Most people associate any type of shoulder pain as a problem with the rotator cuff. It’s important to understand that the rotator cuff is not one muscle but a combination of muscles that surround the shoulder and scapula. These muscles act with the ligaments and labrum to stabilize the shoulder and allow it to function in all ranges. Its job is pretty intense because the shoulder must be very dynamic. If the shoulder is injured, often the elbow, wrist, and hand cannot do their jobs. Various other muscles help to stabilize the shoulder as well, so don’t get hung up on strengthening only the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers are much smaller than the overlaying musculature (deltoid, biceps, triceps, pecs) and are often under strengthened and prone to over-use type injuries. Poor posture and poor body mechanics anger small, stabilizing muscles because they are forced to work like the big guys. A good yoga and meditation practice will assist you in relaxing over worked muscles. Gentle strengthening, stabilization, and balance will advance your shoulder strength and reduce over use pain.
Guys…everyday cannot by bicep day. Girls…everyday cannot be leg day. Take at LEAST one day a week to incorporate these small, but difficult exercises into your strengthening program to improve lifting strength, and to decrease nagging shoulder, and even neck and mid back pain.
I don’t care how strong you are, scapular strengthening is hard, so use light weights and/or bands. Also movements are small because the muscles are small, so don’t substitute large movements utilizing large muscles.
Two bands are utilized in these pictures. We have them mounted to a peg board in the garage. I would recommend a very light band, a light/medium band, and a medium/firm band for these exercises. If the bands are too firm, an injury or larger muscle substitution occurs, which defeats the purpose. There are a variety of ways to set the bands up. Perform 8-12 repetitions of each exercise:
External rotation: Facing toward the bands, lift the arms to 90 degrees and gently rotate, pulling backward.
Internal rotation: Face away from the bands, elbows up at 90 degrees. Gently pull forward rotating the arms down.
Single arm external and internal rotation: Keep the elbow by the side. Gently pull in with the hand closest to the band (internal rotation) or pull out with the hand farthest from the band (external rotation). This is a very small movement!
Scapular protraction or Serratus Anterior punch: Gently push your shoulder blade out. This is a very small movement as well.
I, T, Y, W: Starting point (1st picture). I (2nd picture) pull the bands by your sides squeezing the shoulder blades and sticking the chest out. T (3rd picture) arms are raised to 90 degrees, gently pull the band back squeezing the shoulder blades together. Y (4th picture) arms are up at 90 degrees, gently pull the band up forming a Y squeezing shoulder blades down and in.W (5th picture) pull the band back forming a W with the arms pull the shoulder blades down and in.
The rotator cuff consists of four muscles: supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis.
Other important shoulder/scapular stabilizers include: Teres major, subscapularis, latissimus dorsi, infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid, serratus anterior, levator scapulae, rhomboid major and minor, middle and lower trapezius.