The importance of the rotator cuff muscle should not be underestimated. In sports where overhead activity is paramount, the muscle can consistently feel the strain. After all, why do you think quarterbacks often have icepacks on their shoulder after a lengthy throwing session? Fortunately, there are good exercises for strengthening the rotator cuff muscle that reduce the risk of injury.
Begin by standing on the resistance band with hands by your sides, hold the end of the band in each hand, or stand holding dumbbells in each hand. The movement involves internally rotating your arms so that your thumbs point downwards and then raising your arms out to the side until your elbows are just below the shoulder, keeping your thumbs pointing down as you rise. It is as if you are emptying a can of drink on the floor. This exercise is very popular, and is commonly recommended as part of a shoulder-injury rehabilitation programme – and in particular the rotator cuff muscle.
Another good exercise for rotator cuff muscle strengthening is the side lying abduction (SLA) exercise. The exercise should be performed while lying on one side and holding a dumbbell with your palm facing into your leg. You then raise your arm straight up to an angle of 45 degrees. He recommends that men use a dumbbell weighted to 8% of body weight and women use 5% of body weight.
The deltoid is also most active during the SLA, suggesting that it is a very effective shoulder exercise in general, not just for the rotator cuff. Interestingly, the SLA involves much less trapezius activity than the LRIR, presumably because the exercise is performed lying down and so there is less shoulder elevation. This reduction in trapezius activity is not necessarily a disadvantage because the trapezius is often strong, especially in the upper fibres, and can be too dominant. This muscle imbalance can contribute to a hunched and rounded shoulder posture during shoulder movements which can exasperate shoulder injuries.
The SLA exercise seems to be a superior rotator cuff muscle and shoulder exercise to the LRIR. During the SLA the deltoid, supraspinatus, infraspinatus and subscapularis can all be trained effectively without any danger of joint impingement.