Rotator Cuff Exercises

February 18, 2011

By Susan Manning

Small Muscles Doing Big Things

Rotator Cuff

Everything we do with our upper body, lifting, pushing, pulling requires us to use a group of four small muscles that surround our shoulder joint often referred to as your Rotator Cuff muscles. Specifically they are the Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres minor and Subscapularis or also known as your SITS muscles. These muscles stabilize your shoulder joint and hold the bone (humerus) in place.

As we age these muscles can become weaker and not do their job properly. For example, if the rotator cuff (specifically the supraspinatus) is weak when we lift our arm out to the side the upper trapezius kicks in and we end up shoulder shrugging as the arm comes up.

There are specific exercises for these muscles that we can do which will not only strengthen the rotator cuff but overall shoulder movement. Following are some rotator cuff exercises along with a couple of overall shoulder exercises which will give you the strength you need to perform your daily tasks and more!

Start by warming up the shoulder joints by doing some arm swings front to back and arm raises to the sides, about 10 of each. Then perform 8 – 12 repetitions of each exercise.

Rotator Cuff Exercises

Equipment needed: Resistance Band

Time Estimate: 15 Minutes including warm-up

Internal Shoulder Rotation

Directions: Keep your elbow tucked into your side and hold the resistance band in one hand. Pull the band across your body. Slowly return to starting position. Perform the exercise 8-12 times on both arms.

The key is to keep your elbow tucked into your side. You can put a towel under your elbow and hold it there to ensure that you don’t pull the elbow away from your side. The body always tries to cheat and find an easier way to do things by having the larger muscles kick in to do the work.

External Shoulder Rotation

Directions: Cross your arm over your stomach and hold the resistance tubing. Pull the band across your stomach and to your side. Return to starting position.

Once again keep a towel under the elbow to ensure proper body positioning during this exercise.

Side Raise 0 to 60 degrees

This is a small movement but focuses on the Supraspinatus Rotator Cuff muscle. As you lift higher the larger shoulder muscle (deltoid) takes over.

Directions: Hold the resistance band at hip level in the middle of your body. Keep the band at hip level as you pull the band away from your body.

Side Raise to 90 degrees

This time we want to incorporate the Shoulder muscle (Deltoid) so we will take it up to 90 degrees.

Directions: Hold the resistance band at hip level in the middle of your body. Pull up the band and raise your arm to almost shoulder height. Slowly return to your starting position.
side raise 90 degrees exercise

Front Raise

This exercise focuses on the front of the Shoulder muscle (anterior deltoid).

Directions: Start with the resistance band at your side just below your hips. Pull the band forward and bring your arm up to shoulder level. Slowly return to the starting position.

Reverse Fly

This exercise focuses on the back of the Shoulder muscle (posterior deltoid).

Directions: Start with the band slightly above your waist level. Pull the exercise band across your chest and away from your body and up to shoulder level. Slowly return to starting position.
reverse fly exercise

Small muscles that are doing big things for us. Enjoy!

About the Author: Susan Manning is a BCRPA TFL, ACE, ACSM, TWIST certified Advanced Health & Fitness Specialist in BC. She is Dr. Carolyn Anderson’s co-author of It’s Never Too Late To Be Fit, a comprehensive guide for older adult’s fitness.

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  • Richard Duy

    That is a great list of Rotator Cuff Excercises.
    I am currently doing 2 of these excercises every second day but you have given me a couple
    more so thats great. thanks

  • Paul Picard

    How about pain? Should I do those exercises if I feel any pain while doing them? My right shoulder pain would not allow me to throw a ball overhand however I can hit tennis balls backhand and forehand for hours without a problem.

  • Susan Manning

    In regards to pain during an exercise you should see your doctor or physiothearapist and describe the pain to him/her. There is fatigue when you are using the muscle and can feel it working which some people describe as a “good pain”. But an exercise shouldn’t be painful to perform. Seek help from your physiothearapist as they may limit the range of motion or give you a different exercise to do all together….possibly an isometric exercise where the muscle is contracting but there is no movement, therefore the strength and integrity of the muscle increases without the pain of movement.
    Hope your shoulder heals quickly

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