Rotator Cuff Exercises for Baseball Players

Understand the role of the rotator cuff and follow this advice to keep it strong and functional throughout the baseball season.

The rotator cuff is often misunderstood in the baseball world. Most players and coaches know of its importance but many do not know how to train it.

Many players spend 15 to 20 minutes doing rotator cuff exercises before they throw, performing hundreds of repetitions in an attempt to strengthen their arms. Meanwhile, other players neglect their rotator cuff entirely.

So who is right? Like with most things, the answer falls somewhere in the middle.

What Is the Rotator Cuff?

Rotator Cuff

The rotator cuff is a group of four small muscles that attach to the head of the humerus (upper arm bone).

The primary function of the rotator cuff is to stabilize the shoulder during movement, helping to keep the head (ball) of the humerus centered in the glenoid fossa (socket). If the rotator cuff doesn't do its job, the ball will rattle around in the socket, causing all sorts of injuries.

RELATED: 6 Best Rotator Cuff Exercises For Young Baseball Players

Creating movement is not the rotator cuff's main job. The pecs, lats and deltoids play more significant roles than these four small muscles in moving the arm during the throwing motion.

The shoulder accelerates between 6,000 and 8,000 degrees per second when you throw a baseball, the fastest motion in sports. Every time you throw, the rotator cuff fires like crazy to keep the humerus centered in the socket.

Rotator Cuff Training

Baseball Pitch

How much direct rotator cuff work do you need to do? Probably not as much as you think, especially during the season. As mentioned earlier, every time you throw a baseball, you work your rotator cuff, so you do not need to add more work on top of that.

As your volume of throwing increases, the amount of rotator cuff work you do should decrease, and vice versa.

RELATED: Keeping Your Rotator Cuff Healthy and Pain-Free

Rotator cuff training can be broken into three categories—before throwing, in-season and off-season.

Before Throwing

Very little direct rotator cuff work should be done prior to throwing. The easiest way to injure the cuff is by fatiguing it. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery showed that the more fatigued the rotator cuff was, the more superior humeral head migration occurred. This means that as the cuff becomes fatigued, its ability to stabilize the ball in the socket is reduced. Any direct cuff work before throwing should simply warm up the tissues and activate the muscles.

  • Choose 1 internal rotation exercises: 1 x 10
  • Choose 1 external rotation exercise: 1 x 10

In-season

Very little cuff work needs to be done as part of an in-season strength program. The focus should be on maintaining strength and mobility of the entire body to help take stress off the arm.

  • Frequency: 2 or 3 days
  • Number of exercises per workout: 1 (mainly external rotation)
  • Volume: 1-2 sets x 10-15 reps per workout

RELATED: 3 Essential Rotator Cuff Stretches for Throwing Athletes

Off-season

The off-season is when you should work to make the most gains in strength over the course of the year. Training the rotator cuff is no different. For the most part, any direct rotator cuff work should be done toward the end of the session, so as not to fatigue these muscles before bigger movements.

  • Frequency: 3-4 days
  • Number of exercises per workout: 1-2 (mainly external rotation and stabilization)
  • Volume per workout: 2-3 sets x 10-15 repetitions

Top 5 Rotator Cuff Exercises

Rotator cuff exercises can be broken down into two categories: strengthening and stabilizing. Direct rotator cuff work should be evenly divided between them. Strengthening exercises should focus mainly on external rotation, since these cuff muscles (supraspinatus and teres minor) can lose a lot of strength over the course of the season.

1. Side-Lying DB External Rotation

  • Maintain a neutral spine.
  • Use a foam roller to maintain cervical (neck) position.
  • Place a towel between your elbow and your body.
  • Don't allow your arm to internally rotate too far.
  • Use your opposite hand to maintain the position of your humerus.
  • Sets/Reps: 2-3x10-15

2. Half-Kneeling 90-Degree Band/Cable External Rotation

  • Maintain a neutral spine.
  • Position your elbow slightly in front of your body.
  • Squeeze the glutes on your down leg.
  • Don't allow your arm to internally rotate too far.
  • Use your opposite hand to maintain the position of your humerus.
  • Sets/Reps: 2-3x10-15

3. Half-Kneeling 90-Degree Band/Cable Internal Rotation

  • Maintain a neutral spine.
  • Position your lbow slightly in front of your body.
  • Squeeze the glutes on your down leg.
  • Don't internally rotate too far.
  • Sets/Reps: 1-2x10-15

4. Supine Perturbations

  • Maintain a neutral spine.
  • Hold your arm over your chest with your hand slightly outside your shoulder.
  • Have a partner apply light pressure in various directions for 2-3 seconds.
  • Goal is to keep your arm in the starting position, not fight against your partner.
  • Sets/Reps: 2-3x10-15

5. Half-Kneeling 90-Degree Perturbations (3 Positions)

  • This is an advanced progression and should be done only after you mater the above exercise.
  • Maintain a neutral spine.
  • Squeeze the glutes on your down leg.
  • Have a partner apply light pressure in various directions for 2-3 seconds.
  • Sets/Duration: 2-3x10 seconds in each position


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: BASEBALL | WORKOUTS | EXERCISE | TRAIN | THROW | ROTATOR CUFF | FATIGUE | SPINE