How to Warm Up Your Rotator Cuff Muscles

STACK Expert Rober Taylor offers four circuits to keep your shoulders strong and warm up your rotator cuff muscles.

If you play a sport like baseball or tennis, where you throw or swing with your arm overhead, you must attend to your shoulder health. If you fail to take precautions against injury, you will put yourself at risk of missing time from your sport.

The shoulder joint has a larger range of motion than any other joint in the body. Its unique structure is supported by muscles and other connective tissue, especially the four rotator cuff muscles. Due to the shoulder's extreme mobility, it is susceptible to injuries from overuse. (Learn more about the shoulder joint.)

If you fail to warm these muscles up properly, they can fatigue quickly. If a muscle fatigues or lacks strength, unnecessary stress will be placed somewhere else in the body. This exposes the shoulder capsule, and even the elbow, to an increased risk of injury.

So, make a rotator cuff warm-up a regular part of your routine before a workout, practice or game. (Try the Shoulder Y,L,T,W.) Choose one of the following four shoulder circuits. Begin with two sets of 12 to 15 reps each, and progress to four sets of 20 reps.

Perform each exercise with lightweight dumbbells.

Shoulder Circuit 1

  • Front Raise (thumbs up) - Start with arms in front; raise dumbbells to shoulder height keeping thumbs up.
  • Scaption - Standing up, start with your arms at your sides; raise arms straight up at a 45-degree angle with thumbs up; arms should finish above head level.
  • Empty Can - Start with thumbs pointing towards thighs; raise dumbbells with pinky fingers pointing up at a 45-degree angle until slightly above shoulder height.
  • Posterior With Retraction - Lie with stomach on bench and arms to side; pull shoulder blades back and extend arms to the side until parallel to the ground.
  • External Rotation with Towel - Lie with side on bench and a rolled towel between your upper arm and ribs; rotate hand away from body toward the ceiling.

Shoulder Circuit 2

  • Lateral Raise (thumbs up) - Start with arms to the side; raise dumbbells to the sides to shoulder height, keeping palms down.
  • Shrug and Upright Row - Shrug your shoulders up, then raise your elbows as high as possible to pull the dumbbells to chin height.
  • Serattus Press - Lie with back on bench holding dumbbells with arms extended in front of chest; keep arms straight and move shoulders straight up while squeezing chest.
  • Internal Rotation - Lie with side on bench and arm flat against the surface; rotate hand toward body.
  • Reverse Throw - Lie with side on bench and bottom arm touching the ground; hold a dumbbell with top arm bent at 90 degrees pinned to side; raise dumbbell to ceiling to form a T; slowly lower arm diagonally until parallel to ground; pull arm back to starting position.

Shoulder Circuit 3

  • Full Can - Start with thumbs up; raise dumbbells with arms at a 45-degree angle until slightly above shoulder height.
  • Front Raise - pinky fingers up.
  • Internal Rotation and Abduction - Lie with side on bench and arm flat against surface; rotate hand towards body.
  • Reverse Throw
  • Serratus Press

Shoulder Circuit 4

  • External Rotation and Abduction - Lie with stomach on bench and arms to the side; retract shoulder blades; raise upper arm until parallel with floor with elbow at 90 degrees; rotate shoulder to raise hand until entire arm is parallel to the ground.
  • 2 o'clock Shoulder Flexion - Lie with stomach on bench and arms to the side; extend arm with thumb up to a 2 o'clock position slightly below shoulder height.
  • Shoulder Extension - Lie with stomach on bench and arms in front of chest; pull shoulder blades back and  arms straight back, keeping arm straight.
  • Empty Can.
  • Front Raise (thumbs up).

Watch this video from SMARTER Team Training for more info on strengthening the weak links of the body:

Editor's Note: Coach Taylor has developed the SMARTER Team Training Audio Interview Series, dedicated to promoting critical thinking, reason and public understanding of prudent, purposeful and productive strength and conditioning practices for clients and athletes. Listen to episodes featuring some of the best experts in the fields of strength and conditioning, personal training, sports nutrition and sport psychology here.

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