A Rotator Cuff Exercise a Day Keeps the Physio Away

A good suggestion that I would have for any person who does strength training is: “make sure you have shoulder stability and rotator cuff exercises in your program at least once a week throughout the year.”

The shoulder joint is an extremely mobile joint due to the fact it sacrifices stability. The shoulder joint has many factors that help increase its stability, none more important than the rotator cuff muscle group.

There are four rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder which play a vital role in stabilising the arm into the shoulder capsule. If these muscles become weak there is an increased likelihood that an injury will occur, commonly a rotator cuff tear or in a severe case a dislocated shoulder.

It is common to see rotator cuff exercises included ONLY in a shoulder rehabilitation program. While these exercises are fantastic for rehabilitation, they have a vital role in injury reduction. Strengthening the rotator cuff will assist in overall strength of the shoulders as it will give you more control which will allow you to lift heavier weights for exercises such as Bench Press.

Rotator cuff muscles are very active when your arms are above your head for example taking a mark in AFL. This is due to the scapulo-humeral rhythm where the shoulder blade and the humerus move at different ratios allowing the correct tracking of the shoulder blade. If incorrect tracking occurs the client can succumb to injuries such as shoulder impingements or AC joint separation.

For this article, I am going to give you the basic progression of exercises that will build stability and strength. These exercises are simple and are beneficial for all clients, whether they are elite athletes, young athletes, or simply a fitness client.

There are five exercises all together. The order of these exercises will firstly promote stability and the correct sequencing of the shoulder joint. Secondly it will promote strength for the rotator cuff muscles. I recommend that you perform one of these exercise’s at least once a week and if you follow the order provided the risk of shoulder injury will decrease. Once you have completed all of these exercises, simply start all over again but with more weight.

I generally use the following repetition ranges for 4 weeks:

Week 1: 2 x 10
Week 2: 3 x 10
Week 3: 3 x 12
Week 4: 3 x 12

The tempo that you will use is a regular rhythm of 2-0-1 (2 seconds down, 0 seconds on the bottom, 1 second up).

Exercise #1: Floor – Scapula Support

This is the first exercise I use to promote stability in the shoulder joint. This exercise enhances postural awareness and ensures appropriate motor patterns as it flattens the scapulas against the rib cage preventing scapula winging. This exercise requires no movement therefore you should HOLD this position for 20sec and repeat this exercise 3 times.

Exercise #2: Floor – Scarecrows (BW)

Scarecrows are used to strengthen upper back and shoulder musculature, while encouraging good scapula positioning and sequencing assisting the scapulo-humeral rhythm decreasing the likelihood of shoulder impingements. To begin with, the exercise should be performed without any weights. Once correct sequencing has been established light dumbbells can be used (1-4kg).

Exercise #3: Db Straight Arm Raises

This is the first exercise I use to start strengthening the rotator cuff muscle group. It is basically the same action as a tennis back hand and for someone who has never completed external rotation work, it will be good to start on 2 or 3 kg. The average person will perform it with 4kg.

Exercise #4: Db Diagonal Supraspinatus

Db Diagonal Supraspinatus is used to strengthen the supraspinatus muscle and stability by improving the length-tension relationship of the rotator cuff muscles. Improving this relationship will improve the amount of force that can be exerted by the rotator cuff muscles especially the supraspinatus. This exercise should be completed with light weights, I recommend starting with 3kg.

Exercise #5: Db High External Rotation

The high position of this exercise makes it the best for above head sports, but exercises 1-4 are important for building the base strength needed prior to performing this exercise. You will probably start on 3kg and only move up small amounts. I think of this as more of a control exercise, so do not worry about the weight too much.

Good Training!

Ben Williams