Rotator Cuff Exercises (FIX YOUR SHOULDER PAIN)

Rotator Cuff Exercises (FIX YOUR SHOULDER PAIN)

In this article I will be discussing rotator cuff exercises and how to recover from a rotator cuff injury. First of all, you’ll need a little lesson in the anatomy of the rotator cuff.

The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles which act to stabilise the shoulder joint. They are:

A rotator cuff injury refers to damage to or inflammation in one or more of these muscles or their tendons. When we look at an injury to any region, we also need to consider how other parts of the kinetic chain are influencing posture and movement, and how they could be overloading the injured area.

rotator cuff exercises - kyphosis

Of paramount concern when it comes to any shoulder condition is the degree of kyphosis, or slump, in the upper back. Poor posture in this regard has a dramatic effect on the function of the shoulder, particularly when reaching overhead or when loaded, for example during weight training. So taking these factors into account, let’s look at some rotator cuff exercises to promote a healthy and functional shoulder


First of all, if you’re in a lot of pain and you haven’t had a proper diagnosis, then I’d suggest doing that first. If you’re just getting niggles, or you’ve been given rotator cuff exercises that just haven’t quite done the job, then let’s move on and try some new ones!

Exercise 1: Sword Draws

This exercise works to strengthen the external rotators of the shoulders, and also connects the kinetic chain between the shoulder and the opposite hip, leg and foot, thus improving overall movement and function which will assist in recovery and prevent further injury to the shoulder.

Notice that the whole body is involved in the motion.

Repeat 10-15 reps for 2-3 sets daily.

rotator cuff exercises - arrow draws

Exercise 2: Arrow draws:

For this exercise you’ll need a sturdy anker point to attach the theraband to, such as a door handle.

This exercise works in a similar manner to the last one, but also adds the element of rotation through the spine in order to integrate shoulder stabilisation into slightly more complex movements.

Repeat 10-15 times for 2-3 sets daily.

rotator cuff exercises - lateral raises

Exercise 3: Lateral raises

This exercise targets the supraspinatus muscle and tendon, which are the most commonly aggravated structures in the rotator cuff. This can be done using a theraband to begin with. As your shoulder stabilises and becomes stronger you can graduate to a set of dumbumels.

Repeat 10-15 reps for 2-3 sets daily.

rotator cuff exercises - sword draws

You’ll notice that two out of three of the exercises I’ve showed you so far are multi-planar, meaning that the body moves across multiple planes with each motion. There’s a good reason for choosing these types of exercises instead of ones that isolate muscle groups by moving across a single plane. When we simplify movements in our rehabilitation, we do two things:

  • We simplify the movements our body will allow us to do in daily life and in sporting activities.
  • We do not integrate the movement into the rest of the kinetic chain, and thus create isolated and unnatural biomechanics that could eventually lead to further injury.


Further to these general rotator cuff exercises, it’s also paramount to load the localised tissues in order to stimulate healing. When it comes to rehabilitating a painful rotator cuff, it’s important to understand that there will be a degree of pain during your recovery. This is because the only way to recover full function is to load it, and the most effective way of doing that is to load it in the direction of pain. This may sound counter-intuitive, but the most recent research has shown that this is actually what needs to happen.

Now there are only two rules to this rehabilitation protocol:

  • Progressively load in the direction of pain
  • Progressively load to an acceptable level of pain for the individual based on their experience during and after exercise

Before you start loading into pain, be aware that there are so many factors that are outside the scope of this video that need to be considered. So my advice is to seek professional help before doing any more than the basic stabilisation exercises I’ve outlined.

Further resources:

Shoulder injury article