The rotator cuff is a group of muscles that stabilize the shoulder and enable its wide range of movements. Many other nearby muscles also contribute to these functions. Exercises that help condition and strengthen the shoulder and rotator cuff target muscles like the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres muscles. They may also involve the deltoids, biceps, triceps, trapezius, and rhomboid.

Doorway Stretch

This exercise works best as a warm-up for other parts of a rotator cuff routine. Stand in an open doorway, gripping the doorframe with both hands at or near shoulder height. Some people prefer holding their arms at 90-degree angles and placing their hands higher on the door frame. Gently lean forward until you feel a light stretch in the chest and shoulders. While maintaining a straight back, slowly shift your weight onto the toes to stretch the front of the shoulders.

doorway shoulder stretch


Arm Circles

For a dynamic warm-up, try adding arm circles into a rotator cuff routine. Stand with both feet shoulder-width apart and arms at the sides. Lift the arms to shoulder height and gently rotate them in small circles for 30 seconds. Relax for 30 seconds before repeating the exercise.

Women arm circle exercise fcscafeine / Getty Images


Wall Presses

Exercises where an individual presses their arm against a wall help strengthen the rotator cuff muscles. To strengthen the right shoulder, stand near a corner, with the doorway or open side to your right. Bend the elbow at a 90-degree angle, placing the palm against the wall perpendicular to the wall you're facing. Set a folded towel between the side of the body and the right upper arm. Press the palm against the wall for several seconds while keeping the towel in place. Repeat the exercise in reverse by pressing the outside of the elbow and forearm against the wall for several seconds.

woman doing arm stretch against the wall


Sleeper Stretches

Lie on your side on a firm, flat surface. Whichever shoulder is on the ground will receive the benefits from this exercise. If this pose is uncomfortable, feel free to use a pillow. Stretch the bottom arm out perpendicular to the body, then bend the elbow to 90 degrees. Using the top arm, push the forearm of the bottom arm toward the floor. Press from the middle of the forearm, not the wrist. Immediately stop pushing when there is a stretching sensation in the back of the lower shoulder. Hold this position for 30 seconds and then relax both arms for 30 seconds before repeating.

woman lying on side exercising



Standing a few feet back, lean forward and place a hand on a waist-high table or counter. Allow the other arm to hang loosely. Gently swing the free arm forward and backward 10 times before repeating the exercise in a side-to-side motion. Repeat the sequence with the other arm. If necessary, hold onto a dumbbell to help build strength.

Triceps pendulum swing exercise gradyreese / Getty Images


Crossover Arm Stretches

Relax both shoulders and stand with a straight back. Gently pull one arm across the chest as far as possible. Hold and pull from the upper arm, not the elbow. Hold this position for 30 seconds and then relax for another 30 seconds. Repeat with the other arm, performing four repetitions for each arm.

man crossover arm stretch dusanpetkovic / Getty Images


Passive Internal and External Rotations

For this exercise, use a yardstick, another light stick with a similar length, or a resistance band. Hold the stick behind the back, lightly grasping it with both hands. Gently pull it to one side without letting go, passively stretching one shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds before relaxing for 30 seconds and repeating it in the other direction. For external rotations, perform this exercise in front of the body while keeping the arms in 90-degree angles at the elbows. Hold the elbow of the stretching shoulder against the body at all times.

Rotator cuff exercise resistance band Thomas_EyeDesign / Getty Images


Internal and External Rotations

This set of exercises is similar to the previous one, but is more active and does not require any additional equipment. Lie face-up on a flat surface, extending one arm straight out from the shoulder. Bend the elbow 90 degrees so the fingers point upward.

While keeping the palm flat and extending the fingers, slowly rotate the upper arm 90 degrees so the palm touches the ground. Return to the starting position and bend the arm back 90 degrees until the back of the hand touches the floor. If there is any pain in the elbow, take less drastic angles and rotations.

woman lying on floor stretching arm out


Scapula Setting

Lie stomach-down on a flat surface, facing forward. If necessary, place a pillow under the forehead to make the position more comfortable. Gently pull both shoulder blades together and down, toward the pelvis. Avoiding neck tension is key. Once the shoulders fully stretch, gently ease halfway back to the starting position. Hold this halfway position for 10 seconds and follow by relaxing completely for 10 seconds. Perform at least 10 repetitions.

massage therapist working on shoulder blade



Holding a comfortable amount of weight in each hand, stand with both arms at the sides of the body and feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly lift the weights, keeping the arms as even and straight as possible. Pause slightly once the arms reach shoulder height and slowly lower them again.

Scaption standing dumbbells Neustockimages / Getty Images


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