The Importance of Rotator Cuff Exercises

The Importance of Rotator Cuff Exercises

– By Bryn Lewis
shoulder pain

Anatomy Of The Rotator Cuff

Anatomically the rotator cuff consists of the intraspinatus, supraspinatus, subscapularis and the teres major muscles, along with their corresponding tendons. These muscles and tendons help to stabilise the glenohumeral joint and are paramount in supporting the range of movements at the shoulder.
The shoulder is a ball and socket joint with a large range of motion through various movement planes. Therefore, the rotator cuff muscles need to work together as a unit, to maintain the joint stability and its overall mobility. However, due to the large range of motion of a shoulder ball and socket joint, the rotator cuff muscles require strengthening to reduce localised shoulder injuries.

Functions Of The Rotator Cuff

One of the main functions of the rotator cuff is to decelerate the shoulder when the arm is moving inwards quickly. A weakness in the rotator cuff can produce an extra burden (over-stretching) on the tendons and muscles, at the end of this inward arm motion. Consequently, injuries are common in sports that require a fast and powerful arm action from the shoulder region. These include tennis, cricket, rugby, basketball, baseball, swimming, volleyball and any athletic throwing event.
Rotator cuff tears may produce pain in the shoulder, weakness and tenderness, with a reduction of shoulder mobility. These tears can happen either suddenly or gradually over a period of time, individuals over 40 are more prone to gradual wear and tear of the rotator cuff. 
This wear and tear process is termed as the rotator cuff impingement syndrome. Tendonitis is also very common at the rotator cuff and is classed as an overuse injury, with symptoms of pain showing when the individual raises their arm above shoulder height.

The Impact Rotator Cuff Exercises Have

Research has indicated that there is a strong correlation between rotator cuff exercises and a reduction in injury rate at the shoulder region. Rotator cuff exercises can increase joint stability, increase joint mobility, improve flexibility and reduce injuries by strengthening the muscles around the joint.
These physical training benefits compensate deceleration at the shoulder when a fast and powerful action occurs. Outside of a sporting context rotator cuff exercises can aid with a good posture and avoid a kyphotic (shoulders slumped, arms in and a round back) posture which is evident in seated professionals, by improving muscular balance in the neck/shoulder regions.

The main muscles working in sync with the smaller rotator cuff muscles accomplish their potential during exercises such as the bench press and shoulder press. The rotator cuff muscles support shoulder stability during these exercises and if trained regularly will increase strength, joint proprioception and improve lifting capacity.

How To Strengthen Your Rotator Cuff Muscles

When concentrating on training the rotator cuff muscles, the weight should be light with plenty of reps and at the end of a heavy weight session when you are properly warmed up. There should be no pain felt at any point during this procedure and the following exercises are recommended to improve rotator cuff strength:

Internal, external & horizontal rotations with dumbbells, resistance bands and cable pulling machines.
Cuban Press Rotation
Without Weight Exercises

Flexibility is the ability to move a joint through its complete range of motion and is very important in athletic performance and in the ability to carry out the activities of daily living. Bearing this concept in mind, the following stretches are recommended because they isolate the RC muscles, improve musculotendinous function and may reduce rotator cuff tendonitis:

Arms behind back stretch
Manual stretch
Table stretch
Arm across chest stretch
Subscapular pectoral stretch

Self massage with a foam roller is recommended for rotation cuff release, as this increases flexibility and blood flow to the RC muscles.