple of inches taller than me (he’s Asian). I don’t know, sometimes I just feel like I’m in bed with a chest-less woman and I don’t like that feeling at all. I’d high-five BrentKim, just for being an Asian man that lifts (which is hot) and then imagine those huge man-traps pinning me to the bed. LOL. =D

    I guess the underlying reason for lamenting about my SO’s lack of lifting is that it affects bedroom play–I like being tossed around; he’s just not able to do that and his legs get tired, etc. I know he’ll never lift-I think he’s too lazy and just not interested.

    Things just got real.


  8. @SaraT and @sumognat:

    I totally relate. I’ve often ended up with skinny dudes. And SaraT is right — if they’re just not into lifting, there’s nothing you can do to change it. But you can encourage. A good strategy, I think, is to consistently compliment the parts of their body that you really do dig — the runners I’ve dated have usually had a decent set of hamstrings (nowhere close to 70s Big, of course). Letting them know that their more muscled areas are sexy as shit can go a long way. Maybe there are some lightly muscled parts that you could praise? My man has been hitting the weights pretty hard lately, and I’m pretty pumped about it. THE PRAISE WILL CONTINUE until he’s posting here.

    ALSO, I feel compelled to point out that a dude don’t need to be 70s Big to toss you around (though it is obviously preferable).

    And this makes three of us — I wonder how many of us 70s Big ladies are with 90s Skinny dudes? Any of the other women care to weigh in?

  9. SaraT karibot and Sumognat–you should all just do your men a favor and buy this shirt:

    I bought my lady one and she loves wearing it when we go places. It’s fantastic motivation to remember to finish my plate and go to bed early.

    That’s the men’s version right there. Just so you guys know.

    Female in sky blue:
    Female in pink:


  10. My husband weighed 150 lbs soaking wet when we met 6.5 years ago. He’s always enjoyed sports but never did any real training outside of sprints for ultimate frisbee. It wasn’t until about 3 years ago when I started lifting (via Crossfit) that he began to see the benefits of training and gaining mass; it wasn’t until about a year ago that he started eating properly to get stronger, though. Last week he weighed in at a lean 182 and has finally agreed to limit his long runs and bikes for a few months in an attempt to really see what a linear progression can do for his lifts. Yay! Most of this I credit to my subtle campaign of praising his efforts and complimenting any new muscles I see. He probably won’t get all the way to true adult manhood, but we’re both pretty happy with the progress he’s made thus far.

    Thanks for the story. Maybe it will help those other gals.


  11. I saw a video once where they (might have been Wendler) claimed you were supposed to rotate the elbows out (the wrong way) at the top, but tuck them at the bottom.

    Is this right, or are you supposed to try and keep them rotated to tuck from top to bottom?

    Bah I barely understand what I mean from reading my sentances, but I cant seem to explain it better than this.

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