Strength training isn’t just about squatting or pressing – at its core, there is a lot of groundwork that can help you prepare for success. An example of this is rotator cuff training, which allows you to protect your shoulders and use these muscles more efficiently and safely.
Many people tend to neglect their rotator cuff, a group of four muscles that come together at the head of your humerus (the upper arm bone) to help you raise and rotate your arm. However, focusing on building a strong rotator cuff is important for anyone exercising strength – not just those who have previously had a rotator cuff injury, such as those who have a history of strength training B. a torn rotator cuff, Marcia Darbouze, PT, DPT, owner of Just Move Therapy in Florida and cohost of the podcast Disabled Girls Who Lift, tells SELF.
“The rotator cuff muscles are the stabilizers of the shoulder complex and create space in the shoulder joint for optimal movement and guidance of your mechanics,”
When your rotator cuff muscles are weak, other muscles (like your upper trapezius) take over the motion, she says.
However, improving your shoulder stability is not just about strengthening the rotator cuff muscles. As well as focusing on them and your other shoulder muscles, you should also challenge your lower trapezius muscles (the muscles in the upper half of your back) and your serratus anterior (a muscle along your rib cage that will help you position your shoulder blade).
These muscles are weak in many people, which is why exercises like overhead presses can cause shoulder pain, says ACE-certified personal trainer Sivan Fagan, owner of Strong with Sivan in Baltimore, MD.
Exercising that focuses on strengthening these muscles – and improving the external rotation of your shoulders and improving your thoracic spine mobility – can help you build the strength and range of motion to perform safer pressure-based workouts, she says.
The following rotator cuff workout, created by Fagan, does just that. You can use this as a warm-up for an upper body weight training day or as a standalone routine when your shoulders need a little more TLC, says Fagan. (Of course, every time you experience severe shoulder pain or any type of weakness or numbness, you should see your doctor or physical therapist.)
What you need: A light-resistant mini band and a training mat.
Do 12-15 repetitions of each exercise. Rest 15-20 seconds between trains. Complete a total of 3 rounds.
Demo the movements are below Angie Coleman (GIF 1), a holistic wellness coach in Oakland, CA; Nathalie Huerta (GIF 2), trainer at The queer gym in Oakland, CA; Erica Gibbons (GIF 3), a California-based personal trainer and graduate student licensed as a marriage and family therapist; and Caitlyn Seitz (GIF 4), a New York-based group fitness instructor and singer / songwriter.