For as popular as the Rotator Cuff is, there are plenty of common misconceptions about what it's role is, and how to train it effectively.
Before we get into some key points to strengthening the rotator cuff, let's get a better idea of what these muscles are there to do.
The rotator cuff is a group of 4 muscles that work in conjunction to provide dynamic stability to the arm in the shoulder joint. When you lift your arm out to the side, there is some serious synchronization of several muscles within and around the shoulder making this happen.
Pictures on the internet do a poor job of showing how interconnected the rotator cuff tendons are to each other, as well as the shoulder joint capsule.
I did find one that does a fair job of this.
As you can sort of see here, they function far more as a unit than as individual muscles. This is not to say that each of the cuff muscles don't have their own action, but when training them it can be beneficial to understand how connected they are.
So now lets look at some key points to remember when developing a plan to strengthen your rotator cuff.
These muscles are quite small in relation to the other muscles involved in moving your shoulder. They are designed more for endurance than for power.
With that said, trying to train your Infraspinatus by externally rotating your shoulder with a 30 pound dumbbell is counterproductive. The muscle doesn't stand a chance with that weight.
Instead start with a lighter weight, working in a higher rep range where you hit exhaustion at 15-20 reps. You will get far more benefit this way.
Quality over quantity is a very pertinent rule of thumb with rotator cuff training. It makes sense given the primary role of these muscles combined is dynamic control.
When training internal and external rotation at the shoulder, imagining that the upper arm is rotating around a rod going through the arm can be helpful. Kind of like a rotisserie chicken. This ensures you are focusing your movement at the cuff muscles and not engaging larger, more global shoulder muscles.
As we talked about above, the shoulder blade muscles and rotator cuff need to function in harmony. Ignoring one or the other is missing a huge portion of proper shoulder function. You must have both.
Rotator cuff training must move beyond simple external and internal rotation exercises. Yes, these are a critical component, but just a piece of the puzzle.
Involving more shoulder blade activity, such as moving the arm to the side and overhead, needs to be progressed to when you are ready.
For clarity's sake, here are some of my favorite more dynamic rotator cuff exercises to progress your training with. Enjoy!
Before you go, make sure to grab a copy of my Blueprint to Bulletproof Shoulders for Free-99! It's a step-by-step guide to assessing your mobility and building strong and healthy shoulders!