4 Simple Rotator Cuff Exercises to Improve Strength

Posted on March 26, 2019

Written By: Megan DeLuca Megan DeLuca, MEd, CPT
PTS Fitness Blogger

Rotator cuff muscles are prone to inflammation and tears during overhead activities due to muscular imbalances and/or wear and tear. An important way to reduce tears or possible injury is by strengthening these muscles. The exercises below will show you how to strengthen the muscles of your rotator cuff.
Be sure to check in with your physical therapist or doctor before starting these exercises for your rotator cuff muscles. A visit with your PTS physical therapist can also help ensure that you are doing the exercises properly and that they are safe for you.
Equipment needed: Begin with weights (approximately 1 to 2 pounds) or a light to medium resistance band that allows 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions, and progress to 3 sets. As the exercise becomes easier, add weight in 1-pound increments or move up in resistance. Each time you increase the weight/resistance, start again at 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions.

2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions
3 days per week

External Rotation
Main muscles worked: Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid

Step-by-step directions
• Lie on a firm, flat surface with your unaffected arm under you, cradling your head.
• Hold your injured arm against your side as shown, with your elbow bent at a 90° angle.
• Keep your elbow against your side and slowly rotate your arm at the shoulder, raising the weight to a vertical position.
• Slowly lower the weight to the starting position to a count of 5.

Tip: Do not let your body roll back as you raise the weight; and, if you are experiencing pain of any kind please stop and talk with your physical therapist or doctor.

Internal Rotation
Main muscles worked: Subscapularis, teres major

Step-by-step directions
• Lie on a firm, flat surface on the side of your affected arm.
• Place a pillow or folded cloth under your head to keep your spine straight.
• Hold your injured arm against your side as shown, with your elbow bent at a 90° angle.
• Keep your elbow bent and against your body and slowly rotate your arm at the shoulder, raising the weight to a vertical position.
• Slowly lower the weight to the starting position to a count of 5.

Tip: Do not let your body roll back as you raise the weight. and, if you are experiencing pain of any kind please stop and talk with your physical therapist or doctor.

Alternate Position: (Excellent alternative, especially if the 1st two exercises provided cause increased pain.)

Standing position with a light to medium resistance band following the same format using the pictures below as a guide.

           External Rotation                                 Internal Rotation

Scapular Retraction/Protraction
Main muscles worked: Middle trapezius, serratus

Step-by-step directions
• Lie on your stomach on a table or bed with your injured arm hanging over the side.
• Keep your elbow straight and lift the weight slowly by squeezing your shoulder blade toward the opposite side as far as possible.
• Return slowly to the starting position and repeat.

Tip: Do not shrug your shoulder toward your ear.

Standing Row
Main muscles worked: Middle and lower trapezius

Step-by-step directions
• Attach a resistance band to a doorknob or other stable object.
• Stand holding the band with your elbow bent and at your side, as shown in the start position.
• Keep your arm close to your side and slowly pull your elbow straight back.
• Slowly return to the start position and repeat.

Tip: Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull.