There’s a group of muscles in your body that most people never even think of until it’s too late. These muscles go pretty much ignored until something terrible happens to them. They’re so neglected that most bodybuilders don’t even work them even though the repercussions of injuring even one of the muscles can have a debilitating effect. The muscle set we’re talking about are the rotator cuff muscles, and they’re more critical to your overall wellness than you know.
The rotator cuff is a group of muscles consisting of the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor. These muscles work together to keep your shoulder in its socket as well as move your shoulder in pretty much any directions including above your head and twisting to the side. They’re so crucial to everyday activities, yet most of us never even think of strengthening them until you go to the doctor with pain and they tell you that you will have to have a side-lining rotator cuff surgery. Before that happens to you, start incorporating these exercises into your workout routine.
- Side lying external rotation. An excellent place to start is with some external rotation. To do this, start on your left side with your left palm on the side of your head and resting your weight on your left arm. Hold the dumbbell in your right hand and let it rest at hip level holding the right elbow to the hip. Keeping the elbow tight to the hip, rotate your shoulder bringing the dumbbell up until it is parallel with the right hip. Slowly, lower the dumbbell back to its starting position. Repeat this movement in three sets of 20 repetitions on each side of the body.
- Reverse fly. The reverse fly is harder than it sounds, so don’t go too heavy on the weights until you’ve tried it once. Start by holding a dumbbell in each hand with your arms to your sides and your palms facing your legs. Bend your back slightly and let the dumbbells hang in front of you keeping your palms facing each other. Place a slight bend in your elbows and open your arms until they’re straight out to your sides and your body is making a lower case T. Slowly lower your arms back to the starting position. Repeat this movement in three sets of 20 repetitions.
- Scarecrow curl. This is one of the best overall movements you can do for the rotator cuff because it covers such a wide range of motion. Stand with your arms straight out to your sides and your elbows bent at a downward facing 90-degree angle; your palms should be facing behind you. Slowly lift the dumbbells in front of you until they reach your ears level. Pause, then slowly return the dumbbells to the starting point. Repeat this motion in three sets of 20 repetitions.
- Lying reverse scarecrow. This is essentially the same movement except you’re lying on the ground and working against gravity in the other direction. Lie on your back with arms to your sides at shoulder level, and your elbows bent in a 90-degree angle placing your hands above your head; your palms should be facing up toward the ceiling. Rotate your hands upward until your palms are facing toward your feet and your knuckles point toward the ceiling. Slowly lower the weight back to the starting point. Repeat this motion in three sets of 20 repetitions.
- Overhead press. This exercise pulls double duty as a rotator cuff strengthener as well as an all-around upper body workout. Sit in a chair with your back straight and your arms out to the side with a 90-degree angle at the elbow; your palms should be facing forward with your knuckles toward the ceiling. Press your arms up above your head until your elbows are straight. Slowly lower them back to the starting point. Repeat this motion in three sets of 15 repetitions.
Strengthening these muscles is important to what personal trainers call activities of daily living. Everything you do in everyday life, from lifting something about your head to opening a car door, uses this muscle set. When these muscles are weak or injured, they can severely hamper your quality of life. So, knowing this, why do bodybuilders skip this muscle set? The simple answer is that they’re deep in your shoulder and not what is called a superficial muscle. In other words, it doesn’t make your body look pretty. It’s also why a lot of bodybuilders get sidelined with painful injuries from bench pressing heavy weights with weak rotator cuffs.
The rotator cuff muscles are smaller and usually weak because they’re not worked as much as they should be, so it’s smart to start far under your projected weight and work your way up to a good resistance. Always ask a doctor before beginning a workout program, but if you already have a regular program, you should be able to slip one or two of these exercises into arm days.