The Best Exercises to Strengthen the Rotator Cuff

6th December 2019
The vast majority of patients who go to the physiotherapist do so because of problems in the shoulder area. Nevertheless, there are many exercises you can try to strengthen the rotator cuff and ensure it remains strong and flexible throughout your life.

Nowadays, doing exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff is essential for most people. Because of our sedentary lifestyles and desk jobs, rotator cuff injuries are a fairly common occurrence. By adding these exercises to your fitness routine, you can prevent and reverse injuries to your rotator cuff.

The Rotator Cuff is a small section of muscles and tendons lodged in the shoulder. This mechanism within the body offers deltoid stability and allows the rotation of the arm.

Unfortunately, because of excessive effort and bad postures, this is also one of the most common injuries among working adults. In fact, more than 20 percent of American adults will suffer from a rotator cuff tear.

This also affects medical attention: around one in five patients who go to the physiotherapist do so because of problems in this area.

More so, even though physical exercise is a common recommendation to prevent injury, a bad form while training the shoulders exponentially increases the risk of rotator cuff injury.

The answer to this issue? Strengthening the rotator cuff using specific exercises. Here’s how to do it:

The best exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff

Part of the problem is that traditional workouts usually exclude this small muscle group. In practice, the rotator cuff should also be exercised to stimulate its strength and flexibility. Over the following lines, we’ll cover some moves that will strengthen it, while minimizing injuries.

External rotation with elastic band

To perform this basic exercise, we need an elastic band and lateral support to hold them at one end.

It’s important that you choose an elastic band that will pose enough of a challenge to make the training effective, but not too stiff as to injure you.

Once you have your accessories, you can begin. Place the elastic band at waist height while being firmly anchored to the lateral support. You’ll be standing right next to the support.

With the arm you’ve positioned furthest away from the support, grab the elastic band.

With your elbow slightly bent and without letting go of the band, open and close your arm, as if you want to fly.

The rotator cuff tends to be injured if we don't exercise it enough.

Image: fissac.com

You can perform about three to four sets of 12 or 15 repetitions. This will depend on the difficulty you experience when performing the movement. At first, it’s not advisable to force your shoulder muscles. Gradually, you’ll see greater improvement.

Wall angels

This is a simple move that can easily be performed at home. In the beginning, you can train without weights and add more as you become stronger.

To start, sit on the floor with your back against a supporting wall. The goal here is remaining as upright as possible, without tensing. Engage the core and keep your back in a natural position.

Next, place your arms in a “v” position with your hands at shoulder height. Make sure your shoulder blades, elbows, and wrists are flush against the wall.

Once you’ve mastered this posture, raise your hands above your head. This should be done while keeping your shoulder blades, elbows and wrists firmly planted to the wall.

The goal of this exercise is raising your hands as high as possible while keeping proper form. If you feel pain, stop immediately and see a doctor.

If your arms tend to bend or lift up the wall, try the floor wall angel variation. This is the same exercise done with your back on the floor and your knees bent to keep a neutral spine.

On the other hand, to make it harder you can also do a standing wall angel.

The angel movement can be done perfectly at home.

Image: training.com

As you continue, the wall will generate some controllable, but positive, resistance force to work the rotator cuff. You can do many repetitions and then, perhaps, add some weight with small dumbbells.

Inverted Rowing

Almost everyone knows the rowing machine, it’s found in pretty much every gym. This platform allows us to imitate the movement made when rowing, but incorporating a resistance weight. In this case, the movement will be reversed.

To do an inverted row, place yourself on the straight bench with a long bar, the ones used to train your chest. Hold the bar with a medium grip while it rests on the metal structure.

Once firmly planted, lift your chest up while pulling on the bar. Slowly, lower yourself down. Variations of this exercise include keeping your elbows close to your body, opening your elbows wide, and doing the full exercise without the bench.

The inverted paddle also allows the rotator cuff to be strengthened.

Image: musculaciontotal.com

You can also use the bars in public parks and playgrounds to exercise. The idea is to have them on top of you, to hold you and allow for the upward movement. Of course, your body should be as straight and still as possible. You should work with the maximum repetitions, according to the possibilities of each person.

Cuban rotation

Before doing this exercise, you should remember to keep control of the arm and trunk posture at all times. To begin, grab some light dumbbells and raise both arms at shoulder height.

Bend your elbows in a 90-degree angle with the weights above them and your palms facing front. The goal with Cuban rotation is keeping your elbows at shoulder height while moving the weights from the top down.

Move both arms at the same time to avoid disarticulating the position. The trunk always stays straight. You can also perform this exercise with a medium bar to keep your hands in sync and perfectly aligned.

Cuban rotation directly affects the rotator cuff, and because of it, it should be performed very carefully. It’s better to ask a trainer to supervise you as you perform it.

The shoulders are a part of the human body that’s covered by tendons and muscles; this is what allows them to be the most mobile part of the human body.

Why you should do exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff?

It’s your responsibility to take care of your rotator cuff. Performing these exercises correctly and with care will help you to avoid injuries and pain.

Here are some final tips to help you perform rotator cuff strengthening exercises safely:

  • Don’t add too much weight: this muscular area is very small, and any false movement can cause injuries. The idea isn’t to generate large muscle volume but to gain strength and flexibility to avoid future injuries.
  • Two days a week is enough: being a small muscle set, it doesn’t require too many invested days. We can perform these exercises in a complementary way. One or two weekly sessions is enough.
  • Beware of rotations and weights: an exercise such as Cuban rotation should be performed with extreme care and light weights. A failure in the movement could have negative consequences.

As you can see, strengthening exercises for the rotator cuff will allow you to increase your greater health in the upper body, while ensuring proper shoulder mobility.

  • Enfermedad del manguito rotador. Hospital Universitario Marqués de Valdecilla. Extraído de: http://www.humv.es/docus/infoSalud/Manguito%20rotadores%20de%20hombro.pdf
  • Estiramientos y fortalecimiento del manguito rotador. Extraído de: https://fisiolution.com/wp-content/themes/fisiolution2.0/ejercicios/5.2-Ejercicios-y-fortalecimiento-del-manguito-rotador.pdf