The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Rotator Cuff Alternatives

Posted in
Fit Tips

Tuesday, Apr 11, 2017

One of the most common causes of shoulder pain is a weakness or injury of the rotator cuff muscle group. This group of muscles is responsible for stabilization and internal/external rotation of the shoulder. The four specific muscles and their corresponding joint actions are listed below:

  • Subscapularis – shoulder internal rotation
  • Infraspinatus – shoulder external rotation
  • Teres minor – shoulder external rotation
  • Supraspinatus – shoulder abduction

This muscle group is extremely important for swimmers, pitchers, quarterbacks, and others who perform repeated shoulder rotation movement patterns. However, athletes are not the only individuals who suffer vulnerable rotator cuff muscles. In fact, the rotator cuff group is commonly injured when performing overhead strength training exercises incorrectly or with too much resistance. Therefore, isolation of the rotator cuff group is crucial, but often times neglected, during strength training routines.

There are numerous preventative measures one can take to avoid pain and injury of the rotator group. The exercises in the video can be utilized to increase strength of all four rotator cuff muscles, and should be performed on a regular basis in order to avoid future injury or pain. Instructions and safety tips are presented below:

1) Kneeling resistance band internal/external rotation
  • All movement begins with a neutral spine and with the scapulae retracted
  • Ensure that the only moving body part is the forearm. The upper arm should always be parallel to the floor, and there should be no visible movement from other parts of the body.
  • The range of motion for this exercise is the forearm coming down until parallel to the floor and up until perpendicular to the floor.
2) Standing dumbbell full can exercise
  • Begin with a neutral spine, scapulae retracted, feet shoulder width apart, and both arms at soft extension.
  • The dumbbells should be positioned just in front of the thighs in a vertical position; much like you would be holding an open can of a beverage.
  • Activate the core and move the arms upward by performing shoulder flexion at a 45 degree angle away from the midline of the body (as if making a V with your arms).
  • Raise the arms until they are parallel to the floor and return to the starting position under control.
  • This exercise can also be performed one arm at a time.
3) Swiss ball V raises
  • Lay prone on a physio ball with the upper torso supported and legs extended with feet shoulder width apart to provide stability.
  • Activate the core and move the arms upward in the shape of a ‘V’ where the arms are at a 45 degree angle away from the midline of the body.
  • Raise both arms until they are parallel to the floor and return to the starting position.
  • The spine should remain neutral throughout the movement and the scapulae should remain retracted.
  • Keep the wrist firm and in alignment with the arm.
4) Leaning mini band wall walks
  • Stand upright ~1.5 – 2 feet away from a wall with feet shoulder width apart.
  • Place the mini band around the wrists and flex elbows and shoulders about 90 degrees.
  • Lean forward and place the forearms against the wall with the band stretched and shoulder blades retracted.
  • Slowly lift the right forearm without shifting body weight or losing retraction of the scapula. Move the right arm up a few inches and return to the wall. The same action is performed with the left arm.
  • Walk each arm up 2 – 4 steps and then repeat moving down the wall 2 – 4 steps.
  • Always keep a constant tension on the band, and ensure that the forearms are parallel to each other and perpendicular to the floor at all times.
There are many options that can be utilized for the purpose of strengthening the rotator cuff group. These are just a few suggestions. However, it is important to note that if you are currently experiencing shoulder pain, seek medical advice and avoid strength training until cleared by a physician. With that being said, the exercises in this video are for preventative purposes only and should be utilized as such.