Rotator Cuff Exercises

Rotator cuff exercises are an integral and important part of all shoulder rehabilitation as well as injury prevention, especially for sports involving throwing or racket sports where overhead use of the arm is needed.

The exercises below are suitable for rehabilitation of rotator cuff injury as well as injury prevention and general shoulder strengthening.

The rotator cuff muscles are four muscles in the shoulder which provide the rotation movement of the arm. They are the Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres minor and Subscapularis muscles. The following exercises are split into lateral rotation exercises (rotating the shoulder outwards) and medial rotation exercises (rotating the shoulder inwards).

The number or repetitions done will depend on the stage of rehabilitation or strength of the shoulders. Consult your physical therapist or trainer. Most will recommend starting at one set of 10 reps and building up to 3 sets of 12-15 before increasing the resistance.

Static rotator cuff exercises

Isometric or static rotator cuff exercises are those performed with no movement. A wall or similar object is used provide resistance and the athlete contracts the muscles against the resistance. This type of exercises is most used in the very early stages of shoulder rehabilitation and should always be done within the limits of pain. The angle at which the exercises is done should also be varied.

Lateral rotator cuff exercises

These exercises involve rotating the arm outwards against a resistance. They can be done an a large number of positions and the best rotator cuff exercises for you will most likely depend on the sports you are involved in. Exercises should be done in all positions for a more complete training effect.

Lateral rotation with band

With the arms by the sides and the elbows bent, the althlete holds a resistance or elastic band between their hands with the palms facing up.

Lateral rotation in abduction

This works the lateral rotator cuff muscles in abduction or with the arm out to the side. It can be done with the elbow resting on a support or in the standing position with the elbow unsupported using the other surrounding shoulder muscles for support. Note this exercise should NOT be done in the early or middle stages of a dislocated shoulder rehab program as the abducted and rotated position is that where the shoulder is most commonly dislocated.

Lateral rotation side lying

This exercise uses gravity to work the rotator cuff muscles in the inner range of movement with a dumbbell. Aim to go through as full a range of motion as possible.

Lateral rotation front lying

This exercise works the rotator cuff in the outer range of movement and is similar to the standing lateral rotation in abduction exercise.

Medial rotator cuff exercises

The following exercises work the muscles which rotate the arm inwards. There are five muscles which rotate the upper arm inwards; pectoralis major, subscapularis, anterior deltoid, latissimus dorsi and teres major.

Medial rotation with band

Exercise band is used as resistance to work the medial shoulder rotator cuff muscles.

Medial rotation side lying

The same exercise as above but using a dumbbell for resistance.