The scarecrow exercise, or sometimes referred to as “shoulder scarecrows”, is a great way to improve shoulder rotator cuff strength and mobility.
It’s beginner-friendly, ease to adapt and ultimately helps to get the shoulder joint moving… which is important for anyone who works at a desk or spends a lot of the day hunched over a laptop.
In this guide, we outline how to do the scarecrow exercise, including muscles worked and benefits.
We also highlight common mistakes to avoid and ways to ensure you gain all the benefits this exercise can offer.
What is the Scarecrow Exercise
The scarecrow exercise is a dynamic shoulder movement that involves internal and external rotation at the shoulder joint.
This helps to improve stability and mobility around the shoulder.
We would recommend using this movement as part of a mobility routine, as opposed as an exercise to build absolute strength or hypertrophy.
The aim isn’t to perform heavy working sets but rather to get the shoulder joint moving and improving internal and external ROM.
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How to Perform Scarecrows
To do Scarecrows:
- Stand in an upright position.
- You can either hold a light pair of dumbbells, or use no additional weight.
- Bending at 90 degrees, lift your elbows up so they are in line with your shoulders.
- Keep your ribs down and core braced.
- Externally rotate your shoulder to bring your hands upwards to 90 degrees.
- Lower your hands back to the starting position so they are parallel to the floor (you could also include more internal rotation and go beyond parallel if you wish, but don’t force this if it feels uncomfortable).
- Repeat for 10 repetitions.
Coach’s Tip – Your elbows shouldn’t move during the internal/external rotations. By keeping your elbows as stationary as possible, you can focus on moving at the shoulder joint.
The scarecrow exercise primarily works the muscles of the rotator cuff, including:
- Teres minor.
It also engages the lats, core and lower trapezius muscles to help provide stability.
Scarecrow Exercise Benefits
Shoulder Mobility and Stability
The scarecrow exercise is a fantastic way to improve shoulder mobility.
Limited mobility and overall movement at the shoulder joint can not only limit athletic performance but it can also lead to all sorts of MSK problems and injuries.
By getting the shoulder joint moving, it ensures your shoulders have the strength and stability to support a full range of motion.
If you struggle with scarecrows, it may suggest shoulder mobility is something you need to work on.
Weightlifting Warm Up
If you’re doing any sort of weightlifting, warming up properly is a must if you want to hit new PBs and avoid injuries.
The scarecrow exercise is a great way to prime the shoulders and upper back for heavy lifts, especially ones that include an overhead press.
Scarecrows can be performed using a variety of equipment, making them easy to adapt to your preferences.
To start with, you can simply do the exercise with no additional weight at all. This will help you focus on the rotational movement at the shoulder joint and ensure you’re happy with this before adding extra weight.
You can then either hold a pair of light dumbbells or weight plates.
Alternatively, you could use a cable pulley machine or exercise bands to create resistance too.
Weakness or limited movement at the shoulder joint may increase the risk of injury.
Often confused with “flexibility”, mobility exercises (like scarecrows) are designed to strengthen the muscles around the joints. This creates more stability and allows for full range of motion.
Scarecrows (with no weight) can also be used within low impact workouts (such as a wrist-friendly upper body workout) to help build strength without requiring you to support your own bodyweight or use heavy weights.
The movement helps to strengthen the posterior shoulder muscles, open up the chest, pin your shoulders back and promote better posture.
You may find it’s also a great way to break up long periods sat at a desk too, allowing you to get your shoulders moving.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
When performing scarecrows, it’s really important to avoid using any sort of momentum or rocking to support the movement. The focus should be exclusively on rotating at the shoulder joint.
Leaning back demonstrates you’ve probably selected weight that is too heavy… and you’re losing sight of the purpose of the movement.
Failing to brace your core and create the stability through your trunk is another common mistake too. Not only does bracing your core allow you to progress the movement with heavier weight, but it also means you’re working your core too.
Ensure your elbows don’t move during the exercise either… moving your elbows completely changes the biomechanics and won’t put the shoulder joint through the full range of motion.
You also want to pay close attention to the speed at which you’re doing scarecrows. Try to focus on slow, controlled repetitions so that you can keep your muscles under tension for longer. Fast reps may also increase the risk of injury.
Although rotator cuff strength and mobility may not be top of your fitness goals, it is, nevertheless, a vital part of healthy movement.
We would recommend opting for no weight to begin with and only add resistance once you feel happy with the movement.
Once you want to add extra resistance, we’d also recommend trying different equipment, such as resistance bands and dumbbells, to see which you naturally prefer… but whatever you select, keep things light and focus on your technique.
Featured image and video demonstration credit – Motive Training