Rotator cuff exercises are commonly ignored by young adults for two primary reasons.
1) They’re not fun.
2) Most people are blind to the long-term benefits.
At Cressey Sports Performance I have seen countless adults walk into the gym with aggravated shoulder pain that limits their ability to enjoy everyday activities (playing catch, swimming, biking, etc.). Mike Reinold, an elite physical therapist at Champion Physical Therapy and Performance in Boston, states: “Considering the excessive mobility of the shoulder joint and crazy demands we place on the shoulder, it’s no wonder that over 20% of the adult population has been shown to have some degree of rotator cuff tears!” As we grow older, it’s important to take a proactive approach to strengthen the rotator cuff for long-term health.
Why do I need to strengthen my shoulders? I’m young, athletic, and healthy
It’s all about the long-term reward. Many young adults neglect shoulder health just as they are lax about saving for retirement when they are young. We know if you start saving money when you are 23 versus when you are 33, your earnings will be substantially more when you retire. The earlier you start learning and performing rotator cuff exercises, the stronger and healthier your shoulders will be in the future.
Self-reported prevalence of shoulder pain is estimated to be between 16 and 26%; it is the third most common cause of musculoskeletal consultation in primary care, and approximately 1% of adults consult a general practitioner with new shoulder pain annually. Here are 3 exercises to strengthen your shoulders in 60 seconds.
1) Half-Kneeling Cable External Rotation at 90 Degrees Scapular Plane
This exercises is great for attacking the posterior cuff. The posterior cuff’s primary role is to stabilize, and if this group of muscles is weak it’s not going to be able to perform its job and it will allow the head of the humerus to float forward. A great article by Dr.Warren Hammer MS, DC explains the importance of working in the scapular plane. Hammer explains, “The mechanical axis of the humerus approximates the mechanical axis of the scapula. This optimally aligns the deltoid and supraspinatus for elevation of the arm, thereby avoiding subacrominal impingement.” Basically saying your shoulder (humerus and scapula) is in the best spot positionally to do its job.
2) Side Lying External Rotation Arm Abducted 30 Degrees
Here's a simple but effective exercise that does not require a lot of weight to be successful. I would recommend using 2.5 lbs. or even holding a softball or baseball in hand. While performing be sure to grab a half foam roller or sweatshirt to prop your arm up to place the arm in an optimal position. Another added benefit research shows it that this exercise has actually shown the best EMG activity of the infraspinatus and teres minor of any exercise tested.
3) Wall Slides with Upward Rotation and Lift Off
We live in a world where most of what we need and use is right in front of us (computers, phones, steering wheels, doors, etc). Overtime athletes and the general population develop a short and stiff pec minor (pulling the shoulders forward), gritty levators, and dominant upper traps, along with a lack of upward rotation (being able to get both arms overhead).
This exercise primarily works your lower traps, and over time, will help your ability to get your arms up overhead using the proper muscles (upper traps, serratus anterior, and lower traps).
When do I perform these exercises?
Since I have a heavy powerlifting training routine I perform a single set of my main movement exercises (squat, bench, deadlift) and during my rest time I perform a set of one of the exercises above.
Seek out time that you may be using to stand around or even talk with friends and fill this empty space with 60 seconds of arm care variations like the ones above in between sets. Over time you won’t be disappointed with the results.
Mitchell, C., Adebajo, A., Hay, E., & Carr, A. (2005). Shoulder pain: diagnosis and management in primary care. BMJ : British Medical Journal, 331(7525), 1124–1128.