Official Website of Sarah E. Rippel, BS, CPT, FMS

-Gimme a “Y!” Gimme a “T!” Gimme a “W!” Gimme an “L!”-

Recently, a reader asked me for more information on the “YTWL” exercise.  This exercise is a group of movements that can help improve shoulder stability and scapular strength.  It’s a great exercise for everyone, especially those with “desk jockey” posture (rounded shoulders).  Improving the integrity of the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers is a must-do!

Last month, I shot a bunch of videos of exercises, and this specific one was included.  Here’s little ol’ me explaining the “YTW” on the stability ball.  

Why no “L?”  Well, I personally don’t like the “L” on the stability ball because I have noticed that for many people, it can be tricky for them to get sufficient benefit from this movement (prone external rotation on stability ball).  I feel that once a person has performed the preceding movements, when it comes time to do the “L,” they have reached a level of fatigue and it can be more awkward than beneficial.  

Don’t get me wrong – this is a great exercise if done properly!  I use it with clients but I also have my “variations!”  

Let’s take things a step back and discuss the quadruped “YTWL” variation, which is one I feel more people should try before attempting the exercise on a stability ball.  It may be easier for some to perform the movement patterns better in this position.  Going from the quadruped to 3-point position challenges the body to resist rotation, providing great core benefit.  Also, I feel it serves to help provide some “extra” core stabilization stimulus because it subtly challenges the Anterior Oblique System.  The Anterior Oblique System (AS) as defined by Paul Chek in his article “The Outer Unit,” “consists of a working relationship between the oblique abdominal muscles and the contralateral adductor musculature and the intervening anterior abdominal fascia.”  

I prefer to elevate the body slightly by placing something sturdy yet soft under the non-working side.  In the video below, i’m using a focus mitt.  This allows unrestricted range of motion and may encourage better position.  I also feel it encourages the exerciser to engage the trunk musculature more effectively because they can “push” into the surface. 

Get into the quadruped position (on all fours, with knees under hips and wrists under shoulders).  For all of the patterns, focus on keeping your core braced and avoid “hunching” your shoulders.  The “Y” is performed by raising the arm at a 45-degree angle from the shoulder with the thumb up (“hitchhiking” position).  The “T” is performed by raising the arms toward the ceiling at a 90-degree angle from the torso with thumbs up.  The “W” is performed by keeping the elbow in toward the torso and squeezing shoulder blades together so that the thumb rotates back toward the ceiling.  Finally, the “L” is performed by flexing the elbow to 90 degrees and then externally rotating the upper arm to the ceiling.

So there ya have it, my take on the “YTWL.”  However you choose to perform this exercise, I hope you gain benefit from it!


6 responses

  1. Sarah, I have a quick question for you. I experience a lot of soreness/pain in my middle trap and recently found the “Fixed Bar Rhomboids Stretch” ( which helps a little. Do you know of any exercises or stretches to help out my traps? Thanks!

    January 8, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    • Hi there!
      Let me offer my $0.02 but keep in mind that because I don’t have an idea of your specifics (posture, workout schedule, health history, etc.), this is a generalized slant on things! 🙂
      The mid/low traps tend to be a weaker area in most people. Poor posture can most definitely contribute to this, as well as improper exercise selection (for example, focusing too much on the “mirror muscles,” aka chest and biceps, and neglecting the posterior of the body). The mid/low traps serve to retract and depress the scapulae. When the body is out of balance (again, if there is too much emphasis on training the chest), this function goes out the window…thus setting the exerciser up for pain and/or injury.
      So, how do you work the mid/low traps? Think of movements that replicate the function we are trying to restore/improve – scapular retraction/depression! The “YTWL” sequence is a prime example, as well as scapular wall slides, band pull-aparts, and prone cobras. There is a great deal of isometric work done by the mid/low traps during farmers walks.
      With this being said, stretching the area may not be the best solution. The soreness could be a result of a postural imbalance, but again, I am unable to see what’s going on with you. If the mid/low traps are “stressed out” because of poor posture, their function may be inhibited, greatly facilitating the need for “activation” of the area. Even if you have excellent posture, if you throw some exercises that strengthen the mid/low traps into your routine, you can’t go wrong!
      Great question, and I hope this helps!
      Yours in Health,

      January 8, 2009 at 4:37 pm

  2. DDRdiva

    Thank you very much, Sarah! You rock! This was the only exercise I found confusing in NROL for Women, and the authors were going to make video demonstrations of the exercises, but it looks like that plan was abandoned. I like the hands-and-knees version, especially since it can be done anywhere.

    January 8, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    • AWESOME! You’re very welcome, and thank you! 🙂
      You can also do these on a flat bench!

      I started using the quadruped variation with clients and myself a while back, after having a client do quadruped one-arm dumbbell rows. She loved the fact that she really had to stabilize through the core! I have no idea if anyone else has used the quadruped variation (i’m assuming they have, because i’m no rocket scientist, lol), but I actually prefer it over the stability ball variation. With the quadruped variation, you’re obviously only able to work one side at a time but it offers some great benefits b/c of this! Also, I feel that for many people, it can be easier to focus on one arm at a time. There is less risk of losing form and “hunching up” the shoulders. It’s all good!

      January 8, 2009 at 5:16 pm

  3. DDRdiva

    Just a couple more questions: how often to do the YTWL? Every day? Before each workout? Recovery days? Other? And should weights ever be used? Thanks!

    January 9, 2009 at 11:09 am

  4. In a perfect world, some “activation” of these muscles would be performed everyday. Aim for 3x/week with the YTWL sequence, 6-10 reps of each (depending on your level), and 1-2 sets. Weights can most definitely be used, but keep in mind that this is a movement that doesn’t require a ton of weight! For women, I use 3-5 lb dumbbells or soft medicine balls and for guys, 5-10 lb dumbbells. Make sure that you’re able to keep good form when going up in weight. 🙂

    I tend to group exercises such as this along with core and hip work towards the beginning of client’s workouts (after warming up). I feel they get more out of these kinds of movements when they aren’t fatigued!

    January 9, 2009 at 5:36 pm

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