What is an effective rotator cuff exercise?

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Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
You can strengthen your shoulder muscles by doing a rotator-cuff rotation exercise using free weights.

Primary muscle groups strengthened: Infraspinatus, teres minor (shoulder girdle muscles and external rotators)

Starting position: Lie on your side on a bench or the floor with a weight in your top hand. Bend the elbow at a 90-degree angle and hold the upper arm against the side of your body with the forearm down across your body. Lie with your head in line with your spine.

Action: Keeping your abdominal muscles engaged, a natural arch in your lower back, and your wrist firm, lift the weight by rotating your shoulder outward while keeping your upper arm against the side of your body. Continue to lift until your forearm is almost perpendicular to the floor.

Tips:
  • Don't use a heavy weight -- start with 1 to 3 pound or 1/2 to 1 kg weights. Think of the exercise more as a warm-up exercise than as a strength-building exercise.
  • Stop the exercise before the muscle feels fatigued.

Shoulder internal and external rotaion exercises are great for working/strengthening the rotator cuff. Stand, feet hip width apart, use a light weight, have your elbow bent at a 90 degree angle. With dumbbell in hand, start at your navel, keep your elbow stable, and rotate your arm out to the side, then back, to 12/15 repititions, then do the opposite side. Part 2 is just the opposite, start with your arm rotated out to the side, still keeping your elbow stable, rotate to your navel, then back out. 12/15 repititions, then opposite side.

A very effective exercise for improving strength and endurance of the rotator cuff muscles is the ball combo I. The ball combo I is a great rotator cuff exercise because it also challenges the muscles that stabilize and support the shoulder blades. This is important because the rotator cuff muscles attach to the shoulder blades; therefore, if the shoulder blades are not stabilized, the rotator cuff will not have a solid anchor from which to work, potentially causing decreased stability and increased risk of injury to the shoulder joint. To do the ball combo I, lie on your stomach on top of a stability ball with your legs extended and toes on the floor. Before beginning, place a light dumbbell in each hand, extend your arms in front of your body, contract your glutes, and lift your chest off the ball. Be careful not to arch your back or jut your head forward during this exercise. First, lift your arms in front of your body at a 45-degree angle with your thumbs pointed up. Hold this position. Next, move your arms straight out to the side keeping your thumbs up with your arms forming a “T” with your body. Hold this position. Last, finish the sequence by moving your arms to the sides of your body with your thumbs up and palms facing out while squeezing the shoulder blades together.  Hold the last position and then return to the starting position by circling your arms down in front of the stability ball. That was one repetition- repeat for 12 to 20 repetitions. If a stability ball is unavailable, this can also be performed on an incline bench.

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Types Of Exercise

Types Of Exercise

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.