What are the Best Rotator Cuff Exercises?

Best Exercises to Prevent Rotator Cuff Injuries

Rotator cuff injuries, tendonitis and even rotator cuff tears and the shoulder pain that comes with them can be prevented by doing some specific exercises. These rotator cuff exercises should be incorporated into your regular work out and be done 2-3 times each week.

The first exercises are stretching. This is the most important step in preventing shoulder and rotator cuff injuries.

First stretch your arm going in front and then up over your head. The second stretch is bringing your arm across your chest to the other shoulder pulling the elbow across. A third stretch is bringing your arm up your back from the bottom going up toward your neck.

You can use a towel or belt and have the other hand pull the towel to do the stretching. All stretches should be done for 20-30 seconds.

Shoulder Stretch

Strengthening Your Rotator Cuff

After stretching, simple rotator cuff strengthening should also be done. The first exercise is resisted external rotation.

This is done holding a very light weight and lying on your side. The arm you are working out is on top. Keep the elbow against your side and rotate the arm away from the ground to about 45 degrees externally.

Do 10-20 reps and three sets then roll over and do the other arm the same way.

Shoulder external rotation instructions

The second exercise for strengthening the rotator cuff is resisted internal rotation. This is done again lying on your side but this time you are working the bottom one.

Put the weight in the hand of the arm closer to the ground and rotate toward your chest and then back out. Again, do 10-20 reps and three sets then roll over and do the other arm.

Shoulder Internal Rotation

Both the internal and external rotator cuff strengthening exercises can be done with resistance bands instead of with weights. I prefer the bands if you have them.

Two other important exercises for protecting the rotator cuff involve strengthening the biceps and the triceps. This is done with simple curls and elbow extensions.

With all these exercises start with light weights but slowly increase the amount of weight and resistance so your rotator cuff continues to get stronger.


Doing these rotator cuff exercises will protect you from injuring your rotator cuff and if you already have an injury can help it heal. If you have pain or if your shoulder is getting worse, see your local shoulder specialist.

If you suspect you have a rotor cuff tear, do not try and work out your shoulder as you may make the tear worse. Instead, schedule an appointment with the orthopedic doctors at Westchester Sport and Spine.

Dr. Rick Weinstein, MD, MBA is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine. He is the Director of Orthopedic Surgery at Westchester Sport and Spine and has subspecialty training in knee and shoulder surgery, including minimally invasive surgery and arthroscopy. Dr. Weinstein is a Board Examiner for the American Board of Orthopedic Surgeons, determining certification for other orthopedic surgeons.

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