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The Rotator Cuff:

3 of our favourite exercises and why training it is so important

When it comes to shoulder rehab, training the rotator cuff is often the first port of call. But why is that? First, let's have a look at the anatomy:



These 4 stabilising muscles combine to act as a 'suction cup'; surrounding the humeral head to keep it centred in the socket and stabilise the shoulder. This is especially important when it comes to going overhead; think of the arm as a lever. More rotator cuff strength is required to keep the ball centred in the socket when the hand is further away from the socket. This is why rotator cuff training is so important in overhead sports; cricket, tennis, CrossFit etc.


Contrary to popular belief, the rotator cuff doesn't just 'rotate', or get trained when we 'rotate'. In fact, 'pull' exercises have been shown to target internal rotators, and 'push' exercises have been shown to target the external rotators. Closed chain exercises like bear crawls, shoulder taps etc. are a great way to target shoulder stabilisers; especially in the early stages of shoulder rehab.


When it comes to performance, trying to exert power with the upper limb with a weak rotator cuff is like trying to fire a cannon off a lido. A stable shoulder is a powerful shoulder, and a lack of rotator cuff strength means we might be selling ourself short when it comes to upper limb athleticism.

What are the best exercises for rotator cuff strength? Well there is no such thing as 'best' exercises. There are 'more appropriate' exercises when it comes to individuals, which stage of rehab they are in, what sport they play etc... but at the end of the day, the best exercise is the one being done.

Mixing up open and closed chain and a variety of different positions is a great place to start: give these three a go and see how you go

Alternating Side Planks

Challenge your rotator cuff and shoulder stability in a variety of positions, at the same time as 'linking the chain'

Think about pushing the ground away from you and controlling the entire movement - don't collapse into the shoulder. Keep the ribcage down and the core engaged.

Banded Dumbbell Raise

Spice up your normal dumbbell raise by adding a band around your wrists. Keep tension on the band (it doesn't have to be heavy) and let the shoulder do its thing. Let the scapula upwardly rotate naturally: none of these 'back and down' cues. Keep the reps high on this one; between 12-15 as we want to challenge rotator cuff endurance.

Banded external rotation with overhead press

This can be done with our without the weight looped through a band - think of a single arm facepull with an overhead press. A great one for challenging the external rotators, which are vital in overhead sports. The weight adds a proprioceptive element, something which is often disregarded when it comes to shoulder (p)rehab. Again, keep the ribcage down but this time think about retracting the shoulder blade and not letting the shoulder collapse forwards.

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