It’s Summer and you’re probably going to want to show off those Summer Shoulders! But what’s the point if the “flex” isn’t as strong as it looks? Let’s dive into some rotator cuff exercises that can be used to prevent and rehab your shoulder injuries.

It happens to a number of us: picture yourself in the gym and you hear “that sound” or get “that pain” in your shoulder. It’s “that” shoulder pain which limits the rest of your workout and ends up nagging you for the next week. Commonly you’ve strained a muscle in the shoulder.

First off, the shoulder joint is a complex part of the body with a number of rotator cuff muscles that are prone to injury, varying in severity and specific type. To effectively understand how to properly rehab the shoulder and prevent further injury, we must first understand the relevant shoulder muscles in order to give the appropriate rotator cuff exercises.

Below is a picture of each muscle in action:

Supraspinatus
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Arm straight by side
Push with band (or against wall/table/etc without band)

Subscapularis
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Abduction of shoulder to 45-90 degrees, internal rotation

Infraspinatus
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Abduction of shoulder to 90 degrees, external rotation

Teres Minor
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Abduction of shoulder to 45 degrees, external rotation

These pictures above provide the foundation of treatment for a rotator cuff injury. With this, we can apply a progressive strengthening principle that can be used to strengthen the rotator cuff.

Start with holding these contractions within a pain free range. These are called isometric holds, which are the most basic of our shoulder exercises. Our goal is performing static holds that are direction specific for the individual rotator cuff muscles. Try to pick a point between the two pictures and hold is for 5-10 seconds for 3-5 repetitions.

We can progress these exercises by “concentrically and eccentrically” moving through available muscle range and eventually loading the muscles eccentrically. What we want to do here is move back and forth between the first and second picture for each muscle shown.

Additionally, here are another three exercises that are more advanced:

Bully Stretch
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This is a great stretch to help open up the whole shoulder area. There are a number of muscles that can get tight, leading to overuse rotator cuff injuries. Use this stretch as maintenance after your upper body training days. Try to aim for a 20-30 second stretch for 3-4 repetitions total.

Lawn Mower Pull
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This movement is a more complex, multidirectional movement involving the rotator cuff muscles. It incorporates the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and teres minor and teaches them to coordinate themselves while stabilizing the shoulder blade throughout the movement.

Wood Chopper
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As the “lawn mower” exercise above, this is more advanced, multi-directional movement. This one aims to get the other rotator cuff muscle, subscapularis, working with your larger chest and back muscles.

Our shoulders are a muscle group that we usually don’t think about throughout our day. But when we experience some sort of injury, regardless of it’s severity, pain and weakness can limit our ability to effectively coordinate our everyday complex movements. Including any upcoming Summer sports, activities, and events with family and friends. That’s why these seemingly “simple” exercises are so important to help rehab ourselves back to our full potential.

Use these exercises but make sure you speak with your local therapist to ensure the specific aspects of your injury are well understood.

About the author

Alex's passion in physical therapy stems focuses on improving function and athletic performance. He uses a global approach for his clients, putting their unique circumstances at the absolute forefront of each treatment interaction.

Alex utilizes manual therapy and functional re-training to individually customize his programs to include the proper education and resources to help his clients reach their various goals.

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