9 Essential Exercises to Prevent Rotator Cuff Injuries

These exercises, prescribed by STACK Expert G. John Mullen, will build shoulder strength to help prevent rotator cuff injuries.

In 2008, nearly 2 million people in the U.S. reported a rotator cuff problem to their doctor. Such complaints are common among overhead athletes such as swimmers, baseball players, water polo players, basketball players, tennis players and volleyball players. These sports involves constant reaching with the upper arm over the head, and as you can imagine, they put a great deal of stress on the shoulders.

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Not every shoulder injury involves the cuff muscles. And the rotator cuff is not a special muscle in the shoulder with its own name. The rotator cuff is a system of four muscles that connect like tendons around the head of the humerus in the shoulder joint. By attaching the shoulder blade and the humerus, they facilitate the lifting and rotating of the arm.

Most rotator cuff injuries are partial or full tears. For athletes, tears are often caused by overtraining, repetitive overhead movements, degeneration and injury. If you have a rotator cuff injury, you may experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Weakness when lifting or lowering the arm
  • Cracking sound or sensation in the shoulder when moving your arm
  • Pain when pressure is applied to the area or when lying on the shoulder
  • Weakness when rotating the arm

If you experience a shoulder injury, pushing through the pain will exacerbate it, not strengthen your shoulder. You should not feel pain. After suffering a cuff injury, it's possible to recuperate without surgical intervention. Four methods for recovery are rest, modification, strength training and physical therapy.

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Not every shoulder complaint is a cuff issue, yet we talk about it as if it were the superstar of shoulder injuries. Preventing shoulder injuries requires work, but it does not demand overdoing it. In fact, if you overtrain your shoulders, the training, not the sport, will cause injury.

Many methods in continued use by coaches and trainers to train and stretch these muscles are ineffective and based on a lack of consideration for the entire shoulder system. In fact, they don't consider any other part of the body. When training, avoid these exercises and stretches:

  • Overhead shoulder stretches
  • Excessive internal and external rotations
  • Improper dryland technique, like poor Push-Up execution

Preventing Rotator Cuff Injuries

To prevent shoulder pain and injury, include the cuff muscles in a comprehensive shoulder system. You must be just as attentive to length and timing as you are to strength, and you cannot forget about the shoulder blade stabilizers, the back and the hips. They're all connected.

RELATED: Build Healthy Shoulders With 5 Rotator Cuff-Strengthening Exercises

To prevent shoulder pain and injuries, work with a physical therapist or experienced trainer who can properly identify areas of concern and provide an effective prevention plan. An effective plan specifically addresses the individual's needs and training goals. Every exercise and program prescribed must be effective and monitored to prevent injury. There's no use learning how to perform specific exercises if there is no follow-through, no monitoring and no feedback to improve form.

To improve muscle length, try these self-release techniques:

Upper Trapezius


Foam Roll Thoracic Spine

Now that you have lengthened these muscles, it's time to work on strengthening them and also strengthening your  stabilizers and back. To strengthen the cuff muscles, try these exercises:

Band Internal and External Rotations

Heavy Band Row

Band Pull

Band Bent-Over Row

Butterfly Screen: 3-Point Y

Wall Slide

These exercises are a small sampling of an effective shoulder system. If you are interested in learning more about shoulder injuries and prevention tips, check out the COR Swimmer's Shoulder System. Stop blaming the rotator cuff and working it to death. To prevent injury, work the entire shoulder.

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