4 Best Rotator Cuff Exercises for Strong, Injury-free Shoulders

2 Questions for Optimal Upper Body Muscle Building:

  • Are you stuck with the same weights in big pressing moves like bench press and shoulder press?
  • Do you get pain in shoulders while lifting weights?

Then you might have weak rotator cuff muscles. Here are the 4 best rotator cuff exercises using dumbbells and cables to build strong rotator cuff muscles for stronger, more stable, injury free shoulder joints.

What are your weak points in training?

Strong Shoulders Need Strong Rotator Cuff Muscles

In the quest of bigger muscles, most bodybuilders and strength trainers ignore the smaller muscles like the external rotators of the shoulders.

These weak links ultimately stop you from lifting heavier weights. Proper rotator cuff training ensures you have the weak links covered. Its time to set new PRs on bench and shoulder press.

P.S. You do not need rotator cuff training IF:

  • You are a beginner-intermediate bodybuilder with less than 2 years of training and
  • You train regularly with free weight exercises like upper body presses, lateral raises, etc.

If you say NO to any of the above 2 questions, you need to target the rotator cuff muscles.

Inside this article:

Benefits of Rotator Cuff Training

There are 4 distinct benefits of rotator Cuff Training:

  1. Increased training life and peak performance in shoulder and bench press
  2. Improved Chin Ups and Pull Ups performance
  3. Improved Posture and
  4. Dramatically reduces Shoulder Pain and Repetitive stress Injuries

Meet Your Rotator Cuff Muscles

Have you seen Andre Agassi follow through on his backhand? Then you have seen the external rotators in action.

Raise your hand to say hello and your external rotators are at work again.

So what are these muscles we are talking about?

Rotator Cuff Muscles - Front View
Rotator Cuff Muscles - Rear View

The 4 rotator cuff muscles are:

  • Supraspinatus
  • Infraspinatus
  • Teres Minor and
  • Subscapularis

Subscapularis is the shoulder internal rotator and the other 3 muscles are shoulder external rotators.

Main function: To rotate your arm {biceps} away from the body or towards the midline.

Essentially these muscles stabilise the shoulder joint during heavy shoulder moves and thus prevents shoulder joint injuries. 

How Rotator Cuff Muscles help you Lift Big

Rotator Cuff Training Improves both Presses and Chin Ups!

Your muscle wagon moves as fast as your slowest horse. In your quest for bigger upper body, weak rotator cuff muscles might be the slow horse, pulling your muscle wagon back.

Your muscle wagon moves faster in the first few months of bodybuilding. As your chest and shoulder lifts improve, your rotator cuff muscles play a catch up game, starting in the first 6 months itself.

At the end of 2 years of solid training, my research shows that your deltoid and pectoral muscle strength overtakes the strength of your rotator cuff muscles and injuries crop up.

Nagging aches, Pain on heavier lifts and Incomplete shoulder muscles recovery are few signs of weak rotator cuff muscles.

But if you train your rotators, especially external rotators properly, you leave no horses short.

Just follow these 3 rotator cuff exercises for 4 weeks and see the difference. Your bench and shoulder press will take off.

My Top 4 Rotator Cuff Exercises

The 4 best exercises are:

  1. Shoulder Cable Internal Rotator Exercise
  2. Shoulder Cable External Rotator Exercise
  3. Standing Dumbbell External Rotator Exercise
  4. Lying Dumbbell Eternal Rotator Exercise

1. Shoulder Cable Internal Rotator Exercise

Shoulder Internal Rotation Exercise

This exercise strengthens the subscapularis muscle and can be done with a cable or exercise tube/band.


  1. Set up yourself close to a pulley machine as shown on the left.

  2. The handle should be at mid bicep position so that your forearm is perpendicular to the floor. This makes the subscapularis active.

  3. Keep you elbows fixed and curl the pulley towards the abdomen. Movement is at the shoulder joint ONLY.

  4. Perform 15 - 20 reps with moderate weights as subscapulairs being a small muscle responds best to high reps.

  5. Switch sides and repeat with the other arm.

2. Shoulder Cable External Rotation Exercise

Shoulder External Rotation Exercise

Purpose: To strengthen the shoulder external rotators - supraspinatus, infrapsinatus and trees minor muscles.


  1. This exercise is performed with the same set up as earlier one, except that the move is opposite. 

  2. Pull the cable from the midline position to the side.  

  3. Perform reps in the range of 15 - 25 as these small muscles respond best to higher reps.

  4. Switch sides and repeat with the other arm.

Update: You can perform the above exercises from a low cable position too.

3. Standing Dumbbell External Rotation Exercise

This is a very humbling exercise, so use small weights. I suggest don't make it an ego lift.

Purpose: To strengthen the shoulder external rotators

Procedure: You can perform this exercise either standing or sitting. You can even support your upper am on a Scott Bench {better way to do it}.

  1. Grab a dumbbell that is 10% of your bench press weight. Hold it with your arm at an 90 degree angle, dumbbell at the ear level.

  2. Lower the dumbbell by rotating until the muscles are fully stretched.

  3. Keep your elbow joint fixed and use your shoulder joint only. 

  4. Hold the upright position throughout the exercise, especially maintain the position of other shoulder joint.

4. Lying Dumbbell External Rotation Exercise

You can also perform the dumbbell version while lying down.

Advantage: You can control the weights better.

My tip: Perform the seated version {not shown} as it supports your shoulder joint and force your external rotators do all the work.

5 Keys to an Optimal Rotator Cuff Training Program

  1. Do full range moves. Partials are a waste of time for rotator cuff training.
  2. Stretch between exercises: This delays fatigue and improves the range.
  3. Control the move: Momentum and speed defeats the purpose.
  4. Maintain proper head and wrist position 
  5. Progress: Gradual progress over 4-6 weeks works best.

Rotator Cuff Training program

The Professional's Guide to Effective Rotator Cuff  Exercises

Rick Kaselj, Internationally renowned fitness expert has 85 exercises to train your rotator cuff muscles to improve range, reduce pain and heal rotator cuff injuries.

Click here to learn more about 85 rotator cuff exercises.

Summary and Action Points

The best things in life come small sizes. This is true for advanced bodybuilders who want boulder shoulders.

Training the rotator cuff muscles pays rich dividends in terms of shoulder joint strength, mobility and muscle gains.

Use the above 4 exercises for 4 - 6 weeks. Shoot me an email with your results.

All the best

› Rotator Cuff Exercises

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