Working the Rotator Cuff Muscles

April 5th 2014 | by Matt Bembridge (AKA Gym Professor)

In last month's Bench Press article (CLICK HERE to read), I emphasised the importance of working on weak links to avoid injury and improve overall strength. The “weak link” mentioned in the Flat Bench Press was the rotator cuff (comprising 4 muscles - teres minor, infraspinatus, supraspinatus, and subscapularis).

Rotator Cuff Injury

As the “rotator” name suggests, the individual muscles of the rotator cuff help with rotating the shoulder: teres minor and infraspinatus to rotate your arm and shoulder away from your body, supraspinatus helps you raise your arm out to the side, subscapularis to rotate your arm and shoulder towards your body: however, their most important role is when they work together; here’s why: compared to our other ball and socket joints, such as the hip joint, our shoulder joint has a fairly shallow socket. This affords our upper arm greater range-of-movement in all directions, but more vulnerable to coming out of alignment – which is where a lot of shoulder problems can begin. When working together, the combined pull of the rotator cuff muscles helps to keep our ball and socket joint correctly aligned (firmly in its place!).

Lateral Raises

So, how do we strengthen the rotator cuff muscles? Simple, we exercise them with good-form and a sensible light progressive load in their isolated planes-of-movement: External Rotation, Lateral Raises, Internal Rotation. 

These exercises can be performed with a hand-weight (dumbbells, bottle of water), bands, or cables (shown).

Exercising the rotator cuff.

Of note, some past Exercise of the Month articles encompass some or all of these elements.

Unfortunately, most will only consciously exercise their rotator cuff after suffering a related injury. A clever trainer will learn from their mistakes; a wise trainer will learn from the mistakes of others. Be a wise trainer and seek advice from those more experienced and knowledgeable around you. From just a few minutes of extra effort a week by including light rotator cuff-specific exercises into your regime, you can strengthen a weak link, maybe improve other lifts, and help avoid against injury.

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P.S. Below are some related articles of interest. There's many more too, so be sure to search through our past articles. 

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