The shoulder is one of the more dynamic joints in the human body in that it requires an incredible balance of mobility and stability.
Often, imbalances are present which contribute towards injuries consisting of rotator cuff tendinopathy, rotator cuff tears, labral tears, bicep tendinopathy dislocations, and the early onset of arthritic and degenerative changes at the joint.
If you refer to the Fueling Fast Blog and revisit the article written about shoulder stability, you can brush up on some of the background of the anatomy and physiology.
The Function Of The Rotator Cuff
Too often, the function of the rotator cuff is misunderstood. The muscles of the rotator cuff originate on the scapula and insert onto the head of the humerus.
They are generally smaller compared to the other muscles in the shoulder and work solely to coordinate movements to stabilize the shoulder joint.
The rotator cuffs are responsible for the fine adjustments in the movement of the joint rather than the gross movements.
The deltoid, traps, and pectoralis function more for the purpose of power and strength.
The rotator cuff muscles not only need to demonstrate good function within their isolated movements but more importantly need to work in synergy with each other to control the shoulder.
There is a difference between shoulder strength and shoulder stability, as with anything in the human body, strength and stability are two different components that aren’t mutually exclusive. There is a fine balance between both for a proper functioning shoulder.
How To Train And Strengthen The Rotator Cuff
The rotator cuff and scapular musculature are best trained through coordination drills that require sustaining and executing certain movements, which require the combination of force production and timing.
Light resistance is best used for exercises as heavier resistance is used when targeting the bigger muscles.
The exercises should be focused on being completed with higher repetitions and good efficiency, especially upon fatigue.
Focus and awareness of shoulder positioning are also important so that the individual can learn a sense of proprioception. Proprioception is the sense of knowing the body’s position relative to space.
The 5 Best Rotator Cuff Exercises
When searching for rotator cuff exercises, there are some basic exercises that are very common and will always come to the top of the search.
“Throwers Ten program” is a popular baseline exercise program used for overhead athletes. The problem is that most individuals skip these basic exercises and focus on the bigger movements, which can lead to imbalances.
These exercises are not only good for rehabbing an injury but are also great for the prevention of an injury by ensuring proper balance amongst the muscle groups.
Revisiting these stability exercises throughout training routines, especially when there are major shifts in training styles can be beneficial. Transitioning from heavy lifting to focusing more on conditioning is an example of changes in a training routine.
Transitioning from traditional strengthening to more complex movement training is another example of a routine change where re-implementing these stability exercises would be warranted.
The great thing about shoulder stability exercises is that minimal equipment is required.
Shoulder Exercise #1: Internal and External Isometric Hold Walkout
External Isometric Walkout Right Arm
Internal Isometric Walkout Left Arm
Start with your elbow bent to ninety degrees with your wrist neutral so your thumb is pointing to the ceiling.
- Keep your shoulders blades pinched together and stand tall. Avoid being slouched.
- Place a towel between your arm and side of your torso.
- Step to the side against the resistance of the band while maintaining the neutral position of your arm. If it is too hard to maintain your wrist in line with your elbow, then you went out too far.
- Repeat in both directions for internal and external rotation positions.
- Move slowly, maintaining control of the arm. Sets of 10-15 repetitions is a good target.
Shoulder Exercise #2: Serratus Anterior Wall Slides
Stand facing the wall. Put a band loop of moderate resistance around your wrists.
- Place your forearms on the wall so your elbows are at shoulder height. Keep your elbows tucked in so they are in line with your torso and not flaring out.
- Maintain light to moderate tension in the band by spreading against the resistance just enough to keep the wrists shoulder-width apart.
- Then slide up the wall and make sure to keep your entire forearm in contact with the wall. Slide up so the band reaches just above your head and return back down so the band is collarbone height.
- Repeat for sets of 10-15 repetitions.
Shoulder Exercise #3: Ball On Wall
Stand facing the wall. Hold your arm straight out in front of you so your hand is in line with your shoulder.
- Place a ball, preferably the size of a softball, between your palm and the wall. Keeping your elbow locked out, arm straight and apply pressure through your arm.
- Then move your entire arm to generate cross and circular motions. Complete up, down, left, right and circular motions while keeping the arm straight and the shoulder blade squeezed down and back.
- The force production should be coming from your shoulder blade and not your elbow.
- Also, make sure that your fingers are off the ball so you cannot cheat by gripping the ball but rather focus on controlling the ball by maintaining pressure through your arm. Repeat for sets of 10 repetitions.
Advanced: Try completing the same exercise but facing sideways with the same concept. Keep the shoulder blade pinned down and back while generating small movements in cross and circular motions.
Shoulder Exercise #4: Prone “W” to “Y” Scapula Exercise
Lie face down. You can place a small towel rolled up to rest your forehead on.
- Start with your arms pinned at your side with the elbows bent and your wrists in the thumb up position.
- Raise your arms off the floor. While squeezing your shoulder blades together, slowly straighten your arms in an angle outward to generate a “Y” position. Then return back down.
- Repeat for sets of 10-15 repetitions.
Shoulder Exercise #5: Supine Serratus Punch
Lie on your back with your arms straight ahead.
- Keeping your arms straight, reach as far forward as you can without your mid-back or neck coming off of the ground.
- Your arms should be sliding forward towards the ceiling.
- Then while still keeping your arms straight, squeeze your shoulder blades together to slide your arms back down so your shoulder blades are touching the floor.
- Repeat for sets of 10-15 repetitions.
Once you master this movement, move on to the next movement in the plank position.
Shoulder Exercise #6: Plank Serratus Scapula Slide
Assume a plank position. If the regular plank position is too difficult, start on your knees.
- Position yourself so your shoulders are in line with your hips.
- Keeping your neck neutral and looking straight forward, press your elbows into the ground to slide your arms forward, allowing your shoulder blades to move forward.
- Then squeeze your shoulder blades together to return back to the start position.
- Once you can master repetitions of this movement, then focus on trying to hold the forward position for time.
- Try to maintain good form while driving the arms forward into the ground. Avoid arching your low back and keep the belly button drawn inward as well.
Start with repetitions of 10-15. Then progress it by holding the slide forward position movement by maintaining pressure into the ground through your elbows. Focus for 10-second intervals and progress as tolerated.
It will be normal to feel a “burning” sensation in the shoulders and surrounding muscles. These are the muscles being worked.
The Bottom Line On Shoulder Stability Exercises
To recap, it is beneficial to add these into your conditioning routines such as during a back or shoulder strength day. This will ensure that you are keeping up with the foundational concepts while progressing your training.